MEXICO — On a recent Friday evening parents and children were seated at tables at the Frosty Delite ice cream shop on Main Street.
In an adjacent parking lot, in plain view, a large electronic sign displayed three alternating messages: “Weed the People.com,” “Cannabis oil cures cancer,” and “Natural Cures.”
Some people call it free speech; others say it hurts the town’s image and contradicts the message of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program taught in elementary schools.
“Reasonable people do not do something like that,” Town Manager John Madigan said of the sign’s location and message.
The town’s electronic sign ordinance prohibits flashing, scrolling signs that could distract drivers, but it doesn’t say anything about content.
To address complaints from individuals and organizations, selectmen directed Madigan to send letters to property owners Don Hamann (221 Main St. in Mexico) and James Barnett (204 Main St. in Mexico) asking them to remove the sign, which has been operating for months.
Madigan said the town has not heard from either of them.
The letter reads, in part, “You could not have chosen a more inappropriate location to advertise your message.”
It goes on, “For many years, the town has supported the DARE program to help educate our children in the schools about drug abuse. Your message supports the exact opposite of what the DARE program teaches.”
At a recent board meeting, Selectman Reggie Arsenault said, “It doesn’t look good for the town, being right next to (an ice cream shop); there’s a couple of people quite upset.”
He led the effort for the letter to Hamann. “I know he has the right to, but people are getting upset. It doesn’t look good for our community, with tourist season coming.”
“You’re messing with free speech,” Selectman Byron Ouellette said.
“I know, but it doesn’t look good for our community with all of this going on,” Arsenault said. “Have him move the sign over to Rumford. That’s where he lives.”
“I don’t like it either, but he’s within his rights,” Selectman Andy Dupuis said.
Madigan showed a letter dated May 17 from River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition and River Valley Rising thanking town officials for addressing the electronic sign.
The letter, signed by coalition member Patricia Duguay and Allie Burke of River Valley Rising, reads in part, “We, too, have expressed our concerns about the message to youth as well as the negative image it gives to the Town of Mexico. Our hope is to work with the community to build policies and practices which support health decision-making for our youth and community members.”