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News of Otsego County

First Amendment

Local Governments Should Tend Our Roads, Not Our Minds

Local Governments Should

Tend Our Roads, Not Our Minds

Do we really expect our local elected officials to tell us what to think? Quite the opposite, probably.

And yet instead of focusing on paving streets, keeping tax at a reasonable level, and providing whatever might be considered essential services, they seem increasingly determined to do just that.

Three examples popped up in the past few days that suggest this may be spinning out of control, including at the February meeting of the county Board of Representatives, where discussion of two proposed resolutions on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol ate up an hour of rancorous debate.

A few days earlier, it surfaced that two unspecified Milford Town Planning Board members had threatened to fine the Village of Milford if it failed to remove the “Trump 2024” on Route 28 across from Wood Bull Antiques. (The billboard is in the town, but on property owned by the village.)

“Trump 2024,” the billboard on Route 28 north of the
Village of Milford, may be coming down in April. Not due to protests: The contract is running out and Rome Sign Co. has a new customer.

Let’s get back to basics. State law that created counties describes such as “formed for the purpose of exercising such powers and discharging such duties of local government and administration of public affairs as may be imposed or conferred upon it by law.” Pretty work-a-day, as it should be.

Trump ’24 Billboard Redebated

Trump ’24 Billboard Redebated

Planning Board Isn’t Proper Forum, ZEO, Town Attorney Find

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Gone, Not Forgotten

It’s unclear whether a Town Planning Board effort to have the “Trump 2024” billboard on Route 28 removed is going anywhere.

The town Planning Board was expected to take the issue up Monday, Feb. 1, but the meeting at the town hall in Portlandville was cancelled due to the snowstorm.

Meanwhile, Town Zoning Officer Barbara Monroe drew a line in the sand, saying she has the sole authority to levy fines when zoning violations occur, not the Planning Board.

I have no intention of writing a violation on that sign,” at least for now, she said Monday.

Tuesday, Town Attorney Hyde Clarke, while saying his advice to town bodies is covered by attorney-client privilege, said Monroe’s right.

“It’s not really a planning issue,” he said. “The town has zoning regulations.”

And Town Clerk Rosemary Aborn and Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Al Bullard both said they’re not aware the issue is on this month’s agendas of the town board or ZBA.

“It sounds like a Demo-cratic plot,” said Bullard.

Events were set in motion two weeks ago, Village Mayor Brian Pokorny said, when two town Planning Board members approached him, advising him to remove the billboard or face fines; no amount was specified.

What Is It About Flags, Anyhow?

EDITORIAL

What Is It About

Flags, Anyhow?

The First Amendment is pretty clear:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Operative phrase:  “No law.”

The devil, of course, is in the details, beginning with “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” the metaphor used by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1919 to suggest the First Amendment must be subject to sensible limitation.

Issue One: Sale of Confederate flags or merchandise bearing the image of the flag at county fairs.

In particular, a group, Fair for All, formed two years ago and has been actively lobbying and demonstrating for a ban at the Delaware County Fair.

The latest development came April 29, when the Delco fair board, under pressure from Cooperative Extension, and the state’s Attorney General and Department of Ag & Markets, agreed to ban the “display” of Confederate flags and related merchandise, but not their sale.

At last report, the Otsego County Fair had banned the symbol, but wasn’t enforcing the policy.

The Stars & Bars, of course, is freighted with multiple interpretations.  Is it simply a dramatic graphic, or a symbol of thumbing one’s nose at authority, per “The Dukes of Hazzard,” or an expression of ignorance if its Civil War roots, or an overt or subconscious expression of racism.

To the point it’s an intentional provocation to violence, it would be covered by Justice Holmes’ stricture.  Short of that, it’s one of the aggravations of living in a free society.

From a practical standpoint, if you find the Confederate flag objectionable, stay away from county fairs for the time being.

Issue Two: Flying the Pride Flag.

The Cooperstown Village Board, and its newest trustee, MacGuire Benton, should be congratulated for agreeing to be – it appears – the first Upstate New York municipality to trumpet acceptance by unanimously voting to fly the Pride Flag on Village Hall next June, which is Pride Month.

If the First Amendment means nothing else, it’s live and let live.

That said, the trustees would be wise to place their action in the context of a defensible policy.

While calling approval of his resolution “awesome,” the freshman trustee also suggested how things might get sticky:  “There are flags that are indisputably racist, indisputably bigoted and don’t reflect the values of the majority of Cooperstown.  I certainly wouldn’t support that.”

Certainly, but lacking a policy, does the Village Board have the standing to block any request that is less than “indisputable??

For instance, what if the local chapter of the National Right to Life petitions to fly its flag at 22 Main?  Or NARAL, the National Abortion Rights League?

What if one religious denomination seeks to have a flag hoisted?  Does the Village Board have the standing to say no?  Then what about other religions, represented in the village or not, or the irreligious?

The Village Board shouldn’t be deciding whose First Amendments Rights get precedence.  By trying to do so, is it opening itself – and, thus, taxpayers – to the possibility of expensive legal challenge?

Of course – “fingers crossed” – none of that may ever happen.  But is “fingers crossed” a basis for good governance?

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