The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the editor:
All of us should be thankful for the decision of the Croton Board of Trustees to allow limited free speech. At the April 5 meeting, the Village Manager explained that she had decided “to put many of the residents in compliance” since after going around and seeing resident signs “they’re actually illegal.”
I may be showing my age, but when I went to public school we were taught that our free speech rights were protected by the US Constitution, not by the Village Manager of Croton-on-Hudson. The Village Manager and Board of Trustees often treat Croton as their fiefdom, but even they are subject to the Constitution. It is difficult for me to grasp the view that it is up to the Village Manager to determine how residents can “communicate their opinions legally.”
Ostensibly this action is being taken to rectify “unintended consequences” of the village law regarding signs placed on the municipal right-of-way. That is absolutely false. Changing the code section regulating signs on public land or right of way has no effect on the code section regulating signs on private home lawns. A municipality has broad discretion in regulating signs placed in the right-of-way due to traffic safety considerations. Signs on public property may also be prohibited.
Contrary to what the Village Manager and Board of Trustees believe, there is a huge difference between regulating use of public property versus regulating speech on private property. To his credit Mr. Pugh attempted to point out the distinction at the April 5 session.
The existing Croton Village Code is of dubious constitutionality when it comes to free speech. It treats speech differently based on who the speaker is and what they are attempting to communicate. In itself, that would likely render any enforcement action liable to strict scrutiny in a court proceeding. Even if the code is found to be facially content-neutral, enforcement of a law restraining speech would be subject to intermediate scrutiny and that is still tough. READ MORE HERE.