Timing, size and placement of campaign signs an issue

The qualifying period for upcoming elections has just been completed, but already questions have arisen over political signs.

Issues with when campaign signs are allowed to be posted, where they can be placed and the allowable size, especially in Alexander City where there is an ordinance outlining those guidelines, have been raised.

Last week, city officials removed some signs that weren’t compliant. The Alabama Department of Transportation also removed several that were placed improperly on the right of way.

“What we did was take some down that were in violation of the ordinance as we have been instructed on it in the past,” Alexander City Police Chief Jay Turner said.

“We didn’t destroy them, but just collected them and saved them and let the candidates know so that they could pick them up. The idea was to be informational.”

Derrick Blythe, a local attorney who is also a candidate for the District 81 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, said he was made aware of issues the city had with some of his signs.

“I was made aware and I talked to the city about that,” Blythe said. “I don’t believe that the rules that are in place are in keeping with the right to free speech under the Constitution. City Attorney Larkin Radney asked me to give him some time to look into it, so that’s kind of where we are.”

Radney confirmed that he has started looking into what other cities have done as far as sign ordinances and case law regarding issues.

“I have just started researching, but hope to be able to form some background so I can advise my client, the city, on where were stand.”

Turner said in the meantime, they are not removing any additional signs until they get some clarification.

The city’s rules are pretty straightforward.

Article 4, Section 7.4 of the city code stipulates, “No political signs shall be allowed within or upon a public right of way.”

The ordinance also states that no political signs may be placed in the city until 90 days before an election.

Other specifications detail when signs may be placed and how many signs can appear in a certain location.

The code allows for one sign per candidate per lot in residential districts and two signs per candidate per lot in other districts. In addition, signs are also allowed on moving vehicles, like in the back of pick-up trucks or on trailers; if those vehicles are left on the right of way, however, they can be removed as abandoned vehicles after three days.

According to the city regulations, only one political sign per candidate is allowed on most residential property. For commercial property, two political signs per candidate are allowed. The signs can be no larger than 4 square feet.

Political signs or any other type of sign cannot be mounted to city utility poles, light posts, buildings or trees within the city limits.

Technically, violators of the city ordinance can be cited and fined. Officials say they would hope that candidates would respect the rules and have always been understanding in the past, knowing that many times campaign staff and residents place the signs without the candidate knowing where they are being located.

The city cannot do anything about signs along state maintained highways, such as U.S. 280, Alabama 63 or Alabama 22.

A quick check with county officials show that there are no guidelines on the books about signage, but right-of-way rules for state highways still do apply.