Friday, August 20, 2010

Sign Wars

It’s political campaign season and, as Mark Wiklund noted in one of his columns a spring or two ago, the signs are popping up like crocuses and tulips, except that it’s a dry summer with lawns on the decline and there is no evidence of crocuses and tulips.

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?

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?
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.

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.


  1. I was just driving down Route 6A and saw a Jeff Perry sign in the cranberry bog near the intersection with Quaker Meetinghouse Road. Not sure if that is against the rules, but it sure doesn't belong there and detracts from some lovely local scenery.

  2. Hi Randy - I've always enjoyed the 'bloom' of signs before an election, especially when there's a mix of names. Lots of people in the mix competing for offices, lots of different signs, that's a good sign people are paying attention. Just one kind of sign - that's not a good sign - feels like a foregone conclusion. One really good thing about signs? They sure beat robo-calls.

  3. Any Jeff Perry sign anywhere does not detract from the beautiful scenery of Sandwich. I'm not sure if the bog owner will harvest the cranberries this year or not, but if he does, can you picture the red sign with the cranberries? Wow!

    Although Jeff's signs are better looking and more plentiful, other signs to me, are quite beautiful and a reminder of our great constitution that allows for the expression of our views. I think the signs are beautiful (particularly one designed as well and as beautiful as Jeff's.

    The complaining writer should have complained about the base putting a water tower up years ago so that when you drive down Cotuit Road from the Qauker Meetinghouse ligts all you see is the ugly tower. That my good friend destroys the local scenery not the beautiful signs that are a symbol of our freedom of choice.

    Too bad we could not ask the speaker at Town Meeting with the Jeff Perry T-shirt that some not so bright guy asked of its legality, could just stand in front of the sign with the t-shirt.

    Sam Adams

  4. To anonymous, who questioned the Perry sign on the cranberry bog, Rt. 6A in Sandwich. The owner of the bog requested that Mr. Perry place the sign on HIS property. Obviously the owner doesn't feel that a Perry sign deminishes the beauty of his property.
    Isn't it a great country when a property owner can choose to do what they wish with their property even express who they support politically.


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