2017-08-24 / Editorial

Sign flap can have a bipartisan solution

With the special election for state senator now behind us, we have a brief respite of about six months before the election season starts up again.

In that time, the town should make a decision on an issue that cropped up — or literally was propped up — during this past race. That’s the size of campaign signs. A few of the signs for Republican candidate Mike Smith were larger than the town’s zoning ordinance allowed, but likely legal based on a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling on a North Kingstown case that said a municipality can not place restrictions on political signs that it doesn’t place on non-political signs.

While the town can address this by rewriting the zoning ordinances that address signs to make them all follow the same rules, that is a top-down approach that may leave some feeling alienated from the process.

Since the current ordinance regarding political signs has been on the books for generations and never been an issue prior to this year, we’d like to see a bipartisan committee formed to write some mutually agreed upon regulations. Let’s prevail upon our sense of community and the island spirit of bonding together to look beyond our individual beliefs to forge a collective greater good.

The committee could consist of the board of canvassers with the addition of a sixth member from the party that has fewer canvassers. The seventh member would be a town official appointed by the administrator.

The committee could examine the allowable size of signs in both Newport and Middletown since we share state legislative districts with them, and that would allow candidates to have similar rules in the municipalities in which they’re seeking office.

Besides size, some other basic elements, such as the timing of when signs can be posted and taken down should and the distance between signs on any individual property should be examined. There also should be some broad content provisions included, such as not being allowed to print anything libelous or a known falsehood.

We understand such regulations almost certainly would fail a court challenge, but there are plenty of things we abide by in society that have little or no legal standing. We also believe if such bipartisan rules were enacted that any violators likely would be hurt more at the ballot box by violating them than they would gain from their notoriety.

We hope such a bipartisan body would allow for ownership from both major parties in a way that they would not deem a court challenge necessary.

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