Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
House hopeful Gavin Seim declined to agree to a required use permit in placement of his campaign signs calling the permitting and removal of his signs a violation of his free speech and his right to participate in government.
Moses Lake City Manager Joe Gavinski claims the policy somehow protects the public. The city’s government permits six campaign free speech zones within its jurisdiction.
The language on the use permit application reads:
The Moses Lake City Council has determined to allow the placement of signs including political and campaign signs on some city-owned, meaning deeded property and city leased property and adjacent right-of-way under certain terms and conditions. The terms and conditions are referenced in attachment A to this agreement and are incorporated within this agreement.
I,_____________________________________, agree to be responsible and liable for any damage caused to the City’s irrigation system as a result of placing any signs, including political or campaign signs, on City owned or leased property or the right-of-way adjacent to such property. If an irrigation line is damaged by sign placement, the undersigned shall notify the Parks and Recreation Department immediately, (509)764-3816, Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm or (509)760-2959 for all other times.
If, by placing any signs, including political or campaign signs, on city-owned or leased property or the right-of-way adjacent to such property, damage is caused to the City’s irrigation system, the undersigned agrees to reimburse the City of Moses Lake for all costs incurred by the City in repairing the damage.
The undersigned agrees to reimburse the City for the costs upon receipt of a bill, statement, or invoice submitted by the City.
This use permit operates under the guise of “protecting the irrigation systems” of those properties owned by the city and somehow also applies to the roadway rights of way surrounding these. The candidate may only place one sign per location, cannot have a sign larger than 16 square feet or more than 5 feet tall. The signs may only be at the location for 30 days prior to an election and they need to be removed five days after the election. The ordinance does not affect signs in front of homes and businesses.
City code enforcement removed the Gavin Seim signs for the campaign not agreeing to sign the use permit and called the campaign to retrieve them at city hall. It also removed signs placed by individuals. Seim’s campaign then returned to place more signs and these also were removed.
Reportedly, twelve other candidates and causes signed the use permit.
The manager claimed that “It all started several years ago. The city was dealing with a plethora of signs … We had a conversation about prohibiting them all together … The council came up with this policy. Then there was a revision to that agreement … The policy has been considered at least twice by the city council going back several years.
Though no city ordinance, according to Candidate Seim, was enacted the city admitted the matter was enforced through “policy.”
The Seim campaign had the following statement:
“The City of Moses Lake has started removing our signs, leaving up those of competition. Why? They insist we have to sign a CONTRACT with them to exercise our free speech. This is one of the larger cities in the WA04 district…We begin putting up signs months ago for our campaign. We went out of our way to place them so as to make it easier for city workers. The city however took down signs here and there, even though according to the Constitution and the WA State Supreme Court in Collier v Tacoma, their actions are wrong.”
Candidate Seim could very well have a case against the city for violating his free speech rights. In 1993 The Washington Supreme Court ruled in Collier v. City of Tacoma 121 Wn.2d 737 (1993) 854 P.2d 1046 that time durations, aesthetics, and selective enforcement giving preference of one political cause over another violate Article 1 Section 5 of the Washington Constitution, essentially the Washington analogue of the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
In this case Moses Lake’s policy, as expressed by council members in the public hearing, notes city aesthetics as one of the reasons for enforcement, namely the number of signs and the dimensions of the signs themselves. It can be strongly argued the amount of signs placed constitutes numbers of individuals expressing their free speech rights together as a form of expression through association. A very traditional method of protest and support rallies use as a form of expressing support of their cause is to show large numbers of individuals who participate along with those expressing their individual support through signage, attire, and speech.
Furthermore, requiring a use permit of the candidate excludes individual citizens who are not required to submit to the regulation from participating in their free speech rights if the candidate chooses not to enter into the permit’s contract. The city then selectively removed those signs based upon the content of their message and therefore it can be argued this violates Collier v. City of Tacoma.
The areas in question are public areas, though owned by the city, ordinarily permit the public access.
The state legislature did enact the Highway Advertising and Control Act as well as the Scenic Vistas Act, as codified in Chapter 47.42 RCW. However, these acts were limited in scope as to political signage by the state constitution. Moreover, it is common and traditional in the state to place political campaign signs on rights of way for various roads and highways and this practice has been used for decades.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.