In the Town of Sandwich, political signs are allowed to be put up 60 days before an election, but we’ve always followed a gentlemen’s agreement that 30 days is sufficient to irritate the complainers but not too long as to be ridiculous.
By the way, any town’s political sign bylaw is purely a guideline for signs erected on private property. The free speech clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has been widely recognized in the courts to trump local bylaws, including homeowners’ association covenants. If you want to display a four by eight foot banner in your yard screaming “Impeach Bush,” as was the case on Tupper Road in Sandwich for most of a year, the town cannot deny you that right.
Playing the spoiler in our friendly game of Sign Wars is the state Department of Public Works. In an email issued by Donald Pettey, assistant maintenance engineer for the DPW division based in Taunton, Pettey wrote “We are starting to field complaints about political signs. Please remind your personnel to remove any political signs that are obviously in the state highway layout or installed on a fence line.”
And that’s what the workers stationed at the DPW depot on Route 130 across from the Sandwich transfer station did. They pulled only political signs that they eyeballed were in the road layout.
There are several obvious problems with this:
1) By only plucking political signs, it’s clear that the DPW’s responsibility to keep a public way safe by removing unsafe objects was discriminately carried out. That is, how do they justify pulling up a political sign in the road layout and not a “for sale” sign planted in the same road layout? It really isn’t a safety issue, is it?I have spoken with my opponent and we both agree that we’ll only plant signs in places authorized by the owners or in the various town-owned spots specifically allowing for political sign display. On state-owned roads, we’ll put the signs back at least 25-feet from the centerline or as far back as possible where 25 feet is impossible.
2) For ten years or more, residents on Route 6A in Sandwich have been displaying the same sized political signs in the same locations without any DPW heavy handedness. In fact, an informal agreement was reached years ago that signs should be placed far enough off the pavement to not impede their grass mowers. Simple and effective.
3) The road layout on Route 6A and Route 130 is 25 feet out from the centerline of the road. Being ancient ways with many antique houses, there are homes with almost no setback. Twenty-five feet from the centerline on some of these houses is six feet inside their living rooms. Does that mean that people in old houses have no right to display political signs? Would the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the Pettey ruling?
On another note, signs are expensive and are generally paid for by people who graciously give their money to our campaigns. My opponent and I do not want to see any vandalism or theft of our campaign signs. It’s really not funny to destroy other people’s property.
If you see any political signs in unauthorized places, such as on state or town-owned land or under NSTAR lines, etc., please contact our respective campaigns and ask that they be removed. I assure you that I will act promptly on such a notification.