Signs, signs, everywhere signs

My little blog was recently dubbed…’hate fiction’ by one of the half dozen citizens who spoke in public comments about the removal of political signs.  Ironically, the woman who coined the phrase…didn’t actually have any signs removed from her lawn.

In fact, FOUR of the ardent protestors didn’t have signs removed from their lawns in the recent sign sweep.  It’s reminiscent of national news….someone calls for a ‘citizen’s uprising’ and these people show up full of righteous indignation and outrage.  Their message gets a little watered down when you cross reference their addresses with  emails the candidates received and realize none of them were ‘victimized’.

Dr. McCray began giving signs to supporters in August.  By August 15th the staff were receiving complaints about the signs and were directed to remove them.  Each time they removed signs, McCray received an email with the list of addresses and the reason for the removal.  18 of her signs were removed, and while some were in the right of way, 16 of the 18 were cited for violating the 30 day rule in the ordinance.

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“No municipal campaign signs shall be erected for more than 30 days prior to these same events”

Apparently, before this election season,  ’30 days prior’ was interpreted to mean 30 days prior to the actual day of the election, November 5.

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When a citizen confronted Mitchell about not disclosing he was the one contacting staff about McCray’s signs, his excuse was that Hartzog had just recently ‘revised his opinion’ about the ordinance.  But that wasn’t really his call…

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The General Statute dictates ’30 days prior’ is a reference to one-stop voting, and not the actual day of the election.  Mitchell took advantage of this ‘revision’ but we’ll get back to that.

McCray emailed Hartzog asking for the specific portion of the ordinance which said she couldn’t put signs on private property more than 30 days prior to the election….

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“The signs ordinance previously provided would apply to all property within the town, including private property.”  Dan Hartzog

But…does it?

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the display of political and other types of signs on residential property is a unique, important, and protected means of communication and towns cannot restrict the display of such signs. The decision has not been overturned. In a 1994 case, the Court upheld lower court rulings declaring an ordinance that bans residential signs an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”

Just prior to reading this I called the Board of Elections and was surprised when I was told political signs can be on private property 365 days a year!  That completely contradicts what the attorney was telling the board and staff.  And yet, here it is in writing.  You can Google it.  Maybe the attorney should Google it.

Every single time the staff was directed to remove one of Kenjuana McCray’s signs, they were violating the US Supreme Court ruling.  Municipalities do NOT have the authority to restrict your free speech in that way…since 1994!!!!

But Mitchell himself is violating the town’s sign ordinance…and has been since September 23rd.

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Mitchell purchased ad space on a billboard on Hope Mills Road.  Unfortunately, it’s a clear violation of the sign ordinance he voted to approve just a few months ago.

“No political campaign signs shall exceed 32 square feet in area and no freestanding sign shall exceed 8 feet in height. “

Remember, this board held 7-8 meetings prior to adopting the sign ordinance.  There were workshops, public hearings and several discussions during regular meetings.  Local citizens, developers and business owners urged them to slow down and consider the ordinance more carefully before adopting it, but the board ignored them and approved it in April.

Mitchell knew when he purchased the ad space it was a violation of the newly adopted sign ordinance.  His sign measures 10 feet x 36 1/2 feet and stands well over 8 feet tall.

On September 27th the staff sent Mitchell an official notice of the ordinance violation.  He ignored it.  In commentary on his official facebook page he brags that he’s not removing the sign because there’s no financial penalty associated with the violation…

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This elected official, who has condemned the Mayor for more than a year with unfounded accusations, is blatantly refusing to follow an ordinance he voted to approve!  If I was violating an ordinance, or Mayor Warner was violating ordinance…do you think he’d condone it?

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October 1 Mitchell shared a graphic provided by the town to educate the public about the sign ordinance and the 15ft right of way.  It’s been implied Jackie Warner directed staff to pick up Mitchell’s signs, but the staff also sent formal notice to the candidates giving them 48 hours to bring all signs into compliance.  Two days later the staff picked up 34 of Mitchell’s signs…for being posted in the right of way and violating the ordinance.  If their candidate isn’t going to obey the law…why should they?

On October 7th the Board voted to suspend the sign ordinance as it applies to political signs on private property until after the election.  Our sign ordinance, despite Hartzog’s letter to McCray, doesn’t actually reference private property. And if it did, it would violate the Supreme Court ruling.   The board did not vote to suspend the remainder of the sign ordinance pertaining to political signs.  Which means Mitchell is still in violation…and has been for 25 days.

 

 

 

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