Protesters and others hoping to display signs on county property need to look elsewhere.
During a specially called meeting Friday morning, Sept. 4, members of the Cooke County Commissioners’ Court unanimously approved a policy regulating sign, symbols, structures, contrivances or devices on county property. The vote came after commissioners talked in closed session for a little more than an hour in the Commissioners’ Courtroom at the Cooke County Courthouse, 101 S. Dixon St.
According to the order, which is effective immediately, “a person or persons may not cause or authorize any signs, symbols, structures, contrivances or devices to be placed, installed, affixed or maintained on or over county property including the placement or installation of any signs, structures, contrivances, devices used for commercial or noncommercial purposes, except for items approved by the commissioners’ court.”
The order states that signs, symbols, structures, contrivances or devices are described as any banner, flag, poster or advertising display constructed of paper, cloth, plastic sheet, cardboard, plywood or other like material that appears to be intended to be displayed for a period of time.
Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley said Friday after the vote that the county has “had some internal conversations about needing to formalize a policy, but the events of this past weekend and the call for a special election for later this month prompted the action today [Friday].”
PRO Gainesville brought a display with nooses to its Sunday, Aug. 30, protest.
The Gainesville-based activist group has been calling since June for the removal of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that stands on the northeast corner of the Cooke County Courthouse. Last month, members of the commissioners’ court voted 4-1 to keep the statue where it is. Brinkley voted against. He wanted to have a nonbinding referendum placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The special election Brinkley refers to was called by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill Sen. Pat Fallon’s Texas Senate District 30 seat. Fallon, R-Prosper, received the Republican nomination for the 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, which leaves his current state seat open. Six candidates are signed up for the Sept. 29 special election, including Muenster’s own Drew Springer, a republican state representative.
Friday’s approved order is “applicable to all county property including county property used as a polling place on election days, except as follows: a. All legal ‘electioneering’ pursuant to Texas Election Code § 6 1.003 is all owed on county property used as a polling place beyond the prohibited distance to the polling place, including one sign per candidate or endorsement position, promoting candidates or ballot positions that may be displayed, waved and distributed, but said signs may not be installed on or over county property by stakes in the ground, nails, tape or any other method intended to affix the sign to county property,” the order states.
Brinkley said the order was needed because the county has seen an increase in the number of displays and signs being placed on county property in the past few months.
“Historically, individuals and organizations have asked commissioners’ court for permission before making such placements; however, we never had a formal policy regarding the issue,” Brinkley said. “With upcoming elections and continued weekend demonstrations, the lack of a policy has caused and is causing confusion as well as potential harm to county property.”
He said his office has not received any formal request to place anything on county property since the demonstrations began.
Brinkley said the new order allows the county the ability to “properly protect taxpayer property” while still allowing individuals and organizations to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Any signs, symbols, structures, contrivances or devices improperly placed on county property under the order will be considered abandoned and will be removed by county officials, the policy states.