In spite of Hensel’s tactics, sign ordinance needs revision

Tom West - West Words
West Words by Tom West

I think I understand it. Robin Hensel thinks Little Falls is discriminating against her by inconsistently enforcing the city’s sign ordinance.

What I don’t understand is why everybody needs to look at this issue through a political prism. The city made Hensel take down the dozen-plus signs she had stuck all over her yard and put in the windows of her home, which put her in the “Occupy Wall Street” or “Back the 99 Percent”  or maybe the “DFL” camp.

She then complained that the city has allowed a “We Support Our Troops,” banner to hang in Bank Square for around 10 years.

This was immediately interpretted to mean that Hensel is anti-military. She begs to differ. She writes in an e-mail, “I would appreciate the important coverage of the fact that I come from a military family.  My father was honored for his service on the USS Fanning during World War II, both of my brothers served, two nephews, one in Iraq, and two uncles. One was a pilot and died trying to save his plane during a test flight. My mom’s cousin was  top gun in the Air Force Thunderbirds and so was one of his sons. That same son trained pilots in Germany for the bombing in Iraq.  I am not anti-military, just very anti-illegal invasion of a sovereign nation.”

I understand the part about coming from a military family. What I don’t understand is how people can claim in one breath that they support our troops and in the next breath that they don’t support what they are doing in a far-off hellhole.

I’m not saying here that one should never criticize government policies. What I am saying, however, is that when the lives of American troops are at stake, criticizing the government’s policies regarding their activities puts those lives at risk. Speak out if you must, but never forget the consequences to our troops when you do.

It’s been fairly clear ever since the Vietnam War that in some ways the United States is a paper tiger. Our enemies hear all the criticism heaped on the government’s war policies, and figure it out. All they need to do is maintain at least a trickle of maimed, wounded or dead soldiers back to the U.S., and eventually America will get tired and go away.

What hardly anyone ever wants to discuss, however, is the hard question of how this nation should be defended? How do we prevent another 9/11 or worse?

We don’t fight foreign wars to maintain the arms industry or for “oil” or some other commodity per se. We do it — or should be doing it — to preserve our own lives, property and civil liberties.

We can talk about tolerance, diversity and playing nice, but at some point, history teaches repeatedly, we have to stand up for what we believe.

For the first few centuries after colonization of the New World, Americans were protected by the two great oceans separating us from the Old World’s military powers.

But time and technology have marched on. Today, our enemies either have or are determined to have the ability to destroy us from afar.

Back to the sign flap, the question now is, what should the city’s sign ordinance say? I know that if one of my neighbors put up a mishmash of signs, even if they said they were for God, mom and apple pie, I wouldn’t be very happy about it. To me, the objection to Hensel’s approach would be more about the aesthetics than the message. If Hensel had acquired a sign permit and put up the single sign allowed, would anybody have complained?

Under the city code, if it’s a “political sign,” by definition that means it advocates support for a particular candidate or a particular position on an issue referendum. Such signs are allowed up to 90 days before the pertinent election, and must be taken down five days afterward.

Hensel’s signs had messages such as “Rethuglican policies are really spooky,” “Paying taxes is patriotic USA” and “Imagine … voting down a jobs bill.”

They were political in nature, but not “political signs” under the definition of the city code. That meant that after acquiring a city permit, one sign could be posted for 30 days.

Instead of conforming to the ordinance, Hensel raised the question of support for the military in a community which lists the Minnesota National Guard as one of its largest employers. She must have known that the wrath of God would come crashing down upon her. Respondents on the Record’s Web site at have suggested that she be deported or that she be sent to fight in Afghanistan. Hensel said other Web sites that don’t require the user to have a Facebook name have even made death threats.

Lets all get a grip here. While it’s obvious she went about it in a way that is counterproductive to persuading people, I think she has raised some good questions about the city sign ordinance, namely, why isn’t it consistently enforced and how do we word a sign ordinance in an all-politics, all-the-time world?

Like most people, I don’t have a problem with the “We Support Our Troops” banner, but if it conflicts with the city ordinance, then the city ought to re-word the law.

If anybody really wants to support our troops, however, I’d suggest joining the committee that continues to work diligently to designate this county as a Yellow Ribbon community committed to helping our military veterans and families. First Lt. Blake St. Sauver, who is heading up the effort through Camp Ripley, says designation should come by September.

And speaking of yellow ribbons, the City Council, while rewording the sign ordinance, may want to consider what it will do if somebody complains about tying one around the old oak tree. It’s the world we live in.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].