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GOP committee accuses Robinson of political bias

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Robinson plays party favorites when enforcing rules for political campaign signs, the Republican Committee of Robinson Township claims.

The committee filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union, accusing Robinson of violating free speech laws and favoring the Democratic Party in the Nov. 5 election because four of five commissioners are Democrats, said Linda Jakubec, chairman emeritus of the committee.

A township official denied the allegation of bias and said the township uniformly enforces a 2001 ordinance prohibiting people from placing political signs on rights-of-way or public property and restricting how long they can be posted.

“(Commissioners) feel it's a danger for sight line issues and also it just looks trashy” to have signs along rights-of-way, said Greg Cuthbert, code enforcement officer.

He mailed certified letters, dated Sept. 20, with copies of the sign ordinance to the chairs of Robinson's Democratic and Republican committees, but Jakubec said the Democratic group got a letter only once she filed a Right to Know Law request asking who received letters.

John Wovchko, chairman of the township Democratic Committee, said there is no favortism.

“That's a bunch of baloney. … If it's fair for one, it's fair for all,” he said.

Six candidates are running for three seats on Robinson's Board of Commissioners: Republicans Patrick J. O'Leary, Michael J. Malinsky and Joel B. Slesinger, and Democrats Ronald Shiwarski, an incumbent, Ken Kisow and James Barefoot.

The Allegheny County Democratic and Republican committees did not receive letters from Robinson, according to their executive directors.

The ACLU does not comment on complaints, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney in Oakland. Generally speaking, she said, towns can prohibit signs on public property if the rules apply to all signs. Towns cannot limit how long signs are displayed on private property, Rose said.

Robinson does not allow campaign signs on private property for more than 30 days before and 12 days after an election.

“The ACLU is not a court. There has been no challenge, so our ordinance is what it is,” township Manager Jeffrey Silka said.

Officials from several municipalities said they restrict how long people can display signs on public property.

Wilkins removed time restrictions for signs on private property when the ACLU challenged its rule in 2010, Wilkins Manager Rebecca Bradley said.

Ross requires a refundable deposit of $100 for a permit allowing signs on public property. It limits signs to two for a candidate at any intersection, but they can't be located within 600 feet of another sign for that person. Ross allows political signs on public property up to 31 days before and 10 days after an election.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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