2018-08-30 / Front Page

Dickinson campaign signs taken down from public property sites

BY TIM RIEL


Before it was removed, this sign endorsing town council candidate Blake Dickinson illegally was placed on public property near the police station’s mailbox on Conanicus Avenue. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL Before it was removed, this sign endorsing town council candidate Blake Dickinson illegally was placed on public property near the police station’s mailbox on Conanicus Avenue. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL A campaign sign supporting Councilman Blake Dickinson, the three-time Republican incumbent, graced the lawn of the Conanicus Avenue police station Monday morning.

About 1,500 feet away, on the bank of the beach at Potter Cove, another Dickinson endorsement flashed passing motorists.

By mid-afternoon, both were taken down.

“It’s that time of the year,” Town Administrator Andy Nota said about election season.

Just like 2016, when the controversy was whether size restraints on campaign signs belied the First Amendment, where and when these endorsements can be installed has become a topic of contention.

To ensure candidates are aware of the local rules, the building official, Chris Costa, e-mailed a list of the dos and don’ts to the field after removing Dickinson’s sign from Potter Cove. Dickinson removed the sign himself at the police station “once my point was made.”

While Costa said no political signs can be erected on public property, whether owned by the town, state or federal government, Dickinson purposely posted his boards alongside signs promoting solar power.

According to Dickinson, these Solarize Jamestown endorsements should not be allowed because they “advocate a political position.”

“Unequal application of the ordinance,” he said.

According to Nota, the solarize signs were erected following a resolution in March by the town council to support the program. Following that vote, which included Dickinson as the lone dissenter, the Solarize Jamestown signs were erected by the planning office. Dickinson, however, said the council “should approve placement of signs on public property.”

Nota disagrees.

“It’s not a policy question, it’s administrative,” he said. “The council doesn’t tell the rec department how to advertise.”

Nota also disagrees with Dickinson’s assertion that the solarize signs are partisan.

“It’s absolutely not a political position,” he said.

According to Costa’s memo, the zoning ordinance limits campaign signs to 12 square feet. Also, signs connected to an event, including an election, cannot be displayed more than 120 days prior to the event. They must then be taken down within seven days following the event.

Because these restrictions are under a special category in the zoning ordinance, Dickinson has argued they are unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it singles out political signs.

Nota said this argument does have some merit. The town, however, is in the midst of rewriting the entire ordinance, including the elimination of that section. In the proposed ordinance, political endorsements will be under the generic heading that governs all other signs.

Regardless of those regulations determining size and timeline, Nota said placing private signs on public property is not open for interpretation.

“It’s prohibited, period,” he said. “That’s not up for debate.”

According to the ordinance, the building official’s office will store the removed signs for a week for the owners to retrieve them. After that, they will be disposed.

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