Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Botetourt County Backs Down

Botetourt County has decided to not enforce a political sign ordinance and will repeal it in the future. The ordinance had come into question because the Rasoul for Congress campaign had placed many signs in the county. Some in the Richardson campaign, and others, raised the issue. The ACLU eventually got involved arguing the ordinance limited free and open political speech.
From the ACLU press release:
Botetourt County Administrator Gerald Burgess has informed the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia that a local ordinance prohibiting the posting of campaign signs on private property more than 60 days in advance of an election will be repealed in the near future and will not be enforced in the interim.
“Censoring the timing of expression can undermine free speech just as much as censoring content.” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The government can no more dictate when I put a campaign sign in my front yard than it can tell a newspaper when it can write an editorial about a particular topic.”
"We are pleased with Botetourt’s quick turnabout,” added Willis. “We are entering a particularly active political season in which many voters in Botetourt will want to express their support for political candidates through campaign signs. They should be able to do so without fear of reprisal.”
Willis pointed out that residents choosing to post Obama, Clinton, or McCain signs in their yards at this time would be breaking the law under the old ordinance.
The Botetourt sign controversy started earlier this year when County officials sent a letter to local political party leaders warning them not to post campaign signs in violation of the ordinance. Writing on behalf of Botetourt County Democratic Committee Chairman Jim Fain, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg threatened to file a lawsuit unless the County immediately scrapped the ordinance.
Similar ordinances in Farmville, Norton, Culpeper and Big Stone Gap have come under ACLU scrutiny in recent years. In each of those jurisdictions, government officials voluntarily repealed the time restrictions on campaign signs, rather than face a lawsuit.
In a letter to the ACLU, Burgess writes that the delay in repealing the ordinance is because Botetourt does not currently have a County Attorney. When an attorney is hired, according to Burgess, the Board of Supervisors “will direct that person to prepare an ordinance repealing the County’s current ordinance regarding political signs.”

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