By Carol Vaughn —
Chincoteague resident Nancy Payne spoke during a public comment period at the town council’s Thursday, Oct. 15, work session about regulations for posting political campaign signs.
“I was here before, in 2004,” to talk about this, she said, adding, “I’m back because this has come up again.”
Payne, who said she has been involved in posting campaign signs for 20 years, said it is a First Amendment right to post political signs on private property “for as long as you like.”
“You can’t enforce people to take them down,” she said, citing state law.
Payne said when she became active in “the political scene here on Chincoteague,” she got advice from someone to take the signs down immediately after the election if the candidate loses and to keep them up for another two weeks if the candidate wins.
Payne said she plans to take down signs posted on her Main Street property, near the entrance to the island, a week after the election.
She has two large campaign signs on the property, one of which has been vandalized with spray paint, Payne said.
“Through various channels, some complain they are too big, remove them,” she said.
Payne asked council members to put the signs into the context of “a large number” of advertising billboards long the Chincoteague causeway, “many larger than mine.”
She likened driving along the causeway to “traveling through the Yellow Pages of an old-fashioned phone book.”
“These complainers, have they mentioned or thought about these signs, suggesting that they be removed? My signs are, indeed, are temporary and will be removed when the election is decided,” she said, asking whether the billboards along the causeway will ever be removed.
Payne said people who vandalize properly posted signs are trespassing and damaging or stealing private property.
“They are committing crimes. So that’s the thing that I think we need to get across to these people who are doing these things,” she said.
Payne also asked the council to consider publishing a regular newspaper column giving information about town meetings and activities.
“Get us more involved,” she said.
In answer to a question from Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor, Payne said no town official has complained to her about the campaign signs.
Louisa Flaningam also spoke at the work session, thanking the Chincoteague Police Department for their professionalism after a window was broken at the Captain Timothey Hill House, a historic house on Chincoteague.
Flaningam and Paul Brzozowski are the owners of the house.
The window “was broken in such a way that someone was able to get their hand in and steal an antique lamp,” Flaningam said.
Officers from the department and, later, from the county, responded to the scene.
“It was amazing to watch them work” as they conducted an investigation, she said.
“…There evidently has been a good bit of vandalism and things going on on the island, and there could be a possibility that certain things are connected. They (police) don’t know whether this would be, but it could be part of the agenda,” she said, citing a recent conversation with the investigating officer.
“We are just so proud of the department and how seriously they took it,” she said, adding the officers made the couple feel safe.
They have since put up security cameras at the property.
“Halloween is a go,” emergency management coordinator Bryan Rush told the council.
The town has been working with non-profit organizations and the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce to plan for “some sort of normalcy,” while adhering to safe practices, in the fall season, he said.
Trick-or-treating will be Saturday, Oct. 31 from 4 to 8 p.m. for children 14 and under.
A message on the town Facebook page and website gives Halloween guidelines for safety during the pandemic, including maintaining social distance, frequent handwashing or sanitizing, using a cloth face covering, and refraining from participating if the person has symptoms.
Additional information about road closures for trick-or-treating will be published soon. Main Street from Church to Cropper streets along with Sunnywood Drive will be closed to traffic.
Chincoteague also plans to hold its traditional Christmas tree lighting and parade, Rush said.
Chincoteague has had 31 total reported COVID-19 cases, an increase of one case in the past week.
CARES Act Grants Update
Chincoteague has awarded an additional 33 grants for COVID-19 relief to small businesses and three to watermen, in a second round of grants funded by the federal government.
The second grant program “has been very successful,” said town manager Mike Tolbert.
The grants were $4,000 each.
The town has awarded a total of 86 small business grants and 10 waterman grants in two rounds.
In the first round, the town awarded grants totaling around $242,000.
“And I just signed enough checks to hand out another $144,000,” Tolbert said.
The town to date has spent $428,047 of CARES Act funds, including the business and waterman grant; hazard pay for some town employees; and equipment purchases for restrooms.
The town has around $71,900 from the CARES Act allotment left to spend on qualifying items before the end of the year.
Tolbert gave the council a prioritized list of possible items on which to spend the money, including, in order: two remote message display boards; personal protective equipment for EMS use; replacement of a server; streaming equipment already purchased for the council chambers; laptop computers, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for the public works department; police special duty pay; and 15 touchless flush valve retrofit kits.
The council also discussed purchasing a new dispatch console, which is needed but would cost $78,450 including remote capability.
“We don’t have that much money left in our award,” Tolbert said.
No vote was taken on the proposed expenditures at the work session.