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A recent FOIA request shows County Attorney Goff citing Code of Virginia 15.2-109 when determining if the “Farmer’s for Trump” hay bale sign was complying with state and local codes.
The section states "No locality shall have the authority to prohibit the display of political campaign signs on private property if the signs are in compliance with zoning and right-of-way restrictions applicable to temporary nonpolitical signs..."
Well, I am not sure how Mr. Goff was able to determine that this sign was in compliance when the code clearly states its protection for political free speech signs only "... IF the signs are in compliance with zoning... restrictions applicable to temporary non-political signs..." As a reminder, Rappahannock County ordinance 170-102 (E) limits the size of such signs to fifty square feet.
Further, the Virginia Attorney General has already given an official opinion in 2012 on this specific topic. The opinion (#12-024), determined that a stricter size limitation on political signs was invalid, thus showing that under Virginia law, size limitation ordinances apply equally to all signs regardless of content. That conclusion is supported by a Supreme Court ruling in Reed et al. (2015), which ruled that all discrimination on the basis of a signs content is unconstitutional. The content of the “Farmer’s for Trump” sign has nothing to do with the size violation. Since none of the county ordinances impose stricter limits on temporary political signs than on non-political signs, all county ordinances are indeed constitutional.
More recent emails show that the county attorney decided to shift gears and contend that temporary political signs are, in fact, not temporary signs at all under the law. This is a ridiculous position given that the ordinance he cites as the one and only ordinance applicable to temporary political signs,170-102 (D), is a subsection of a section entitled "Temporary Signs."
We, the people of Rappahannock County, have agreed and decided that our beautiful viewshed is more important than political signs.
If you do not like the law, if you think signs should be that big, then it's the law that needs to be changed. In the meantime, we need to hold our government accountable to enforcing the law as written.
Turning a blind eye to these violations (several more of these signs have popped up throughout the county) may be a small, yet still not insignificant trend towards the eroding of democracy in this country. It's not a stretch to conclude that a County Attorney, who flew a Confederate Battle Flag at his house, is likely a supporter of the current Administration, and in turn, is twisting himself into a pretzel to defend the "Farmer's for Trump" sign at Massie's Corner. To have local officials pick and choose which regulations they will enforce, possibly based on their political persuasion is a frightening idea.
Follow the law Mr. Goff, it is your job after all.
— The writer lives in Washington.