Council tackles illegal placement of campaign signs

BLYTHEWOOD – Where to legally post campaign signs in Blythewood is up for conversation for the second time in six months. This time it was discussed by the town council at Monday night’s regular town council meeting.

“We have an ordinance that prohibits campaign signs in the right of way within the town limits,” Councilman Brock said in reference to item number III A on the meeting agenda.

“The ordinance allows signs posted on private property with written permission of the property owner. But we have upcoming primaries and general elections, so I’d like to find a way to allow candidates to place signs in the right of way temporarily, similar to how we have always placed them in the past.”

He suggested amending the ordinance to allow a 30-day moratorium on the right of way prohibition for primaries, general and other elections. He suggested that – until the ordinance can be amended – staff allow campaign signs in the right of way by not enforcing the town’s campaign sign ordinance’s right-of-way prohibition through June 30 so as to also accommodate runoff elections.

Until last November, it has been the tradition in the Town of Blythewood, that 30 days before an election, candidates’ campaign signs popped up all over the downtown area. They lined the inside of sidewalks down Blythewood Road, Boney Road, McNulty Road, Main Street, and other areas. Multiple signs were clustered at street corners and rarely was there a business in town that didn’t have one or more campaign signs staked in its yard.

The signs usually went up at night so permission of property/business owners was rarely, if ever, sought. And business owners have never made an issue of signs in their yards, according to Town Administrator Carroll Williamson.

That is, not until last November, when a video appeared on several news stations featuring the Fairfield County Council Chairman Douglas Pauley removing a political campaign sign from in front of The Voice’s office where he subleased an office. The video showed him depositing the sign into the back of his pickup truck and snapping the tonneau cover down over it.

The incident occurred a week or so before the Nov. 7 Blythewood town council/mayoral election. The sign in question belonged to Town Councilman Donald Brock who was in the last days of a tight race to retain his council seat for four more years.

The issue of the sign became heated.

Everyone who weighed in on the issue, including The Voice, about whether Mr. Brock’s campaign sign was (or was not) legally staked out in the first place – was most likely wrong.

Reading Blythewood’s sign ordinance’s campaign sign exemption didn’t do much to clarify the question.

The Town of Blythewood’s sign ordinance 155.430 Exempt Signs (G) lists five rules for the posting of campaign and election signs inside the town limits. The first three provide: 1) that each sign shall not exceed 20 square feet in area; 2) that all signs may be erected no sooner than 30 days in advance of the election for which they were made; and 3) that all signs shall be removed within seven days after the election for which they were made.

That’s where the ordinance starts to get sticky.

The fourth rule states that, “The property owner upon whose land the sign is placed shall give written permission for the placement of the signs and will be held responsible for violations.”

The fifth rule states that, “No sign shall be placed in any right-of-way, on any telephone pole, street sign and/or street sign pole or on any public property.

Trying to decipher exactly where the rights-of-way are (and aren’t) in the town is also a near-elusive task since many of them are prescriptive easements.

For now, Mayor Sloan Griffin suggested the town attorney work on verbiage for an ordinance amendment that will provide council with a way to legally and temporarily allow campaign signs in the right of way for elections.

Because the sign ordinance is part of the zoning ordinance, it will need to first go before the planning commission for a recommendation to council, then council will need to pass two votes for the amendment to take effect.

The proposed amendment will go to the planning commission on May 5 with council’s first reading set for the May 9 budget workshop. A special meeting for the second and final reading could be called as early as a week later.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]