Illegal, Ugly And Tolerated Campaign Signs Don’t Belong On Public Rights Of Way, But No One’s Going To Take Them Down
Campaign signs sprout like mushrooms in an over-watered lawn this time of the year.
They’re everywhere - standing in the neighbor’s yard, hanging from fence posts, glaring from car windows.
And, like every other campaign season, they litter public rights of way, ganging up on each other at street corners, along sidewalks and in medians.
It’s a commonly accepted practice by candidates hungry for name familiarity. The offense is ignored by county and city code enforcement officers and right-of-way enforcers who say it’s not worth the time, trouble and cost of ordering them removed.
“No one may appropriate right of way for their own personal use,” said county enforcement officer Allan deLaubenfels.
“But, those things are temporary. They’re only around during a campaign, and they’re usually taken down.”
John Henry, a city code enforcement supervisor, said every year it’s a problem and every year the city’s attorneys say the same thing: Leave the signs alone.
“The signs should be down within a month or two,” Henry said. “By the time we get around to hassling people, they’re gone.”
Along the median dividing Ash and Maple, “Yes! Science Center” vies for drivers’ attentions with “David Holter for City Council.”
A “Martin Burnette for County Commissioner” is shoved into the gravel nearby. “John Roskelley” - one of Burnette’s opponents - stands across the street.
Travel a little farther north and dozens of signs for City Council and commissioner candidates line the grassy hill in a game of one-upmanship.
A yellow, black and white “Orville Barnes” sign sits a short distance from a green and white “Roberta Greene.” A blue and white “George Marlton” stands just in front of a red, white and blue “John Roskelley.”
Candidates say they don’t want their signs in the right of way. It’s just that supporters on a mission to get their candidate elected put them there.
“Enthusiastic people put them up for me,” Greene said, adding that her signs will come down immediately after the Nov. 7 general election. “With the same vigorous nature that we put them up, we’ll take them down.”
“Overzealous supporters put them everywhere,” said Jennifer Feeney, campaign manager for Mark Sterk, Republican candidate for the 4th District state House of Representatives.
Council candidates Ken Withey, Jim Kolva and Jeff Colliton vowed they have strict policies against putting the signs in the right of way. If the signs land there, they didn’t approve their placement, they said.
“I’m putting them up myself, trying to avoid that,” Colliton said. “My wife says, ‘You will not put them in the right of way.”’
“We haven’t put any there - on purpose,” said Withey, who added that his biggest problem was that several of his signs had been mangled by unknown vandals. “They’re literally destroying them.”
City enforcement supervisor Henry said any sign that could block a driver’s view or pose some other hazard is taken down. As far back as he can recall, no candidate had been fined for the offense.
After the elections, a city road crew usually goes out to remove signs left over at the end of a long campaign.
“We don’t charge, but we’ve talked about it,” Henry said.
DeLaubenfels noted the signs are free speech and protected by the U.S. Constitution. That doesn’t give candidates license to put them in public rights of way, but “it’s really an issue of informing the public” about who’s running for office.
Most candidates say signs play an essential part in getting elected.
“For someone like myself, name identification is everything,” Colliton said. “You’ve got to get your name in front of people.”
Others, like council candidate John Talbott, stay away from signs altogether.
“I think they trash up the city,” said Talbott, adding his four signs will be worn by campaign workers, sandwich-board style.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo