Tumwater needs better legal advice

August 19th, 2011 by Ken

The City of Tumwater is being taken to court for banning political signs on the public right of way. It’s a battle that pits freedom of speech against the city’s ability to keep the city free from clutter.

It’s a simple case. A Tumwater resident put up a “Stop Thurston County” sign, one of some 2000 currently in the county. Tumwater city employees took the sign down saying it was in the public right of way and that Tumwater city ordinances banned political signs in the public right of way.

Backing the lawsuit is the Freedom Foundation, the organization currently fighting Thurston County over its controversial changes to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance. The sign in question is a pure political sign in the sense that it supports a political cause.

While Tumwater bans such signs, Olympia and Lacey have tolerated campaign signs on pubic right of way since a 1993 Washington State Supreme Court ruling.

In that case, the state Supreme Court ruled that political speech was protected by the First Amendment and that the public right of way was a traditional forum for political speech.

While it did allow local government some leeway – – such as requiring them to be temporary signs and setting some guidelines as to when they had to be removed – – the court did support the right of the public to assert their viewpoint in public.

Tumwater has received bad legal advice and needs to update its ordinances. It should reach an accommodation with the Freedom Foundation and avoid court.

But, the question has to be asked. When will the signs come down? Political signs usually come down after an election, but in this case, there doesn’t appear to be an end date. So, are the signs temporary or permanent?

Posted in Business, Government, History, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

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