Candidate loses sign case

By Ed Brock

The campaign signs of Eldrin Bell, candidate for chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, will stay as they are.

Bell's opponent in the race, Michael Onyemenam, had taken Bell to Clayton County Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order regarding the signs which he claimed were misleading. The signs bear only Bell's name and the name of the office without the words "elect" or "vote for" Bell for the position, something Onyemenam's campaign supervisor, Grams "G.B." Osborne, claimed violated state law.

"People seeing these signs for the first time will not think that Mr. (Crandle) Bray (the current commission chairman) is the chairman. They'll think Mr. Bell is the chairman," Osborne said in a hearing Tuesday.

Onyemenam and Osborne, who did not have an attorney representing them, said they believe Chapter 21-2-415 of the Georgia Code requires Bell to indicate that he is a candidate for the office and not the current chairman of the commission.

Osborne particularly cited the last sentence in section (a) of the chapter.

"Campaign literature published and disseminated by the candidate, bearing his or her name and the office for which he or she is a candidate, shall be considered as in compliance with this subsection," the code states.

"For, that's the catch word," Osborne told visiting Senior Superior Court Judge T. Penn McWhorter of the Piedmont Circuit who was hearing the case.

The rest of the section deals with requirements of all candidates or organizations that "distribute, circulate, disseminate or publish" all campaign literature include their address and name on the material.

Bell's attorney Greg Hecht said Osborne and Onyemenam had completely failed to prove their case. First, Hecht said, there are numerous campaign signs that follow the same format and such signs are numerous in this month before a major election.

"This complaint just gives not credit to the public to understand what time of year and what season we are in," Hecht said.

Hecht also said Onyemenam had other options to address the sign issue such as advertisements or press releases.

"They can put up their own sign that says ?I'm Mr. Onyemenam, Clayton County Commission chairman.' We would have no objection to that," Hecht said.

In making his decision McWhorter said that, while it might be preferable that the signs bear the words "elect" or "vote for," he could find no legal reason to grant the temporary restraining order.

"I'm delighted at the outcome," Bell said after the decision. "If Mr. Onyemenam chooses we look forward to discussing the issues facing the people of Clayton County."

Bell also called the case a "gross misuse of the media."

Onyemenam said he was disappointed by the judge's decision.

"I'll just leave the whole matter in the court of public opinion," Onyemenam said. "The good people of Clayton County will decide who is right and who is wrong."

On Sept. 22 Onyemenam blasted Bell's record and cited personnel file documents from Bell's days serving in the Atlanta Police Department where he eventually became chief.

Bell responded to those accusations by saying he had never been convicted of any wrongdoing.