Mayor’s oversized billboard causing controversy in Fox Lake election

A billboard in Fox Lake promoting the re-election campaign of Mayor Ed Bender violates the village’s election sign ordinance and must be removed, the village attorney has determined.

However, Bender said he disagrees and will ask the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office for clarification about the sign that went up about two weeks ago. The billboard is on private property at routes 12 and 59, but Bender said he does not know who paid for the sign.

“I don’t agree with the village attorney’s assessment, so we’ll take it to the state’s attorney,” he said. “If the state’s attorney says take it down, then I’ll ask the property owner to take it down. But I will not take it down because my opponents demand it be taken down.”

Bender, who heads the “Focused Party of Fox Lake” slate, is running against challenger Donny Schmit and his “Common Sense Party” slate in the April 9 election.

At issue is the size of the sign. Under the village’s election sign law, which was updated in February 2012, the length and width of an election sign is limited to 4 feet, and the sign is not allowed to have a surface area totaling more than 16 square feet.

The sign, which reads “Ed Bender, Mayor, Focused Party”, covers the billboard. A billboard exceeds 100 square feet in size, village officials say.

Former village trustee Kevin Hunter, who is the campaign manager for the Common Sense Party, said he filed an objection with the building department. Building commissioner Frank Urbina ruled the billboard was not an election sign, and did not violate the ordinance.

However, Urbina’s decision was reversed by village attorney Howard Teegen. Teegen said in a March 15 letter to Urbina, Hunter and Bender that a political sign in excess of the size allowed by the ordinance was placed on the existing billboard, and is illegal.

Under the law, the billboard owner has 20 days — until April 4 — to remove the sign, or be fined $50 to $750, Urbina said.

“A notice of violation went out certified mail to the property owner on Friday,” Urbina said. “First, we send out a notice of violation, then the property owner has 20 days to remove the violation.”

Hunter said Bender is selectively enforcing the rules when it comes to ordinances his administration passed.

“The political sign ordinance was amended by this administration one year ago so this isn’t an ordinance that is outdated,” he said. “The selective enforcement path in which this administration is going about adhering to the ordinance they are in charge of enforcing is embarrassing and they should be ashamed of themselves. It makes you wonder how many other ordinances get treated like this?”

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