At first glance it can seem like the first slip down a slippery slope, but a plan to allow advertising in municipal parks has some merit. Certainly those who attend baseball games, whether at the major league, minor league or Little League level, have found advertising doesn’t ruin anything. There’s historic precedent and when it comes to baseball, at least, it’s part of the charm.
That’s what Wallingford’s Recreation Commission has been envisioning: ads on athletic fields, as in baseball backstops or outfield fencing.
That sounds simple enough, but of course issues involving municipal government are rarely simple.
In this case, the town needs to review regulations involving signs. Freedom of speech rights are in play once a town opens land owned by the public up to advertising. That means it would be difficult to stop unwanted political or ideological messages. “Once you open that door, you have limited, if any power,” observed Janis M. Small, Wallingford’s corporation counsel.
The town would want to have some control over content should it decide to go ahead with advertising. Small has suggested that one way would be to create limited public forums. She and Town Planner Kacie Hand plan to review Wallingford’s rules regarding signs in light of two fairly recent court decisions. One is a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court clarification that municipalities can impose restrictions on sign content after strict scrutiny. Another is a ruling last year in which the state Supreme Court decided that while municipalities have the authority to regulate advertising signs, a town can’t regulate signs expressing a personal opinion that do not intend to promote a business.
The Town Council’s ordinance committee could be be reviewing the proposal early next month. If the concerns that have been brought up can be dealt with adequately advertising in town parks could provide a desirable revenue boost
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