By ALICIA LEONARD
They are popping up more than an afternoon thunder storm this time of year and they will probably just get worse according to Kevin Hargett, Walton County code enforcement manager, “We haven’t had too many complaints yet, but they do seem to progress as the election season progress,” said Hargett about election signs issues.
The main point on election signage is the difference between private and public property or what is termed right-of-way. “Along county roads, right of way can be up to 50 to 100 feet off the shoulder of the pavement,” according to Hargett and there is a reason why. “It’s not just about ascetics, it about safety. The right-of-way is to be kept clear because those are emergency areas and if someone has an emergency or has to pull off the side of the road suddenly these can make the situation more dangerous.”
How does code enforcement deal with sign complaints? First, we usually contact the candidate and let them know there has been a complaint and usually that is enough to fix the situation. We ask them to move their signs so that they butt up against private property and don’t cause a safety issue,” explained Hargett.
Pat Blackshear, director of planning and development services for Walton County agrees that most candidates are good at self-enforcement and will willingly move signs they were not aware were code violation. “I think everyone is making the effort to place them properly,” said Blackshear.
Blackshear’s office gives all candidate a packet of info on proper placement through the Supervisors of Elections office. The memo states that although the code development office realizes that signs are important to campaigns, signs may not be placed in the right-of-way of any road or construction so as to create a hazard.
They must also be placed on private property according to Hargett. “Code 7.02.02 states that all signage, including temporary election signs, must be placed on private property.”
A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) outdoor sign inspector for region one, Andrew White stays busy this time of year. “I cover 15 areas in northwest Florida and I am on the road almost all the time, especially this time of year. Right now as we speak, I have a truck bed full of election signs that have been improperly placed.”
How does he know the correct or incorrect placement in different areas? That’s where the mapping office from FDOT comes in. Jody Bush is the mapping project manager for FDOT and says candidates and residents alike are welcome to get copies of area right-of-ways if they question the placement of signage. White said he often calls into Bush’s office while out on the road to make sure he has the correct right-of-way length before picking up signs. “I call in and say ‘give me the next two miles’ and give them my coordinates and they tell me if it’s 50 or 100 feet from the center line.”
What happens to the wayward or misplaced sign? “We take them to the maintenance yard and keep them there. Sometime the candidates call and come pick them up and sometimes they don’t,” he said with a slight chuckle.
DeFuniak Springs City Marshall Mike Adkinson, a candidate for sheriff, paid the Herald a visit on the day this article was written and talked about the plethora of signage that has popped up to support his campaign. “We are working diligently to place them on private property and not in right-of-ways,” he said.
Candidate Robert Nelson says it’s tough, but thinks it can be done. “I really want to prove a point that proper sign placement can be achieved. I think where we run into trouble is the candidates might be aware and taking every precaution but sometimes supporters who place signs might not be aware of the codes and that’s when they start popping up in places they might not belong.”
ALL OF THESE signs appear to be placed on the right of way, out of compliance with state FDOT sign regulations. (Photo by Jeffrey Powell)