What's happening here?
October 20, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I have seen a couple trucks owned by the city (public works trucks) with magnetic signs advertising to "Vote No" on an upcoming proposed charter amendment. I have also seen a flashing sign owned by City Hall with the same message to "Vote No on Prop. 7". Isn't this illegal?
posted by LoriFLA to Law & Government (13 answers total)
It would probably help if you said what city you were living in.
posted by octothorpe at 9:01 AM on October 20, 2006

Short answer, no. There is a body of constitutional law devoted to this issue, and the way it comes out is, the city has the right to speak. Tried to remember more about the cases, but I know they're there.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:05 AM on October 20, 2006

Remembered a little more. The phrase to google is "government speech." This link has a footnote going through many of the cases on the issue. Take a look at FN 166.

As I said, what it comes down to is, the government can say what it wants as long as it's the one speaking. Once it lets others start talking about an issue, it needs to allow both sides to talk about an issue. (So speech by government head, or signs on public property, yes. License plates saying "choose life", no.)
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2006

Wow, are you sure about that kingjoeshmoe? In Oregon, I'm quite certain I've been told by high up government types that it is against the law for state or local agencies to endorse candidates, initiatives, levies or bonds. Individual government employees can advocate for their political issues, but not while on the clock and not using government supplies.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2006

Perhaps independent groups have rented out or reserved those gov't signs?
posted by chrisamiller at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2006

The Lt Gov of Minnesota was in my town yesterday, pimping the transportation amendment.

Upon further thought, I do hope it's illegal so we can take these schmoes down. :)
posted by unixrat at 10:16 AM on October 20, 2006

As just another data point. Here in NYC during last years election, the MTA (the transit authority) heavily advertised to vote yes on the transit bond initiative.

They had billboards and signs all over the subways and commuter rail cars.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 10:19 AM on October 20, 2006

kingjoeshmoe, you're right that something like this is not unconstitutional, but that doesn't mean it's legal. That would depend on what city and state it is in and what the applicable statutes and state constitution say. Something like this very well could be illegal. But without more information we can't say for sure.

(I am a lawyer, but I do not represent you, and this is not legal advice. Consult competent counsel.)
posted by raf at 10:31 AM on October 20, 2006

Response by poster: I live in Volusia County, which is in central Florida, and includes Daytona Beach, among several other cities. I have seen these signs on city trucks (South Daytona), and a sign owned by another city (Holly Hill). The sign is owned by the city, and is a big flashing thing on the front lawn of City Hall. The amendments in question are county charter amendments. The county wants to take over certain things: zoning, water management, etc., that will encroach on the city's right to manage these things on their own. Is this why these city's can post signs that are "telling" people which way to vote? I have never seen anything like this in the past, and it just struck me as unusual.

More information here
posted by LoriFLA at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2006

It may also be legal but against policy in some areas. For bureaucrats, like for everyone else, there are plenty of perfectly legal things that will still get you fired.

(IIRC, that's how it worked for cops in my old hometown. The law said anyone could speak freely about politics, but the police department would still discipline an officer for it if he did it on the clock or in uniform.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:03 PM on October 20, 2006

Here in NYC during last years election, the MTA (the transit authority) heavily advertised to vote yes on the transit bond initiative.

IANAL, but the NY MTA is a public benefit corporation, so it's possible they aren't subject to some NY rules regulating municipal speech. Anybody know?
posted by Opposite George at 7:52 PM on October 20, 2006

Coming in late, but as another data point, the political activities of government officials may be limited if the officials are federal employees or state and local employees funded by federal tax dollars. See the Hatch Act. The legality of non-federally funded activity will vary depending on jurisdiction.
posted by decathecting at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2006

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