The perennial crop of political signage is springing up throughout town, and it’s Kilgore Code Enforcement Officer Justin Windham who’s tasked with keeping an eye on where they’re taking root.
Granted, Windham’s even more careful about policing yard signs for Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke and other candidates than he is about clearing away garage sale placards and rogue businesses’ advertisements, private property even when they’re placed in prohibited rights-of-way.
“Political signs we’ve always dealt with on a complaint-basis so we don’t know have any errors,” Windham said Monday, “so it doesn’t look like we favor one over the other.”
Most of the time, the signage-side of Windham’s job is spent uprooting signs that don’t fall into any political category, clearing them off public property according to local and state restrictions.
On a regular basis he collects “We Buy Ugly Houses,” discounted dental insurance signs and the like, mass-produced but masquerading as hand-drawn. Just as frequently, he’s pulling up homemade, multi-colored announcements of garage sales. Mixed in are businesses’ signs advertising promotions and specials – prohibited when they’re planted anywhere other than the business’ property.
“Usually under city code, we’ll pick them up, and we have to hold them a certain period of time,” Windham noted. It’s five days, according to local regulations available at CityOfKilgore.com, but “I usually give them about two weeks that I hang on to them,” reluctant to just throw the materials away.
He did recently get rid of a pile, though: “Between old garage sale signs and business signs that weren’t at the location of the business, i probably had 15-20 signs, collected in about a month’s time.”
Most of the time, Windham says, if contact information’s available he’ll try to contact whoever placed the signs. That’s typically impossible with “With Buy Ugly Houses” and the like.
“A lot of times they’ll hire people in this area to go put out 100 signs. We contact the company, but they have no idea where those signs are or who put them out. With the garage sale and business signs, we’ll go out and photograph and remove them in case someone comes looking for them later.”
Notably, the vast majority of Windham’s sign-code enforcement is spent on items placed in the public right-of-way.
“If they’re on private property, we’ll let the property owner deal with those,” he said. As right-of-way goes, “A good rule of thumb on these signs would be the telephone poles -- it’s usually where the edge of the right-of-way is. That’s what I usually gauge them on, is where they’re at in relation to the telephone poles. If they’re between the telephone poles and the road, they’re usually in the right-of-way.”
In all cases, Windham points to the city code for Signage 101: read up on the rules before stepping over the line.
“Check our city code, just type in ‘signage.’ You’ll read where the signs can be and can’t be,” Windham added. “If you have any question you can always contact code enforcement. We try to find a way that they can do what they want to do in compliance with code.”
That said, “If you’re dealing with political signs, you need to know what the election code says about where they can be and can’t be.”
Texas Election Code prohibits political signs being placed in public rights-of-way or on public property, and electioneering is controlled around polling locations. Candidates’ sides cannot be posted on utility poles or trees on public land.
Politicians and their campaign workers must get explicit consent before placing political signage on private property. The law prohibits signage going up more than 90 days before an election, and it must be removed within 10 days of the election.
According to state rules, the signage must also carry this exact wording: “Notice: It is a violation of state law (chapters 392 and 393, transportation code), to place this sign in the right-of-way of a highway.” The Texas Department of Transportation will remove any signage in violation of the restriction.
Striving to remain apolitical, Windham sticks to complaint-driven enforcement.
“The big thing is, just read the code. Check what the code says and what state law says and that will help you out.”