The recent eleven-page letter from attorney Joseph Cutler to the city of Selah brought loud sighs from my corner. The learning curve from city leaders is not promising. They lost their chalk art battle, but they continue their war against the Constitutional rights of residents who dare to speak anything other than the "Keep Our Town in the (early) 1950s" party line.
Cutler's letter stakes out the latest battlefront: temporary signs. The Herald Republic article about the letter includes video showing City Administrator Don Wayman walking along First Street in Selah, removing some signs and leaving others. He and other city officials claim the signs he removed violated the city sign ordinance.
The letter from the Perkins Coie law firm (the 29th largest law firm in the U.S., with annual revenues of $935 million) offers to seek a restraining order against Selah and to file suit to have the Selah sign ordinance declared unconstitutional.
Besides 11 pages of legal citations, the cease and desist letter to Selah includes four pages of sign ordinance information provided by Washington's Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC).)
Since Selah's current debacle hit the headlines, MRSC has updated and reposted a 2017 blog that pretty much says Selah blew it by enforcing its sign ordinance against specific signs and leaving others. MRSC notes,"...other non-commercial signs (formerly categorized as ideological, special event, etc.) that are temporary in nature should be allowed to be placed as liberally as political signs since jurisdictions aren’t supposed to distinguish among these signs by content type."
Warnings don't get much clearer than that in the world of municipalities advising each other.
Bottom line, the issue (again) is selective enforcement of the city's ordinance, based on disagreeing with the content of the message. Selah's triumvirate of Raymond, Wayman, and Case apparently believe they can leave some signs and remove others, just like they tried to do with chalk art. They lost on chalk, they will lose on signs.
I am not optimistic they will learn before being hauled into court. I've seen this "split-personality-town" scene played out before. I lived and worked in a sundown town at one point in my career. The town's physical sundown signs telling blacks to "be out of town by sundown" disappeared sometime in the 60s. (To be clear, I mean the 1960s, not the 1860s.)
But the underlying values and attitudes remained well into the next century. Religious messages actually replaced the sundown signs at the outskirts of my adopted Southern town, but the hardened attitudes of hearts inside the town's borders remained the same.
It's time to admit that the foundations of racism in Selah are deep enough that they could meet building codes in Alabama. Reaching critical mass in community pushback is not likely to happen. The Marine, the hamburger stand owner, and the hometown attorney whose baccalaureate thesis was appropriately titled "On the Moral Value of Pride" will continue to win these tactical skirmishes on the streets of Selah, even as they lose the war in the courts. They simply won't meet enough local opposition to their decisions.
The rule of law is our long-term hope here. It will take several battles to get to the point where the rule of law prevails. It will take some time and some patience.
Perkins Coie understands that this will be a long fight, won in court rather than on the streets of Selah. And despite the fact that Perkins Coie lists Constitutional challenges at the top of their pro bono interests, if these issues go to trial, a judge can award attorney fees for the firm's pro bono work. Selah taxpayers will foot that bill, directly or indirectly.
Still, I hope Perkins Coie files for the restraining order and files the lawsuit about one minute after the next sign is removed or the next tactical approach is implemented.