EDITORIAL: Laws Meant to Be Broken

HOW THE WAVE SEES IT

November 13, 2012

There are laws meant to be obeyed, and there are laws meant to be broken.

A wise town authority knows when to bear down, and when to look the other way. But a foolish authority ends up looking, well — foolish.

The Cape Charles Wave takes more than simple pleasure in pointing out official foolishness — we see it as our civic duty. Question authority!

So, for example, we pointed out the, yes, stupidity of trying to enforce a ban on political yard signs until just 45 days before a Presidential election. We noted that the U.S. Supreme Court long ago struck down any such ban. And we cheered on our own vice mayor for ignoring the town ban by prominently displaying political advertising in his yard before the permitted date.

Just yesterday we drew attention to more foolishness, as our Town Council members put their heads together this Thursday to discuss enacting rules to constrain behavior at public meetings. Town staff recommends that we, the residents, be prohibited from handing out or receiving flyers within 50 feet of the door of the meeting hall.

What are they afraid of?

There’s also a suggestion to prohibit speakers from personally criticizing elected Town officials or Town staff. To do so would be an “attack” on their person.

Virginia Beach banned “personal attacks” during the public comment of school board meetings, and the courts ruled the ban unconstitutional.

We’re not suggesting that “anything goes.” The presiding town official has the right to require a certain decorum, but a wise official will differentiate between scathing criticism (allowed) and speech that violates the “habits and manners of civility” (not allowed).

And now we’ve learned of even more foolishness by a town staff that seems to have too much time on its hands. As shown above, the Town has issued an official warning to Old School Cape Charles for advertising its Oyster Roast on telephone poles. Each sign is cause for a $100 fine.

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Talk about shooting flies with a rifle. There is so much disturbing about this, at several levels.

Let’s begin with the issue of fairness: Is the Town treating all entities the same? The Cape Charles Historical Society is holding its annual Oyster Roast Saturday, November 24 (don’t miss it!), and you can read about it on the telephone poles — including the pole in front of the fishing pier. Somehow, we doubt the Town is crossing swords with the Historical Society.

Then there’s the question of sensibleness: Is anybody in the least adversely affected by the presence of oyster roast ads on telephone poles? We’ll go further, and argue that banning those oyster roast signs would strip our town of a piece of vitality. Public events are a sign of a town’s lifeblood — its zest. They are healthy and good.

UPDATE: A reader just submitted this photo of phone pole advertising for a coffee & doughnuts social for Town Council candidate Steve Bennett October 21. The reader asks whether the Town issued a $100 warning to the sponsor of this event. (The sponsor was a member of Town Council.)

And this is where a town official needs to practice discretion. Nobody wants every phone pole in town covered with ads for escort services, used cars, lawn care, and the like. So one could argue that sign restrictions are necessary. But come on folks — what are the chances that our little village could be hit by a wave of obnoxious phone pole ads? About zero.

Finally, there’s a question of truthfulness and accuracy. The letter claims the signs violate the Highway Laws of Virginia. We don’t think so. But if that were true, the Town would be in violation of state law by allowing signs to be posted on the phone pole at the Post Office. (And yes, the Town zoning ordinance makes a special exception for the Post Office phone pole.)

Why do we think the state law doesn’t apply in Cape Charles? Because it specifically exempts municipalities. In an incorporated town, like Cape Charles, we get to make our own sign rules. Read Virginia Code 33.1-353.

So, in just about every way, the official letter above is just wrong. Put it in the circular file along with the recommendation to petition the General Assembly to amend the state code to allow Cape Charles to regulate the 12 boat trailers parked on the streets.

And in conclusion, the Cape Charles Wave would like to make a public announcement: In support of public notices on telephone poles, our Events section, previously called AROUND TOWN, has a new name: ON THE TELEPHONE POLE. We encourage anyone who posts a notice on the Post Office telephone pole to also post it electronically in the Cape Charles Wave. (Send notices to [email protected].)

And don’t worry about any $100 fine.

 

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Comments

14 Responses to “

EDITORIAL: Laws Meant to Be Broken”

  1. David Gay on November 13th, 2012 7:55 am

    Once again the Town Council engages in hypocrisy. When Mr. Bennett was running for Town Council a couple of weeks ago he put several posts on telephone poles and trees in town. Where was the outrage from the Town Council then? Now that their boy is in they want to ban free speech. Is Mr. Bennett going to pay several hundred dollars in fines for his illegal postings? I doubt it. Come on Town Council lighten up!

  2. Roger L. Munz on November 13th, 2012 11:50 am

    Any governmental entity must be circumspect in both its support and decision to chastize its populace. But more importantly, it is a necessary requirement to apply the law fairly to all the citizens. Too often the good old boy system has prevailed in this town, and has contributed to its “southern charm.” But the time for a wink and a nod may be over. When the law is used as a club on any particular group or individual, then there is something VERY WRONG, and can no longer be tolerated.

  3. Wayne Creed on November 13th, 2012 12:43 pm

    Just a quick clarification. The address used in the above letter from the Town to Old School Cape Charles incorrectly listed Wendell Distributing at 650 Madison Ave as the contact mailing address. Please note that all correspondence and/or donations to OSCC should by made via the contact form at:

    http://www.oldschoolcapecharles.org

    or sent via snail mail to:

    OSCC
    548 Monroe Ave
    Cape Charles, VA 23310

    Or email to: [email protected]

    For more information about Old School Cape Charles, please visit us at http://www.oldschoolcapecharles.org.

  4. Veann Duvall on November 13th, 2012 12:43 pm

    Old School Cape Charles is not located at Wendell Distributing and is not run by the Wendells. The reason it took the mail so long to get to Old School was that the address was not correct. Old School Cape Charles has been fortunate to be able to use the Wendell Distributing warehouse.

    What we really want to use is the Old School in the park.

    Wayne Creed is the president of Old School Cape Charles, LLC and Debbie Bender is our spokesperson. A lot of citizens of Cape Charles want to see our old school and the associated parking for the playground and basketball court saved for our community to use.

    Anyone who wants to contact Old School can go to our website at: http://www.oldschoolcapecharles.org/

  5. Craig Zuidema on November 13th, 2012 1:26 pm

    I sure will be glad when this entire affair regarding the Old School is cleared up and over. While I understand that some people want to see the School coverted to a community center, I have not seen an ounce of anything that makes any financial sense. There are plenty of unused or abandoned buildings and homes in Cape Chuck that could be used as an alternative, and likely more affordable. Chances are, the Old School would just remain another dilapidated building were it not for some interest in developing the property as apartments. Why not spend some time developing the other buildings that have been sitting empty for so long (like right next to CC Coffee House)? This issue has caused a lot of uncivil attitudes on both sides. [. . . ] I think it is time to move on.

  6. David Gay on November 13th, 2012 2:16 pm

    It is amazing how an article about posting signs on telephone poles has morphed into a discussion on Old School Cape Charles! It seems this is still a hot topic in town. Thank you Craig Zuidema for keeping the subject alive. I agree with you that giving away 7 building lots, a $50,000 insurance payment and 50% reduction of water hookup fees does not make good financial sense. Thanks again for pointing that out.

  7. Veann Duvall on November 13th, 2012 3:18 pm

    How many historic buildings are out there that are valued at $921,000, that include a basketball court and parking for the children’s playground in the park, that are right beside the park, that belong to the town, that we can fix up to make into a community center?

    Does selling a property valued at $921,000 and throwing in an additional $41,000 insurance proceeds, plus giving a $152,000 discount on water hookup seem a little bit odd to you?

    One has to wonder why they are doing it.

  8. Don Bender on November 13th, 2012 3:40 pm

    It is obvious to me Craig that you are not from Cape Charles. If you were you would not be referring to it as Cape Chuck. The issue of the Old School will be a problem as long as there are people like you. You people move here and couldn’t care less about a building that we went to school in, our fathers went to school in, and maybe a few grandfathers also attended school in. You people that want an apartment building sitting on the edge of our two million dollar park and right beside the children’s playground are the ones with the problem. This town is GIVING AWAY close to a million dollars’ worth of land and you don’t see that as a problem? The people that we pay a salary to have sided with an out of town developer and you don’t see that as a problem? The people we elected to council have gone behind the citizens’ backs with secret meetings to put together this nice little package and you don’t see that as a big deal?

  9. Craig Zuidema on November 13th, 2012 5:13 pm

    Oh yes, pull the old “come here” thing. Lord forbid someone who has lived all of his life just 30 miles away from Cape Charles (Cape Chuck as I like to fondly call it), pays plenty of RE taxes without any voting rights, and pays plenty of sales taxes in town have a right to say anything. Face it, if you didn’t have many of the “come heres,” there wouldn’t be anything left to “come to.” That is probably just how some may like it. Look at my previous posts and you can see the math will never add up for this to be a community center. So please, spare me the attitude. One thing you may not understand is that you do your cause no good with the lack of civility and tone. If you cared so much about these things, surely you would have done something long before now. So again, spare me the additional “heritage” lesson. Sometimes an outside perspective is exactly what is needed. How will Old School ever come up with the money to make the necessary improvements, maintain the building, staff the center, and keep the lights on? You will never raise enough money for that unless there is an extremely wealthy benefactor. There are already several buildings in town just sitting empty because no one cares enough. If the building was worth $1 million, then someone would pay $1 million. I’ve been in the finance business long enough to know when someone is blowing smoke and that is exactly what is happening. The tax revenue generated from an apartment building like this will provide the return in the long run. Could the town have secured a better deal? Probably. But I would bet that if Old School were to have the building, it would sit empty for several more years before any funds could be raised to get the building back up to code, much less staff and maintain an actual community center. Again, just look at all of the empty buildings in town. [. . . ]

    OK — we’ve given both sides their say on an issue that was not even directly addressed in our editorial. Let’s leave it at that, please. -EDITOR

  10. Bob Panek on November 13th, 2012 9:46 pm
  11. Gordon Campbell on November 13th, 2012 10:51 pm

    Could someone clear up some confusion? The Old School group has offered the town $10,000 for the school. But a poster above says the school is valued at $921,000. That seems like a rotten deal for the town. If the Old School group really wants the property why don’t they be fair with the town and offer $900,000+ for it? Mr. Bender writes that out of towners “couldn’t care less” about the building (probably a true statement as the building is falling apart and is an eyesore), but with an offer of 10 grand for a million dollar property it seems that the OSCC group could not care less either. Or is there something else going on here?

  12. Bruce Lindeman on November 14th, 2012 7:28 am

    I am a “come here”. We’ve all come from somewhere. Some have been “here” longer than others. But, unless you are of native American heritage, we all came here from… somewhere. However, the value of your relationship with something has more to do with the quality of that relationship than the longevity of that replationship. My parents moved to their vacation home town 30 years ago and have made significant contributions to their little town during that time through community/church work and volunteering one day each and every week in their local thrift shop for the past 20 years. I dare say they have given back more than many of the long-time residents with much deeper roots that go back 400 years. Quality versus quantity.

    Community requires a mix of people: those with deep family roots, new families and individuals, people of different socio-economic, ethnic, religious, sexual, and political backgrounds and leanings. THAT is what makes a place unique and enjoyable. It is why, in part, Cape Charles IS a vibrant place to visit and live.

    We all don’t have to agree on issues and we all don’t have to have family rooted here for 100+ years. But, what we should do is respect one another for who we are, for what we bring to the community, and for what insight we can provide to better our town. I see “come heres” working side by side with long-term residents on cultural events here in town. They volunteer and assist in other charitable events. Are their contributions any less valued because their fathers didn’t go to the old Cape Charles School? I think not. They are out in the community trying to make it a better place and I commend them for that. These people should be valued and not ridiculed because they were born and raised elsewhere.

    Flip the coin, and I love talking to some of the older residents here in town. The stories I’ve heard about the history of the place, the characters, and the excitement they get when they reconcile the vibrant town they grew up in with the town we are becoming today is beautiful. They lived through the ghost town years here. They get it. Frankly, without a handful of come here dreamers, Cape Charles would still be in that same place. But, it takes everyone to build that dream.

    All of this is fine and good, but the question we should be asking ourselves is: how do we determine the best solutions for the town, for ourselves, and for our children? By attacking one another and letting emotions get in the way of good citizenship, we’re losing sight of the true mission: to constantly better our town — together — and not for the benefit of one interested party.

    Yes, be vocal! It’s good to have convictions. But, don’t forget about respect and to also listen to each other. We learn much when we simply close our lips and simply listen. Be inclusive in your arguments and don’t alienate people who are and should be part fo the solution. We all pay our taxes and we all contribute to this place. There is no law that gives anyone special rights due to their longevity in a place. Be kind and the world will be kind back to you.

  13. David Gay on November 14th, 2012 7:33 am

    Mr. Campbell, with all due respect — The town paid about $41,000 in insurance money to Eschelon to take the school. Eschelon paid the town $10. The town gave away the parking lot for the playground and the basetball court. In addition, the town cut the hookup fees for water and sewage in half. And you think that is a good deal ?

    You think that OSCC’s offer of $10,000 was too low? Then why didn’t Eschelon pay fair market value for the property? And why did the town ignore the suggestion of its citizens to require a performance bond on the Eschelon Project? It does make you wonder if something else is going on here, and so far no proper explanation has been given to put people’s minds at ease. This could be easily cleared up with full disclosure by the town and Eschelon regarding the details of this deal and why it was structured in this manner.

  14. Deborah Bender on November 14th, 2012 7:51 am

    Gordon — You bet something is going on here in Cape Charles. The town is “selling” the school to an out of town developer for the grand sum of $10. The town knocked 75% off of the hook-up fees and is throwing in $41,000 in insurance money from the earthquake! This developer will then do repairs to the building using Federal & State tax credits, rent apartments for 5 years…sell the building and laugh all the way to the bank.
    If you want the REAL TRUTH on what is going on contact me @ [email protected]
    P.S. The reason that the building is in such ill repair is that the town broke their own code and did no repairs for years.