SHORE THING: Rules for Fools

A Cape Charles resident exercises his First Amendment rights. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

September 14, 2012

I’ve lived around the world, including what I thought was the bureaucracy capital of the universe — Washington inside the Beltway. Then I moved to Cape Charles.

This Town has more rules than anywhere I’ve lived before.

Example: Here, less than two months before a presidential election, it is illegal to display a political sign in your yard.

“For Sale” signs are OK. Prayer signs are OK. The jury is still out on Community Center signs. But “political” signs? Oh, no.

And it’s not as though the sign rule is some forgotten silliness buried in a dusty book of Town rules. Here it is, front and center in the September 11 official Town Gazette:

It’s the Political Season again and this means everyone will be advertising for their candidates running for the November 6, 2012 election. Please remember that political signs may be displayed 45 days prior to the election, that’s September 22, 2012 and need to be removed 7 days after the election, that’s November 13, 2012.

So – the Town recognizes that it’s the “Political Season” again.

The Town believes that “everyone will be advertising for their candidates.”

And, presumably, the Town wishes to spare us, the longsuffering residents, from being subjected to political advertising.

While you’re at it, could you please ban all TV political ads until 45 days before the election?


But wait a minute — We pay taxes, we pay mortgages, and we own the land we live on. And yet we can’t put up a sign?

What about bumper stickers? Are they to become the last vestige of freedom of speech?

Speaking of freedom of speech, Town Council is reviewing three pages of draft “Guidelines for Citizen Participation” at public meetings. Now that the Cape Charles Wave has begun photographing public meetings, the Town is considering language to restrict us to the back or side of the room.

No full frontal photography allowed? Thanks, I’ll stay home.

But here’s the good news: In the face of overwhelming bureaucratic interference, human nature tends to triumph.

Put another way, people just ignore petty rules. That’s a healthy sign (pun intended).

And so I applaud the Cape Charles resident (house shown above) who is courageously displaying not one, but two political signs in defiance of the Town ordinance and Gazette reminder. That’s a small victory for free speech.

I take further comfort in realizing that the house shown above is not just anybody’s residence, but is owned by a member of Town Council. Who has accrued over 10 years’ service on Council. Who, in the absence of the mayor, chaired last night’s Council meeting.

To me, this is a sign not to take too seriously all the bureaucratic red tape gushing forth from Town Hall.

Thanks, Mr. Vice Mayor, for planting a sign in the sand.

SHORE THING is the opinion of the writer. It is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.



2 Responses to “SHORE THING: Rules for Fools”

  1. Gabriel Southern on September 13th, 2012 10:29 pm

    Presumably no one tries to enforce that ordinance because it is almost certainly unconstitutional. At least that’s my intuitive take on it, and I read an article which says a similar law in Maryland was ruled unconstitutional back in 1999:

  2. Deborah Bender on September 14th, 2012 8:01 am

    I wonder if Town employees will be stealing these signs from people’s yards like they did with the Old School Cape Charles signs. Let’s face it folks — there is apparently no freedom of speech in Cape Charles, no freedom of the press in Cape Charles, and I guess our yards are not actually our own either. If the Town wants to tell us what we can and can’t do in our own yards, maybe they would like to pay our taxes.