By: Scott MacDonald – April 2014
On Monday March 19th, five Billerica selectmen candidates met for a final videotaped debate before the April 5th election. The debate touched on many important issues facing the Town of Billerica, including infrastructure improvements, economic development, and the town manager contract.
As the debate was coming to a close, moderator Sandra Giroux, posed the following final question to all the candidates. ”Would you support a new town by-law that would eliminate all political signs, including resident sponsored vote-on-date?“ Incumbent Selectmen Robert Accomando and David Gagliardi both answered yes to that question. Selectmen candidate hopefuls John Piscatelli, Dan Burns, and Rome Capobianco all answered no.
Presumably, the political signage question was asked because a few Billerica residents had previously complained at a selectmen meeting about the esthetics of some of the political signs they were seeing around town.
“I don’t think that these signs should be popping up in town, they are not professional.” said Billerica resident Anne Noel. Resident Kevin Heffernan commented, “I don’t know how to do it, but we got to get rid of these signs.”
Specifically, the complaints were directed at the large and colorful hand painted signs created and distributed by sitting Selectman George Simolaris. Selectman Simolaris later commented:
I made the signs to let the residents know what’s going on, something the local government fails to do. The people that are complaining about the signs do not want information to be disseminated, so that a small minority of people can continue to have a stronghold on government.
Many residents of Billerica are outraged that two sitting selectmen would make comments supporting infringement on their constitutionally protected rights. Billerica Town Meeting member Anthony Ventresca expressed the following:
I’m outraged that any public official would suggest restricting all residents’ political free speech, especially during an election cycle, when people most need to know about important issues. These are the basic civil rights, freedoms, and liberties that this country was founded on. For any public official to have these views is very dangerous and they should not be allowed, by the people, to hold any public office.
Selectmen candidates John Piscatelli and Dan Burns have both made additional comments in reaction to Bob Accomando’s and David Gagliardi’s public support of a town wide ban on all political signage. John Piscatelli weighed in with the following comments:
I do not support limiting signs associated with political races. Our country was founded upon freedom of religion and freedom of political choice. Thus, limiting political signs is a first amendment violation. All said, political signs typically are displayed for 3 or 4 weeks a year. Accordingly, I’d prefer to see our leadership focused on our real issues, infrastructure, taxes, and economic development.
Selectmen candidate Dan Burns expressed similar sentiment in opposition of a town wide ban on political signage:
This is an issue of our first amendment rights. To seek to prevent political signs is outrageous. This country was founded on the rights of the individual and our government officials are sworn to uphold the laws, not go against them. To even think to go down the road to prevent political signs goes against everything this country stands for.
It remains to be seen if the Billerica Board of Selectmen will ever actually attempt to move forward with an outright ban on all political signs in Billerica. What is clear, though, is two selectmen candidates have publicly expressed support for such a ban, and three selectmen candidates have publicly expressed opposition to it. As they say, elections have consequences.