Sign ordinances. Not too long ago, the Albany sign ordinance stirred up a whole mess up throughout the town. Conversations were heard in restaurants and bars, churches and coffee shops, all discussing the ordinance. The Albany City Commission made a very public show of putting together a task force to study the issue. Conveniently, the most vocal critics of the ordinance were excluded from the task force, with the exception of Bo Henry.
Without any fanfare, the new ordinance was passed. Now, why would they fix an obviously flawed sign ordinance and not brag about it? Possibly because they knew that it was still ultimately still a law that restricts private property rights? Who knows.
But the city of Dallas, TX has a very interesting problem, one that should make the city commission a bit uncomfortable. Recently, they passed an ordinance banning signs being put in certain parts of the window. Sounds a little familiar if you remember the previous encroachment on civil liberties we called a sign ordinance. That, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. The Institute for Justice is.
The Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that takes a certain amount of pride in poking their fingers in the eye of government idiocy. One of their current targets is the good city of Dallas and their sign ban.
To the folks at Institute of Justice, it’s a free speech issue and they’re currently working their way through the court system right now. For the folks on the ground, though, they’re taking a different sort of action.
Remember the good old civil disobedience that was so effective for the civil rights movement in the 1960s? Well, it’s back.
The small businesses, the folks who are the most negatively impacted by such laws, have started putting signs up in their windows protesting the ban. You see, the Dallas ban only affects commercial speech, meaning advertising, so the protest signs are perfectly legal. This brought a whole pile of media coverage to Dallas, and it had nothing to do with the Cowboys or the Mavericks either.
The part that should make life difficult with the sign ordinance locally is that our law is illegal as well. Leesburg recently changed their sign ordinance because it illegally restricted the number of political signs someone can have on their own property. Albany’s does as well. But even if the City Commission changed the rules tomorrow, it still doesn’t escape the fact that, like Dallas, the sign ordinance restricts free speech.
So, in their next get together, I highly recommend that the City Commission take a long, hard look at laws like this. Otherwise, the Institute for Justice might just pay a visit to Albany. The hard way.