Political signs: Refresher course

Nancy and I went out Wednesday to put up political signs for our preferred candidates. We also righted signs for other candidates we would not vote for that had fallen over. Putting up signs is always hard work, a lot of walking, dodging cars when crossing streets and making sure the signs we put up donโ€™t interfere with those that others have worked hard to put up.

So I was surprised to see today as I drove around that in places where there were several signs on Wednesday there were none โ€“ except for those of two candidates.

At the corner of Piney Mountain Road and MLK Boulevard there was a new Lee Storrow sign, but the signs for three other Town Council candidates that were there on Wednesday were gone. The Storrow sign had not been there on Wednesday. Hmmm.

At the corner of Estes Drive and East Franklin Street where the Kangaroo gas station sits and where there were candidate signs on Wednesday, someone had placed a Kevin Wolff sign but the other candidate signs were laid on the ground nearby in a nice little pile โ€“ someone had removed them and left them off to the side so no one could read them.

At the corner of MLK and Hillsborough, all Town Council candidates had been removed, except for Donna Bell and Jason Baker, and one for Storrow had been added.

Do the Storrow and Wolff helpers need a refresher course in state law about campaign signs? No one can remove a campaign sign from a public right-of-way except workers for that specific campaign. Removing other candidate signs, especially so that your favorite candidate has a clear ground, is illegal. Plain and simple. And should not be tolerated by any candidate.

Storrow and Wolff should remind their zealous helpers that they cannot legally take down signs they may not agree with. And if it was not helpers for those campaigns who took down the signs, then we have some rogue elements in this bastion of democracy who donโ€™t seem to like freedom of expression and would prefer that their own point of view be unquestioned and uncontested. Sad that that sort of behavior seems to come out during every election season.

–Don Evans

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  1. John Kramer

     /  October 15, 2011

    Don, I would say absent of you seeing someone doing that and confirming they were with the campaign of Storrow or Wolff, it may be a bit of a stretch to draw your conclusion.

    I know I have heard teenagers bragging in the past about their sign harvesting operations.

    To me, now that I live in Durham and see only a few signs, I have to wonder if it is time to ban signs in your “environmentally conscious” town altogether. When one who drinks the koolaid calculates the “carbon footprint” of driving around in a car that uses “unsustainable fuel” from a source that is past “peak oil” levels and putting down non recyclable signs, it seems the height of hypocrisy to do so.

    Not that the liberals in Chapel Hill would get it of course.

    Seems like the normal folks in Durham figured it out on their own, in a koolaid free environment. Hmmm.

  2. Nathan Westmoreland

     /  October 15, 2011

    I’m the president of the UNC Young Democrats and I went out with Lee and his campaign manager to put up the first batch of signs that we received Friday afternoon. We were excited about finally having the signs and wanted to put a few up right away. When we got to the corner of MLK and Piney Mountain Road around 10PM last night, there were no signs up at all and that’s the reason we decided to choose that location for signs. At the Kangaroo station, several signs had been stacked next to the telephone pole where the grasscutters had clearly just come through. It was evident already around town (especially on MLK) that the recent rain and wind had wreaked some havoc on the signs of school board, town council, mayoral, and quarter-cent sales tax signs. I’m sure that in the next few weeks, we’ll see the same toll being taken on Lee’s signs as well. I would encourage people to avoid accusing other candidates of crimes without the facts being known.

  3. Nathan, I understand that you don’t want Lee’s campaign tarred by loose accusations but I also noticed the same pattern as Don and Nancy (just as I’ve noticed singular Dan signs replacing sprays of Carrboro pol signs).

    Having put political signs up nearly every election – on and off year – since 2001 and cleaning them up since 2003, I’m quite familiar with what happens in the heat of an election. Wind, rain and the land mower dudes account for some damage but not all by any stretch. I’ve even heard folks that should know better brag about pitching signs in ditches, etc. Quite shameful.

    Still, you are right to pipe up on behalf of your candidate – I’m glad you did.

    Signs – as much as folks might not like them – are a form of protected speech and deserve to be “heard”. Common courtesy, you would think, would be sufficient in restraining the more passionate of various candidates supporters. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

  4. George C

     /  October 15, 2011

    I’d also add that I’ve seen some station owners remove signs because they thought the signs were on their property. Often they are unaware of how wide the public right of way is. In one case I had to contact the regional manner for a chain who, after becoming aware of the state law, apologized (although they weren’t my signs) and then instructed his managers to retrieve what they could from dumpsters and put them back up. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is enough turnover in managers every two years that many of these folks are unaware of the law and unaware of how far in the public right of way extends. I think accusing someone of a crime without any evidence is unfair and inappropriate on your part and would hope you might reconsider your accusations.

  5. John Kramer

     /  October 15, 2011

    So should you also blame Jason Baker and Donna Bell, since their signs were left standing? Sounds like a liberal progressive “sign gate” is going on here.

  6. Don, I know a couple of the spots you mentioned have been “harvested” multiple times since the 24th when signs could go up. Just because Lee and Kevin’s timing was better to go up after harvesting does not mean they had anything to do with the clearing in those intersections. Lately I’ve seen more eaten by lawn mowers than stealing — or in the case of Homestead and Weaver Dairy Ext, it looks like a bulldozer from UNC went over them all.
    btw, if you come across one of my signs and it is beyond repair, feel free to recycle it. If it is re-usable and the frame is not, let me know and I’ll come retrieve it. The wind truly has done a number on us in the last couple of weeks.

  7. Joe

     /  October 16, 2011

    I’m happy to say that I have a politics-free approach to dealing with roadside litter: I throw it all away. Whether it’s a sign for candidate X or candidate Y or for free karate lessons or cheap cell phones or anything else, I just throw them all away when I come across them.

  8. runner

     /  October 16, 2011

    Did anyone notice that the proposed food truck rules are more restrictive than the panhandling laws in town? Too funny.

  9. Mark Marcoplos

     /  October 16, 2011

    I think I know what happened. I heard a rumor that Bill Strom came through town recently. It’s pretty clear to me that Strom removed those signs.

  10. Scott Maitland

     /  October 16, 2011

    No Mark, he just made the town manager take down the ones he didn’t like ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Joe, I hope you’re kidding but if you’re not, messing with political signs is a misdemeanor offense (though rarely applied). If it’s only consolation, signs have gone up later and in fewer numbers than years past.

    Scott, quite funny but how many people remember why? Along those lines, State law was changed recently which limits the applicability of local sign ordinances to state road right-of-ways (like Franklin St.) Size being one unenforceable constraint.

  12. Ugh! Nancy & Don, next upgrade of your ‘blog software I hope you install a comment edit plugin.

  13. Nancy Oates

     /  October 16, 2011

    Nathan, as long as you were there putting up signs, why not replant the signs that the mowers removed? Seems only sporting.

  14. I put out a new sign at Piney Mountain and MLK earlier this afternoon. There was no evidence of my, or any of the prior signs, except for a Kris Castellano sign with a frame that was badly mangled.

    I generally repair other people’s signs, if it’s easy enough to do so. Most of the signs I’ve fixed have been Matt Czajkowski’s, James Barrett’s, and for the sales tax. This isn’t some secret alliance, it’s just the practical matter that metal stakes seem to fall down more often, but also are easier to fix, than wooden poles. I’ve also fixed a few of Annetta Streater’s – her poles stay in the ground, but it seems like she didn’t use heavy enough staples putting them in.

  15. Jon DeHart

     /  October 17, 2011

    I had one taken from MY yard Saturday night ….

  16. Mark Marcoplos

     /  October 17, 2011

    Sign tip of the day: Don’t staple the sign to the wooden post and then nail it in. The staple holes get loose and the sign usually falls off at the first rain or earlier. Pound the post in and then staple the sign.

  17. runner

     /  October 17, 2011

    The only signs that matter are the ones outside the voting site on voting day. That’s the only time anyone even reads the names.

  18. George C

     /  October 17, 2011

    Sometimes sign “thieves” are “concerned citizens” who have taken it upon themselves to police the community of what they consider litter or visual pollution. I remember a few elections past the Town asked the newspapers to post information regarding the State provision against removing signs. Someone might want to ask the Town to at least post something on the Town’s website.

    Jon, was the one removed from your yard a signed original or simply a print? Big difference in value.

  19. Someone stumbling on this thread might think we’re all being a bit silly – they’re just signs what’s the big deal?

    How a campaign is conducted, I’ve found, is a good rough measure of how a candidate eventually performs on Council.

    Dinging folks for vandalizing signs might seem as silly to some as dinging Council folks for twittering/facebooking during Council meetings but both are a measure of how serious a candidate takes their public service.

    First, signs as effective or ineffective as they might be (like mailers) are a form of free speech. Vandalizing signs is not just disrespectful of candidates but of the American democratic process. It’s also cowardly. If one doesn’t like a persons message – confront it directly instead of skulking around late at night ditching their signs.

    Second, recognizing the role signs play in that democratic process, the legislature has made it illegal, a misdemeanor rarely enforced, to deface or destroy them.

    Third, signs represent a significant local campaign expenditure and are typically the one campaign asset retained after an election. Look at Jason’s recent campaign report – re-used signs are a significant portion of his campaign assets (he should be commended in over-valuing them, by my estimation, to ensure transparency).

    My perspective is possibly skewed by having run and helped others run for office. I hated asking folks for money for my campaign . Losing signs to vandalism meant I potentially had to go back and ask for more money next round (luckily, my sign retention rate was high).

    Finally, most campaigns have the ability to get the message out to their supporters not to futz with signs. In 2005, I had a young man (who still plays a role on the local political scene) brag to me about how he went around trashing candidate’s signs in 2005. I was horrified!

    On one-hand a candidate might like the energy and passion that seems to have motivated such acts but, on the other, there’s a responsibility and public expectation of local campaigns to try to adhere to a higher standard. It’s a bit of a test of character as a candidate’s inaction will not be readily obvious – the easy way would be to ignore bad behavior and let bad actors benefit ones campaign. Like many tests of character, it is what you do when no one is looking that counts.

    My recommendation for any campaign is to keep an eye out for such behavior within ones supporters and quickly move to nip it in the bud.

  20. Terri Buckner

     /  October 17, 2011

    Is doodling or emailing any different from tweeting or facebooking?

  21. Terri, chatting during Council meetings via email, twitter or facebook is unprofessional in my book.

    A better analog is cellphones. So, is it acceptable for a Council member to whip out a cellphone and chat while doing the public’s business?

    Donna, it appears, is not the only Council member doing this but from my limited research, she appears to be the worst offender by far.

    It’s a matter of simple courtesy. Being on Council is a choice and part of the job is to listen to concerned citizens. It’s nothing less than disrespectful to chat or post online while citizens are appearing before Council asking for redress of their grievances.

    There’s 4 B’s I expect from Council members: B prepared, B present, B attentive and B honest.

    Hard to be attentive while chatting online.

    The first 3 involve professionalism of which Ed Harrison is a good example: over almost a decade he has done his homework, attended meetings consistently and paid attention to the most humdrum or contentious of citizens.

  22. Terri Buckner

     /  October 17, 2011

    How can you know that someone is chatting versus looking up data, reviewing their agenda, etc.?

  23. Terri, I stumbled on this while watching Council on line 2 meetings ago. While watching the IFC, up popped a tweet from Donna! Then her and Jason Baker popped a few tweets back and forth – including mentioning Jim’s ire at Matt C. I even “tweeted” a comment about it to which I thought Jason responded negatively (turns out he was talking about Matt and Jim).

    I was astonished. I wondered if this was commonplace and did a little research that showed that Donna, Penny and Mark have made online comments during meetings.

    I find your response, though, odd given your calls for transparency in the process. If you can forgive the unprofessionalism, surely it must bug you that there’s side discussions going on about during a public meeting.

  24. By the way, having side discussions online during Council meetings was one of the problems we tussled with during our discussions on the Tech Board. If you recall, we got UNC’s School of Government expert on open meetings to weigh in on the propriety of it.

  25. Terri Buckner

     /  October 17, 2011

    I didn’t say I supported it, Will. You made an accusation and I asked you to define the boundaries of your frustration and to provide evidence that a sin had really occurred. During one OWASA meeting, I heard something that I didn’t agree with and was looking it up online. Is that an acceptable use of the technology? I’m on the fence right now. It helped me understand that issue, but it also caused me to stop listening. Isn’t that the challenge of technology? It provides opportunities, and it presents challenges.

  26. Been awhile since I’ve been to catechism but I don’t recall twittering during a Council meeting being classified as a venial sin.

    Using online resources during a meeting makes sense – that’s why I pushed for providing paperless Council meetings nearly a decade ago. Chatting online or updating ones facebook is a different beast, though. I’ve tried to underline that distinct difference throughout all my comments on the subject.

    Why don’t you subscribe to @Donna_Bell0 to see if you think the practice is OK?

  27. And it’s not an accusation, it’s an observation.

  28. Terri Buckner

     /  October 17, 2011

    Will, if you haven’t figured it out yet, there are no observations among politicians. Everything is taken as an accusation or criticism. And likewise, many activists look at every action they don’t like as a mortal sin.

    As for the technology thing, my point is that technology is a tool. It can be used for good, and it can be misused. Laptops in the classroom (or the boardroom) have many benefits, but they also provide the opportunity for pursuing distractions. Personally, I admire anyone who can sit through some of the CH town council meetings without reverting to external distractions. But if you want to add to your list of “sins”, I’ve watched a couple of council members doze off. No technology involved.

  29. Jon DeHart

     /  October 17, 2011

    Just a print … ๐Ÿ™‚

    I did not buy new signs this year . I was with Lainey and Augustus and had not planned to put out signs . However, when others put theirs out , I figured I needed to .

  30. John Kramer

     /  October 17, 2011

    The silly season is indeed upon us.

  31. Jon DeHart

     /  October 18, 2011

    Sign Fairies were busy last night …. Lost all my signs between Estes and MLK and East 54 and that corridor …. Somehow other signs were left standing …

    Geroge, I guess because of supply and demand, mine are becoming more valuable everyday !!!

  32. Elliot

     /  October 18, 2011

    I miss the “Everybody Loves Raymond” signs.

  33. Actually it was “Everyone Votes Raymond” – a bit of an oxymoron but catchy at the time!

    That 1st run was much better than the 2nd though the 2nd was cheaper because it was a 1 color process. My wife, who is an artist, said if I run again I need a new multi-colored sign in the same vein.