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Letter to the Editor: The Heart of the Political Sign Issue

This Woodbury resident urges his neighbors to remove the rhetoric when it comes to political sign regulation.

 

To the Editor:

There has been a great deal of rhetoric, both verbal and written, regarding Woodbury's political sign regulation. Let's move all of the acrimony, finger pointing, anger and politicizing off the table; and let's look at the heart of the issue.

Freedom of speech is a guarantee under the First Amendment of our Constitution. Nevertheless, freedom of speech has its limitations and restrictions. These limitations and restrictions are well documented and easily ascertainable.

When legal actions are brought to challenge a municipality's regulation and the basis of challenge is "freedom of speech", the courts, both state courts as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, look for two criteria: (i) does the regulation restrict or limit what an individual can say or is it "content neutral"; and (ii) does the regulation discriminate (all signs can be 5 x 6, but political signs must be 3 x 4).

The town attorney has proposed the following amendment of the current political sign regulation:

"Political Signs: One or more signs, the total aggregate amount of signage per property not to exceed the greater of (i) 12 square feet or (ii) the maximum aggregate amount of signage which would be allowed on the property under the regulations applicable to the district in which the property is located."

The proposed amendment meets both criteria: (i) it is "content neutral" and does not restrict or limit freedom of speech and (ii) it does not discriminate since it allows political signs, in a particular district, to be the same size as any other sign which is allowed in that particular district.

Speak or write to the members of Woodbury's Zoning Commission.  Encourage them to adopt the proposed amendment.

Richard C. Snider, Woodbury

Voice of Reason September 05, 2012 at 11:55 AM
The size regulation is one that isn't needed. Woodbury and surrounding towns have enjoyed a long history of residents erecting larger Political signs. These signs have maintained the same general character for decades without "stepping it up" into billboards, animations, lighting etc. Should the regulation be passed it is quite likely to be challenged, at taxpayer expense, with no guarantee that the town will win. On the issue of safety. This author has not encountered one Political sign, regardless of Party, that I felt was placed in an unsafe area.
tom arras September 05, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Richard, You & others have not addressed the issues I've raised about why none of you complainants about signs on my lawn ever complained about the signage violations( exceeding aggregate 12 sq. ft. ) on Martin Overton's own campaign headquarters when he was defeated in his bid for selectman position. Maybe you could find the time to explain why Martin's violation of the illegal regulation did not get a complaint from you, while signs on my lawn seem to generate a prompt complaint from you? And then we can perhaps discuss why you haven't complained about other violations on the lawns of fellow democrats? The zoning enforcement officer was made aware of those items, yet she saw fit to ignore them, too. You want to get to the heart of the issue? I think it is discrimination and hypocrisy! Martin should resign for the good of the community.
Sean M September 05, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Richard is throwing propaganda again. The town attorney does not write regulations. The Land Use office and Zoning Commission does. If the Zoning Commission implemented these proposed regulations, it would restrict political signs more than commercial signs. This is not acceptable and has been mentioned in the November 9, 2010 legal opinion. Richard and his Democrat Town Committee buddies have started a misinformation campaign and continue to pick and choose small parts of information, taken out of context. Read all the information that I have put out there. It tells a completely different story.
Don Sherman September 05, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Wow. They did it again. Richard: I applaud you for a well-played game. You finally put the lipstick on the pig. You've tracked back to the solution your opponents suggested in the beginning, a solution you, George Hale, Martin Overton, Bob Clark, Lisa Peters, virtually the whole Democrat Town Committee objected to: limiting political signs to the maximum size allowed in any district within the town. This solution was mentioned many times, but Martin would not allow discussion of the proposal. Whether the suggestion is recorded in the minutes requires investigation; the recorder is known to have omitted various events and comments made by Democrats. The Justices have also recognized that in some instances a size restriction does infringe on free speech. As a lawyer, you, no doubt, are aware of that. If your proposed "amendment" were tested, it would likely fail in this specific instance, a potential outcome resulting in the Attorney's recommendation that the regulation be deleted. What you have achieved, potentially, is to embarrass a Commission member, likely your intent all along, with a feeble attempt to make "your people" appear to be problem solvers. NO ONE following the proceedings will believe your intent was honorable or centered on what is good for Woodbury. Well played.
Richard C. Snider September 05, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Tom, If you felt that the sign on Martin Overton's campaign headquarters was in violation of the political sign regulation, why didn't you file a complaint? No one was stopping you.
Richard C. Snider September 05, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Sean, As surprising as it may be, attorneys do draft rules, regulations, laws, etc. Ultimately, the proposed draft may be modified by the members of the administrative body who receive the draft; or the members of the administrative body may approved the draft as written. The proposed draft, by the Woodbury town attorney, does exactly the opposite of what you have stated. The proposed draft would permit the political sign to be the same size as any commercial sign, allowed on the property under the regulations applicable to the district in which the property is located. There would be no difference between the size of a political sign and the size of a commercial sign. I have taken nothing out of context, but merely reiterated the town attorney's draft of the proposed amendment.
Sean M September 05, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Richard Richard Roberts did not write the proposed regulations. Martin Overton and Catherine Adsitt (not sure of spelling) did. What was written flagrantly ignored the November 9, 2010 legal opinion. 1. Read the November 9, 2010 opinion 2. Read the proposed regulations 3. Read the June 14, 2011 opinion. The rest will be clear.
Richard C. Snider September 05, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Don, Not certain whom you designate as my "opponents" or to whom you refer to as "your people"? Mr. Murphy and Mr. Arras, and apparently you from your comment, advocate the abolition of political sign regulations. The Democratic Town Committee has never collectively voiced objection to limiting political signs to the maximum size allowed in any district in the town. If, as you say, the solution has been proposed many times at the Zoning Commission meetings, there should be some documentation in the Minutes of all those many meetings. Why don't you start checking the Minutes? Why not check the videos which "your people" are recording – or is the Zoning Commission secretary editing those as well? As you state, "in some instances" a municipality's restriction on the size of a political sign, if found to discriminate between political signs and other permitted signs, might possibly be determined to be an infringement on free speech. Nevertheless, the courts would have to consider all of the facts. No two cases are exactly the same. The proposed amendment is not mine, but drafted by the town attorney. It is "content neutral" and does not "discriminate". I think it would pass the court's test. What "proceedings" are you talking about? My intentions are most honorable; and I always want what is best for Woodbury.
Lesa Peters September 06, 2012 at 07:33 PM
To all who profess to know the thinking and discussion of the Democratic Town Committee: None of you who profess to have such knowledge have ever attended a DTC meeting, so how could you possibly have such knowledge?? And, if DTC meetings were recorded, you would quickly learn that if there are 18 attendees at such meetings, it is quite likely that at least 15 opinions would be expressed. We encourage freedom of expression at our meetings, and we don't cook up talking points. Claims that we do so strain credibility.
tom arras September 06, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Richard, I think you were at the zoning meeting where I stated that I had submitted in writing to Mary Barton that Overton's headquarters and other specific properties were exceeding the political sign limits of the illegal regulation, but you may have missed that. I am not aware of Ms. Barton ever taking any action against any of those signs, or for that matter any of the other displays in Town. That's one of the problems I've been complaining about- the fact that there is discriminatory enforcement & hypocritical behavior on the part of those entrusted with official positions/enforcement decisions. Martin should resign, as I've previously stated.
Sean M September 06, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Lesa The same talking points come out of the same cast of characters over and over and over again. Where do you meet? Your place? Sharon Sherman's? Richard Snider's?
Sean M September 06, 2012 at 09:13 PM
As for Lesa's claim that 15 different opinions are expressed at DTC meetings, perhaps she can explain the 2010 complaint on the Martha Dean signs that was signed by members of the DTC.
Sean M September 06, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Richard Snider has the propaganda machine in full swing. Why would the town attorney write regulations that violated his own legal opinion. Read the November 9, 2010 opinion. Read the proposed regulations here http://woodburyct.org/DRAFT%20proposed%20Zoning%20Regs%202011.pdf The question here is why would the attorney state, as he did, that you cannot restrict political signs more than commercial and then offer proposed regulations where political are still more restricted than commercial? Sorry Richard, I just sunk your battleship.
Richard C. Snider September 07, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Sean, you claim that the town attorney stated in his letter that the town cannot impose a greater restriction on the size of political signs than it does on the size of commercial signs. I agree with that statement. To do so would be a form of discrimination. The town attorney has drafted a proposed amendment which prevents that from happening. Read his proposed amendment carefully. "Political Signs: One or more signs, the total aggregate amount of signage per property not to exceed the greater of (i) 12 square feet or (ii) the maximum aggregate amount of signage which would be allowed on the property under the regulations applicable to the district in which the property is located." Therefore, a political sign can be either (i) 12 square feet or (ii) the maximum aggregate amount of signage which would be allowed on the property under the regulations applicable to the district in which the property is located. – whichever is "greater". For example: on Main Street Historic District a commercial sign can be 12 square feet therefore a political sign can be 12 square feet; and in Middle Quarter District a commercial sign can be 36 square feet therefore a political sign can be 36 square feet. The town attorney's statement, as set forth in his letter, is consistent with the draft of his proposed amendment. He is not contradicting his statement.
Richard C. Snider September 08, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Sean, At the zoning Commission Workshop, Martin Overton said that the proposed amendment to subparagraph I. of Section 7.5.10 was drafted by the town attorney. I have questioned other members of the Zoning Commission who also confirm that it was drafted by the town attorney. I am not lying. I am only repeating what was stated at the Zoning Commission Workshop and subsequently confirmed. The proposed amendment does not restrict speech. The proposed amendment only restricts the size of the sign. As long as a political sign may be the same size as a commercial sign or any other sign – in the particular zoning district – there is equal protection. You have stated on several occasions, both verbally and in print, that Section 7.5.9 would be applicable to political signs in order to restrict the "type" of the sign. Your argument is inconsistent. Why is a "type" restriction constitutional but a "size" restriction unconstitutional? Since neither restriction impacts speech; then both restrictions should be constitutional. Sean, try to stay focused on the topic of this discussion. So many of your responses are all over the place, and they have nothing to do with the discussion. I am not talking down to you. I am trying to talk with you, but to do so is becoming a Herculean task
Sean M September 08, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Richard Read the June 2011 legal opinion. Roberts says stop regulating sq. ft. of political signs. Everything said up to that point has a context and you are taking it out of context. If Woodbury gave different limits of signage depending on where you lived, it would be violating the Equal Protection Clause. Woodbury must have rules for all residents or no residents. The proposed amendments were written by Overton and Adsitt. They were done without the involvement of the zoning commission. Overton clearly ignored the advise of counsel, which in the end was stop regulating political speech. I have posted the document showing this. This never would have gotten to this point had Overton not run zoning like a dictatorship. He has wasted the time and money of the residents of Woodbury.
joe_m September 08, 2012 at 11:59 AM
"Freedom of speech is a guarantee under the First Amendment of our Constitution." Yes it is and Sec 4 and Sec 5 in the state constitution. It is Sec 4 that protects the write to publish and Sec 5 that states "no law" shall EVER be passed to curtail or restrain the right. So, our state Constitution has stronger protections.
Sean M September 08, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Richard The DTC sits around and comes up with talking points to spew out there. Everyone knows it. You will find out when the debate comes what my opinions are. One thing you can count on is when well respected attorneys advise to do something in legal advice, I read it, ask questions, and challenge their ideas, all things Martin Overton does not do. Read the May minutes on the Woodbury site. At the end is the substantial state interest concept I brought up at the April meeting. But that would require dealing in facts. All you want to do is sue. Woodbury has already been advised by council that it will lose if it takes the current regulations to court. Why are you so irresponsible with the town's money?
Sean M September 08, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Zoning must have a substantial state interest in regulating political speech. The best I have seen from the Democrats is they find larger signs ugly. They have shown their true colors. It is about using government to stop things you do not like, regardless of the person's right to do it. Really sounds quite childish.
Richard C. Snider September 08, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Sean, there you go again wandering off topic. No need to wait for the "great debate" (whatever that is?). We all know your "opinions", for you never stop talking about them. You keep repeating the same old claptrap ad nauseam. How about finally answering the question I keep asking you. Why not attempt to elucidate the inconsistency of your position. Namely, that Section 7.5.9 would be applicable to political signs in order to restrict the "type" of a political sign – in other words, you are stating that Section 7.5.9 is not unconstitutional and it does not restrict free speech – while you claim that a regulation regarding the "size" of a political sign is unconstitutional and restricts free speech. Since neither a "type" or "size" restriction impacts free speech – that is, what you can say; then both restrictions should be constitutional. Right? Well, Sean, how about an answer; or would you rather just continue to us this forum to (i) slam Martin Overton, (ii) slam the DTC, (iii) slam Democrats in general, (iv) accuse me of wanting to waste Woodbury's money, and (v) continue to praise yourself for all your due diligence and insight – so tiresome and boring.
Richard C. Snider September 08, 2012 at 08:13 PM
And your point is?
joe_m September 08, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Type or size restrictions do impact free speech. Speech, being free, means just that, free and not encumbered or restricted by laws or regulations. We have a right to publish and a provision of "NO LAW" shall ever be passed restricting free speech. "You" do not determine how "I" express my free speech rights. I guess no matter how many times we discuss "rights", someone will find a way to try and limit those rights.
Sean M September 08, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Richard You really need to work on your civility. I would not have to repeat facts if you and your buddies would actually read them all. Martin Overton is the biggest problem Woodbury faces. He wrote these proposed regulation changes that include this new version of 7.5.10.I that you refer back to. Had he not done the whole process behind the backs of the rest of the commission, this would not be an issue. The town attorney said get rid of 7.5.10.I. Please submit to the commission in writing what you propose be replaced. 7.5.9 is not up for debate. I have not thought about it and would want to read any proposal on repealing or modifying it. There are clearly activities that can be done with signs that disrupt the residential neighborhood they are in. You gave me an example from Long Island and Christmas lights. I would have a problem with that. What Zoning could do? We would have to deal with legal. You clearly want to waste Woodbury's money because you either have not read the legal opinions or do not care. I do not have a problem with Democrats in general, just ones like your buddies. You guys make up stuff, misrepresent the facts, and waste the time of people attempting to better the town. I would like to spend my limited time seeing what can be done to fill empty commercial space in town. People stop me regularly and thank me for doing what I do.
Sean M September 08, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Rule of law. You must have heard that once or twice in your 39 years as an attorney. Free speech is a right. As the attorney stated in his information to the commission, there must be a substantial state interest to regulate a right such as free speech. But that has never stopped liberals like yourself. How many times have liberal groups demanded silencing talk radio hosts they disagree with? The list is lengthy. I think you need a new hobby besides spreading propaganda on Patch. Grandkids? Hunting? Chruch? Maybe even start a business???
martin September 28, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Sean, You wrote: "Martin Overton is the biggest problem Woodbury faces. He wrote these proposed regulation changes that include this new version of 7.5.10.I that you refer back to." You are wrong (on both counts). Richard is correct: the attorney recommmnded that the WZC adopt that language he drafted, and we did, in the draft regulation amendments. Unfortunately, that's what the WZC rejected when it voted down all the proposed new reg's, (including those related to the Aquifer and the mandatory statutorty changes, required by law) thereby denying the commission the opportunity to debate the issue after all public comment was received at the hearings.
Sean M September 28, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Dear Martin Overton, Having a discussion with a fellow commissioner outside a zoning meeting is a huge potential legal liability with violating FOI laws. Please cease the practice immediately.

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