ACLU questions sign ordinance

"The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the city of Port Orchard to repeal or change its ordinance restricting when and where political signs may be erected, saying the law unconstitutional.Aaron Caplan, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington, wrote a letter to Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill Aug. 8 saying the city's ordinance violates the First Amendment and the state's constitution.As currently written, the ordinance limits political signs on private property to 30 days before the primary election and until seven days after the general election. It completely forbids political signs on public property.In his letter, Caplan cites a 1993 decision against the city of Tacoma that threw out an ordinance banning political signs until 60 days before a primary and on virtually all public property.In response to the letter, city staff members have been directed to suspend enforcement of the part of the ordinance dealing with political signs on private property until an opinion is heard from the city's attorney. We're enforcing the (ordinance) in terms of public rights-of-way, said Kathy Woodside, Port Orchard's code enforcement officer. As far as private signs, we'll just have to wait and see.The ACLU became involved in the issue after being contacted by Port Orchard resident Sheldon Levin, who was concerned the city's ordinance could affect his political efforts on behalf of a candidate running for the South Kitsap School Board.Levin said he's especially concerned because mail-in ballots are distributed beginning Aug. 29. According to the city's ordinance, political signs may not be erected this year until Aug. 18.You have a very short period of time in which people can find out about candidates, Levin said, adding that he's troubled by an ordinance that places restrictions on political speech. I should be able to put up a sign on public property.A garage-sale sign could be kept up forever; I think a lot of Americans would raise eyebrows over this.Although political signs may be unsightly, they're necessary to a thriving democracy, Levin said.The day we see no signs is the day democracy is in trouble. I agree they're not attractive and maybe absurd-looking, but that's what you have to sacrifice for a healthy democracy. "

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