A campaign sign for Lake Stevens mayoral candidate Brett Gailey is on display at the intersection of 20th Street NE and Main Street. (Stephanie Davey / The Herald)

A campaign sign for Lake Stevens mayoral candidate Brett Gailey is on display at the intersection of 20th Street NE and Main Street. (Stephanie Davey / The Herald)

In Lake Stevens signage debate, city ordinance may be unlawful

A Lake Stevens code regulating sign size based on content is violating a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

LAKE STEVENS — Does size really matter with political campaign signs?

When it comes to the four-by-eight foot versions that mayoral candidate Brett Gailey is posting around town, it apparently does.

Some residents are complaining the red, white and blue signs are too large and violate city ordinance. Gailey argues he’s well within his rights to go big.

The debate leaves the city council facing a constitutional conundrum.

Municipal codes in Lake Stevens limit the size of signage across the city. But Gailey, an Everett police officer and Lake Stevens city councilmember, claims it’s the city ordinance, not his signs, which violates law.

“Based upon the information I received from the city, I put those signs up with the understanding that our ordinance was outdated and not up to speed with the Reed v. Gilbert decision,” said Gailey, referencing a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that found all signs with message content must be governed by the same standards. According to the ruling, regulating political signs by different laws than ideological signs or signs for events is a violation of the First Amendment.

Gailey made the comment at a city council meeting earlier this month.

In Lake Stevens, sign regulation varies based on the content of the advertisement. According to Gailey, in 2016, the city council discussed changing the ordinance, but for reasons unknown to him the issue fizzled out.

Fellow city councilman and mayoral candidate Kurt Hilt isn’t buying Gailey’s legal argument.

“Lake Stevens’ sign ordinance has been in place for quite awhile and it hasn’t been a problem until now and all the other candidates are following it,” he said Friday.

The city council discussed the issue at its July 9 meeting but took no action. According to city officials, the sign code is currently under review by Lake Stevens’ legal team and it may be brought back to the council for consideration “in the near future.”

Until then, to avoid any potential litigation, retiring Mayor John Spencer has agreed not to enforce the code while city management creates a plan to potentially replace the law.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3449; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com. Twitter: IanDavisLeonard.

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