There are 32 local candidates running for office, most of them in the July 19 primary, and political races always generate a forest of campaign signs placed illegally in public road rights of way.
Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen saw a particular thicket Friday at the corner of Gray Highway and Shurling Drive.
“All those signs -- it wasn’t just political signs. It was roofer signs, it was firewood signs,” he said. “Why would people want to buy firewood right now?”
Besides simply being illegal, signs in the right of way can distract drivers and block their view, Allen said.
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When it comes to enforcing the law, though, efforts are sporadic.
Allen said he used to be “the world’s worst” for putting his own campaign signs in road right of way, but he stopped before the last election and won’t do it again.
“Bottom line, it’s against the law,” he said. “Why would you want to elect someone who doesn’t follow the law?”
It’s usually safe to put signs behind a row of utility poles, said Kimberly Larson, Georgia Department of Transportation District 3 communications officer. That’s not an infallible guide, but poles are usually close to the edge of the right of way, she said.
City and county right of way standards are the same as the state’s, Allen said: Signs should be placed behind the line of utility poles and fire hydrants.
Allen said he’s picking up signs outside city limits, and he may do so in the section of his district that lies within Macon -- and he’s asked the county Engineering Department to do the same within its jurisdiction.
He asked Councilman Lonnie Miley, who chairs the city Public Works Committee, to have the Public Works Department do the same inside the city.
Miley said he would tell other council members not to put their campaign signs in road rights of way, but he wouldn’t ask Public Works to pick up political signs that are already there.
“I know political parties. When you’re running for office, people spend a lot of money on those signs,” Miley said. “I would certainly not tell Public Works to go pick people’s signs up. Absolutely not.”
He said he doesn’t think it’s a big enough issue to provoke taking them up, and interim Public Works Director Shawn Fritz said that’s the message he’s received.
“From what I understand, and this is from the last election, they were told not to touch them,” Fritz said. “We haven’t been told to leave them or take them down, regardless of whose they are.”
Signs posted next to city-owned buildings are likely to disappear, but out on street rights of way, they’d have to be lying in the street to be collected by Public Works crews, he said. “We are not actively pulling up signs,” Fritz said.
State road crews, however, are told to watch for illegal signs when they’re making regular maintenance rounds, Larson said.
“If there are any signs in our right of way, they are removed,” she said.
When mowing teams go out, one person walks in front to remove signs and any trash, Larson said.
“We do one big push in the springtime before we really start the first mowing season,” she said. “We collect several tons at that time throughout the state.”
Collected signs are taken to the department’s area office and are returned if the owners ask.
“We’ll give back anybody’s signs if we’ve still got them,” she said. “We understand that those signs cost a lot of money. We don’t want to take any of them.”
But there’s not much storage room, so unclaimed signs are soon destroyed, Larson said.
Any other enforcement is left up to local authorities, she said.
Ken Sheets, the Bibb County engineer, said his workers do what they can outside city limits. “We do our best to clean these up a couple of times a year,” he said. “When we make a sweep, it takes just about all our people a day to pick up these signs. We’ll pick up a dump truck load.”
That costs the county not only time, but landfill fees, Sheets said.
Recently, one county resident brought in 75 to 100 signs that she and her neighbors collected from roadsides and utility poles, Sheets said. They’d gotten tired of the clutter, and they asked for more enforcement.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.