Election signs proliferate, cause controversy

By Ed Brock

Bill Gardiner's office for his water testing company Analytech, with its frontage on Ga. Highway 138 near Ga. Highway 54 in Jonesboro, is a good place to put a sign.

That's why Gardiner put a sign for his candidate for Clayton County district attorney, incumbent Bob Keller, right there in front of his building. But apparently somebody else wanted to use Gardiner's property for another sign.

"I walked out there a couple of weeks ago and there were signs out there that I didn't authorize," Gardiner said.

His Keller sign had been taken down and replaced with one for Keller's opponent, attorney Jewel Scott. He tore that sign down and put his Keller sign back up, but since that time the Keller sign has somehow come down several more times, though this time no other sign took its place.

The incident is one of several involving signs for candidates in Clayton County's local elections. It's the latest battle in the sign wars that are fought in every local election, with candidates or their supporters claiming their signs have been stolen and citizens complaining that there are just too many signs in the right of way and all over.

In Gardiner's case, Scott denied any knowledge of who took the Keller sign from in front of his business.

"We don't take signs down. We've had our signs taken down," Scott said.

That's a real problem, Scott said, since it's a lot of work for her volunteers to go out into the summer heat to put up signs.

Scott's signs were the source of two other complaints by two women who say the signs were placed on their yards without permission.

Katy Powers lives on Ashley Oaks Drive off Noah's Ark Road in Jonesboro and a couple of weeks ago she discovered one of Scott's signs on part of her yard. When she called Scott to ask about the sign, Powers said, Scott asked if the sign was on the right of way.

"She said if it's in the right of way I'm OK with doing that," Powers said.

Brenda Schofill lives near Powers on Carnes Road and also found an unauthorized Scott sign near a utility pole in front of her property. She also called Scott.

"(Scott) told me that she had the right to put that sign there because there was a utility pole there," Schofill said.

Scott said she couldn't remember talking to Powers or Schofill specifically, though she did recall speaking to a woman who had a complaint about one of Scott's signs being in her yard.

"I told her by all means take it down," Scott said.

Scott said her volunteers have instructions to put signs only in the yards of people who give their permission.

"We don't put signs in the right of way, that' is our position," Scott said.

That is one of the restrictions the county has on the placement of political signs, said Clayton County Zoning Administrator Dawn Dickerson.

"No signs are allowed in the right of way," Dickerson said.

The signs also are not allowed within 250 feet of a poll location, according to state law, Dickerson said. The ordinance also states that the signs are permitted in all districts for not more than six weeks before a primary election and must be removed within two weeks after the candidate's election or defeat, whichever comes first.

Scott said she'll be collecting all of her signs that she can find after the election.

Trish Pittman had an issue with signs in the right of way near her Hampton home in Summer Creek subdivision off Lovejoy Road.

Until recently the signs from several candidates lined the roadside in her area, but now it appears the county has picked them up. Still, Pittman said she is concerned about how the signs affect the county's appearance, especially since the signs in the right of way impede the county's mowers as well.

"All we know is it's really starting to look trashy," Pittman said. "That's something we have to start yelling about. We just want the county to be a desirable place to live."

It's not really the job of the Clayton County Transportation and Development Department to pick up the signs, director Wayne Patterson said previously, but usually they are called to do the job if the signs are left for too long.

"I have told my people that if they see any of those to pick them up," Patterson said.

Though it is against the county's code to put signs in the right-of-way areas, but a laissez faire approach is usually taken toward that, Patterson said, and the signs are often allowed to stay.

"I think that as time goes by you'll see the commissioners tighten up on that," Patterson said.

Eldrin Bell, candidate for chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, said he keeps his signs only in the yards of those who give permission and has instructed his volunteers not to put signs in the right of way. And he won't forget his signs after the election, Bell said.

"I'm going to get a truck and we'll be out there collecting signs," Bell said.

One of Bell's competitors for the chair position, Wade Starr, said it is also his policy not to put signs in the right of way, but it doesn't always work out that way.

"I will acknowledge that there are some in the right of way," Starr said. "Some people get carried away when they see other people's signs in the right of way, but as a matter of policy we work hard to keep them in the yards."

The third candidate in the chairman election, Terry Bizzell, responded quickly to a complaint that some of his signs had been nailed to trees along Rex Road near the old mill.

"Obviously I didn't do that, but I take full responsibility," Bizzell said on Friday. "I'll make a formal apology for that and I'll make sure it never happens again."

By Saturday the signs were taken down.