Wabash Plain Dealer
NORTH MANCHESTER – A sign sporting “vulgar language” is causing a stir in North Manchester and may soon lead to a new ordinance.
Near the end of Wednesday’s regular North Manchester Town Council meeting, District 3 councilmember Tom Dale said he “had several people contact me about that sign that we all known about down on South Market (Street).”
Though the specific contents of the sign were not discussed during the meeting, afterward clerk-treasurer Carrie Mugford said “there is a flag prominently displayed on a fence on South Market Street that has the words ‘F— Biden.’”
During the meeting, Dale said he thought the council should work toward drafting an ordinance in response.
“It’s unlikely that we can do anything with that one right now, but I think we need to at least look at something that will give us some teeth to be able to remove the type of vulgar language, whatever the reason is for the sign. I just don’t think that type of language belongs in a sign in our town,” said Dale.
District 4 councilmember Alan Miracle said he didn’t like the sign either, but the solution might not be as simple as writing a new ordinance.
“The thing about ordinances is, we can write an ordinance any way we want to, the problem is when it comes time for enforcement. And do we dig ourselves into a big hole when we do that?” said Miracle. “If we can do it, great. But, it’s not cheap to go into court. And insurance companies don’t like defending a lot of suits either.”
Miracle said he was in favor of moving forward carefully, and asked the community as a whole to refrain from posting such signage.
“I would request that the public consider courtesy and good manners should start taking hold again across the country. I hope they do, but there are going to be issues like this that are going to come up. And we will do what we can if we can,” said Miracle.
Miracle said he and the other four councilmembers were in agreement about the sign, but that quick action might not be an option.
“The problem will be, can we get it done and get it done in a way that is beneficial for the town?” said Miracle.
Dale said he wondered “if there is an opportunity for the churches of our town to come together and put pressure on people that have that type of signs out there.”
“People that attend those churches have as much freedom of speech as the man does having the sign up. And we can go through and on public property protest what he has posted,” said Dale. “I understand the problems of trying to develop an ordinance, but I think that there’s an awful lot of people in this town that are very upset at this, and there may be action that needs to be taken by them to put pressure on people that aren’t conforming to what we see as norms for our community.”
Miracle said he didn’t disagree, but that such an effort was out of the council’s purview.
“That would be a matter for those churches, I would think,” said Dale.
Miracle said he hoped “courtesy and thoughtfulness” would prevail on both sides while they worked on a solution.
“Do I like that flag? No. But I also want to make sure we’re (not) doing anything to encourage anything that anyone shouldn’t do either,” said Miracle. “It’s an issue we all feel very close to the same way about. It’s becoming clear to me the longer I’m on the council, the number one issue we have is ordinances and their enforcement and a good chunk of our time is taken up by that. And how many limitations the state and the courts put upon us.”
When asked by the council about the possibility of a referendum instead of an ordinance, legal counsel Matt Mize said it might work, but that “it doesn’t mean that it would hold up if challenged.”
Mize said they would likely see other ordinances happen in other communities for the same flag.
“So I think we can watch and see what happens in some of the bigger communities,” said Mize.
Mize said he was personally against any sign with profanity, but that there are First Amendment issues at play, as well.
“The courts have heard cases on issues like this before and they’re still hearing cases on this,” said Mize. “I think we might see some ordinance drafting where may be able to prohibit the profanity. I think we just have to watch and see. I think Alan’s point is, we don’t want to be the court that gets it challenged on.”
Miracle said he agreed with that interpretation.
“If we’re the court case that wins I’m fine with that. If we’re the court case where the community gets sued and costs us a lot of money, I’m not,” said Miracle. “You don’t know what sets other things off as well. This is a tough time to understand and sometimes an action creates a reaction. I don’t like it. I’d love to be able to tell you we’ll could take care of it immediately, but I think it’s something that we’re going to have to tread lightly on but try to attempt to do something.”
Mize said time limits on posting political signs, in particular, have not held up in court, but that other limitations could be placed “as they’re reasonable.”
“Sign size and location are things that we can say. The number of signs we can control,” said Mize.
Miracle said the council would do whatever they “legally can.”
“All I want is the public to understand: Believe me, we want to do what we can do, but it becomes very difficult sometimes,” said Miracle. “We do what we legally can. My problem is not what’s illegal in this country, but what is legal. I just don’t get it. We’ll do our best and try and we want the community to be aware of that.”
Dale said he agreed that approaching the owner of the sign about taking it down personally might inflame things even further.
“The sad thing is, I don’t know this person, but approaching him and asking him to take the sign down might make him leave the sign up even longer. We don’t know what that type of reaction is going to be,” said Dale.
This article was made available through the Hoosier State Press Association.