Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Elections: Campaign sign confusion leads to minor Knox County conflict

Signs along Maryville Pike
Jim Matheny and I did a story last night regarding campaign sign laws. We used a recent "skirmish" between a resident and candidate to illustrate a problem. Needless to say, the candidate probably lost a few votes.

Here ya go:

As of Tuesday, Knox County voters are 30 days away from the August election. That means lots of campaigning and some arguments over campaign signs.

Although they're intended to help a person running for office, in at least one local race a sign more than likely cost a candidate some votes.

Late last week, South Knox County resident Stacy Davis said she was upset to discover a political sign on her property along Maryville Pike, a state highway. The sign was for 13th District State House candidate Jason Emert. Emert faces Eddie Smith in the August 7 Republican primary with the winner squaring off against incumbent Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, in November.

"When people drive by, people know this is our property. And then they see a sign for someone I barely even know, and (I am) not sure I would support who did not even ask permission to put it there" said Davis. "We pretty much never put up signs."

Davis said she believes the tree line between her home and the highway could cause someone to honestly mistake the edge of her property line. So, Davis contacted Emert, made him aware the sign was on private property without her permission, and asked him to remove it.

Davis said Emert initially declined, telling her that it was in the right-of-way and that he could put his sign there.

"He [Emert] left the sign, making sure I knew he was within his rights to do that and it would be a violation of law if I tampered with it," said Davis. 'I can understand the intent of the law because that way utility poles can be erected and street signs can be placed without having to ask everyone. But I'm quite sure the law was not intended for politicians to put their signs wherever they wanted."

Emert is, in fact, within his legal rights to leave the sign in place because it was on the right-of-way of a state highway. In Knox County, candidates cannot put signs on private property without the owner's permission. However, signs can be placed on the right-of-way as long as they do not interfere with visibility to create a driving hazard. Signs cannot be larger than 32 square feet without securing a building permit.

WBIR 10News looked at the laws regarding political signs. While there are many rules and regulations, they are pretty much unenforceable and carry no penalties if candidates or their campaigns violate them.

Nonetheless, Knox County Administrator of Elections Clifford Rodgers said politicians can "avoid a lot of the drama" by getting the property owner's permission before they post a sign.

The rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

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