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Palm Coast Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 2 months ago

Who’s stealing my signs? Candidate protests campaign sign-removal process

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The county has removed signs placed by a number of political campaigns.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County is removing political signs placed on county land and rights of way and holding them three working days before destruction, and at least one candidate is not happy. The procedure has historically been the county’s de-facto policy, but the County Commission formalized it with a resolution during a previous County Commission meeting. 

“You guys passed a resolution a few weeks ago that I think any court of law would throw out in two seconds flat,” County Commission District 4 candidate Jane Gentile-Youd said during the public comment period in an Aug. 6 County Commission meeting. “And I would like it amended, first of all to save the taxpayers money — money, money, money. This ordinance says any private sign installed on county properties in violation of resolution — No. 1, it needs to be established that it is county property, which was never done in the case of recent vandalism of my personal sign. Secondly, it does not address who was to immediately remove the sign.” 

“You guys passed a resolution a few weeks ago that I think any court of law would throw out in two seconds flat.” 

— JANE GENTILE-YOUD, candidate for County Commission

Gentile-Youd also said she was never notified about her sign. 

“I never got three working days; I didn’t even know the sign was taken,” she said. “I was never notified; how could I have three working days? So let’s make it fair to everyone and have three working days that the candidate has to remove or replace at their expense after the county proves that they violated the right of way ... and then after the three working days that the county will remove the sign unless the candidate asks for an extension for a hardship reason and charge $20 a day instead of removing the sign, breaking it, storing it, not storing it, spending gas money, having people call the police because they don’t know where their property went, costing the sheriff time, and everyone else. This is an abomination and it needs to be stopped.” 

NEW POLICY 

The county’s policy doesn’t require that the county notify sign owners that their signs have been removed. It simply gives them three days after the removal to claim a sign before it’s destroyed. 

County Attorney Al Hadeed said during the meeting that Gentile-Youd’s sign along County Road 302 was removed because a county code enforcement officer who was out removing another sign noticed hers, and “saw it was obscuring a part of the intersection, which presents a safety hazard.” 

“I think it’s incumbent upon the candidate to understand the rules and not place their signs in the right of way.” 

— GREG HANSEN, County Commission chairman, running for re-election

County staff access the property appraiser’s website to tell where the right of way is relative to where a sign is, and can also use measurement wheels to see how far signs are from the roadway or right of way, he said. In the case of Gentile-Youd’s sign, Hadeed said, that area had recently been surveyed for an FDOT grant and the survey information confirmed that the sign was within the right of way. 

As to changing the county’s resolution, he said, the proposal that the sign owner receive notice three days before the county actually removes the sign would mean leaving up signs that could become a hazard to drivers and a liability to the county. 

If Gentile-Youd’s suggestion were to be implemented, he said, “The tendency is going to be that the sign that shouldn’t be in the right of way is going to be there longer. There are numerous candidates for office from the federal, state and local level. ... And so all of those candidates’ offices would need to be contacted under this rule amendment if their signs are discovered to be in violation of the right of way rules.” 

Hadeed added that it wasn’t clear how difficult it might be to obtain nonlocal candidates’ contact information, or the amount of labor that might be involved in recording illegal sign locations, contacting the owners, and then sending a code enforcement officer out after an additional three days. 

And, he added, “It’s a constitutional requirement that we not allow publicly owned property to be use for a private purpose without governmental approval, without appropriate compensation or some other interface with the use of our right of way ... for somebody’s structure that they want to install within our right of way.” 

KNOW THE RULES 

County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen thought those legalistic details were beside the point. 

“Thank you for that, but I think it’s moot,” Hansen said. “I think it’s incumbent upon the candidate to understand the rules and not place their signs in the right of way, and if they do so, then the signs should be removed immediately.” 

County Administrator Craig Coffey said the signs also present a problem to county staff members charged with mowing the right of way. “That’s one reason to have them removed them immediately and not spend a prolonged period trying to figure out, or have the guy on the mower trying to figure out how the sign is.” 

And, he said, signs placed close to the roadway can present a hazard, especially when they’re larger signs constructed with 4-by-4s. Other signage in the right of way has breakaway poles for safety and visiblity. 

“Once you put this signage in the right of way, if you were to veer off the road and hit this and it’s not breakaway, that’s severe injury” he said. “And the reason for removal right away is that puts some liability and danger to the public if you aren’t removing those signs in a quick manner.”

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