By Jerrie Whiteley
By Jerrie Whiteley
Back in 1971, a band called, "The Five Man Electric Band" recorded a song called "Signs." The chorus goes, "Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs … Breaking my mind, Do this, Don’t do that, Can’t you read the sign."
It might have been an appropriate anthem for Tuesday morning’s Commissioners Court meeting at which Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum asked his brethren on the Court to back his play to keep political signs off the grounds of the Grayson County Courthouse despite the existence of a new law that allows them. H.B. 259 which went into effect in September, provides for electioneering and restricts a governmental entity that owns a building that is being used as a polling place from restricting electioneering during early voting and on Election Day, including the posting, use, or distribution of political signs or literature on the building’s premises outside the prescribed limits, but allows the governmental entity to enact reasonable regulations concerning the time, place, and manner of electioneering.
The prescribed limit talked about in the law is 100 feet from the polling place.
Bynum acknowledged the existence of the new law, but said he is not sure it supersedes the Grayson County Commissioner’s Court’s authority to decide what can and can’t be placed on County property.
"I am suggesting that we pass a resolution banning political signs around the courthouse square and then we will fight the fight when we have to fight the fight," Bynum said. Immediately after that statement, Van Price, the assistant Grayson County district attorney assigned to give counsel to the Court said he wouldn’t advise Bynum to take that course of action. Price said the law clearly allowed the signs though it does give the governmental entity the authority to make some restrictions like the size of the signs. The signs must be taken down after the last early vote is cast.
"But that is not what I want to do," Bynum responded to Price’s advice.
Price acknowledged his understanding of Bynum’s desire. The lawyer then said that for the last 100 years or so the law had been in Bynum’s favor. Under those old rules, anyone wanting to put up a election sign on county property would have had to abide by the 100 foot rule and then get permission from county leaders. "But this law supersedes that and allows an exception where they can post signs outside of 100 feet only during the time of early voting," Price said.
Bynum said he thinks the Courthouse should be a bastion of neutrality with regard to the political races. He asked what would happen if the Court decided to buck the new law.
"They would be allowed to post their signs," Price said.
"No, they would be allowed to sue us, right?" Bynum said.
"Yes, sir. I would not recommend that," Price said of Bynum’s intention to force a legal battle over the signs.
Bynum said he was game anyway, and offered up a motion that the Court forbid the posting of political signs on the courthouse square.
The matter was then up for discussion even though his motion had yet to receive a second. Commissioner Phyllis James said the Court could decide that the signs have to be so small that they wouldn’t be annoying.
Amy Hedtke stood up in the middle of the east courtroom and Bynum invited her to come up and speak.
"I see your motion and I raise you a couple of sets of freedom sir," Hedtke said. She then introduced herself and said she just moved into Grayson County in early February and lives out on County Line Road.
She said she has been involved in a number of campaigns recently and had followed the last legislative session so she knew about the new law.
She said the law specifically prohibits the County from prohibiting electioneering and defines electioneering as standing out there and giving out things, offering information and putting up signs. "There are several places that have brought forth some sort of regulation (about the size of the signs) but even those regulations have to be reasonable. And in most of your voting locations it is considered reasonable by precedent to allow people to place signs," Hedtke said.
She added that the signs have been upheld in federal court as a type of freedom of political speech and freedom of speech. "This is the thing, it is not so much about being able to say which team you like, but its about political speech. Its expressly and while I understand that a lot of these signs can get really annoying, this is America and don’t really have a right to not be annoyed. This is where … I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Bynum’s motion died for lack of a second. The electioneering is allowed until 7 p.m. Friday when early voting in that location will close for the March primary. Early voting continues at the Grayson County Courthouse this week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the rest of this week.
In addition the Court also approved a request from the Grayson County STAR Adult Recovery Court and the STAR Family Intervention Court to submit grant applications for 2014-2015. In doing so, the commissioners praised the work done by the Courts to help people clean up their lives and return to their families and friends and the community as productive citizens.
Commissioners also approved a contract for actuarial services with Gabriel, Roeder, Smith and Company to help the County tabulate the cost of providing insurance coverage for retirees.
County leaders also approved the solicitation of bids for the annual supply of road emulsions and the annual supply of road oils as well as a awarded a bid for the annual contract for steel culverts.
Early voting for the March 4 primary in Grayson County continues this week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Grayson County Sub-courthouse in Denison, Pottsboro Independent School District Administration Building, Whitesboro City Hall and Grayson College South Campus in Van Alstyne.
Fannin County voters can cast early ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 19 - 28 at the Fannin County Courthouse.