Hearing on sign problem delayed

By Ed Brock

A hearing on a complaint by Clayton County Commission Chairman Republican candidate Michael Onyemenam about his Democratic opponent Eldrin Bell's campaign signs was postponed after Bell denied being notified about the hearing.

Onyemenam claims that Bell's signs violate state law and are deceptive because they only have Bell's name and the name of the position both men are seeking without the words "elect" or "vote for" Bell for that position. Onyemenam and his campaign supervisor, Grams "G.B." Osborne, filed a complaint in Clayton County Superior Court and a hearing on the complaint was scheduled for Thursday morning.

But Bell's attorney Greg Hecht said he was notified about the hearing 40 minutes before it was supposed to happen. He said he was told that Bell, who did show up for the hearing, had only read about it in the newspaper that morning.

Onyemenam said they tried to notify Bell by telephone, fax and mail, but not through the Clayton County Sheriff's Office.

"We served him but he denied it," Onyemenam said.

Bell could not be reached for comment on whether he had received Onyemenam's notice of the hearing. Onyemenam said he didn't seek to serve the notice through the sheriff's office because "we thought it was a simple matter."

Onyemenam and Osborne, who did not have an attorney representing them, said they believe Chapter 21-2-415 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.

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.

Osborne said that the ad is deceptive and Onyemenam said "it's not a responsible ad." They say it leads people to believe Bell is already the commission chairman.

Hecht said he is going to review the law to see if the sign is actually in violation, but he added that he's seen numerous campaign signs with the same format of having only the candidate's name and the office they are seeking.

"He's saying this is an inappropriate sign, which would mean that hundreds of candidates will be taking down their signs," Hecht said.

While saying she could not interpret the law, Cara Hodgson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Secretary of State's Office, said they knew of no other complaints being made on such a basis.

On Wednesday 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.

If the two sides do not reach an agreement on the sign issue another hearing will be held on Oct. 5 before visiting Superior Court Judge T. Penn McWhorter. Onyemenam said all of the Clayton County Superior Court judges recused themselves from the case.