They are one of the most visible aspects of election season – and a basic form of free speech in America.
The signs are showing up all over Curry County in the weeks leading up to the May 15 election. A large batch of signs are particularly noticeable on the corner of Highway 101 and Easy Street in Brookings.
For years I’ve wondered what the story is behind that particular piece of property. Who owns it? Does he allow just anybody to plant their political signs there? Is it against the law?
I decided to find out.
With a little help from Brookings City Hall, I tracked down the owner, Art Selby.
“It’s not what I bought the property for,” said Selby, 84. “It’s just an investment property.”
Selby purchased the quarter-acre corner lot 10 years ago. Not soon after, he received several phone calls from political candidates wanting to post their signs there.
“It’s a big piece of property. I thought, ‘Why not?’,” he said. “As long as they keep the signs the right size and police it themselves, I’m fine with it.”
There’s another catch.
“No Democrats. It’s a personal thing,” said Selby, who did not elaborate.
He doesn’t charge people to place signs on the property. “It’s just something I do,” he said.
Placing signs on the corner is legal, according to city and state sign ordinances.
“I’m required to take them all down when it’s all over,” Selby said. “Most people are good about taking down their own signs.”
Sometimes, overzealous candidates or their campaign workers place signs where they violate city, county or state laws.
In some instances, illegal signs pose a threat to public safety, especially where they appear in intersections, medians, on bridges, utility poles or along sidewalks. Other times signs are placed on public property or private property without the owner’s permission.
The Oregon Department of Transportation rules about campaign signs are clear: They may not be posted on state highway rights-of-way. Also, there are restrictions for signs on private property which are visible from state highways.
Political signs placed on state highway rights-of-way will be removed without notice and held at local ODOT district maintenance offices for 30 days. Signs are prohibited on trees, utility poles, fence posts and natural features within highway rights-of-way. They also are prohibited within view of a designated scenic area.
The width of state highway rights-of-way can vary considerably depending on the specific location.
The rules are similar in Curry County and its cities, such as Brookings, which prohibits signs on public rights-of-away, including sidewalks, telephone poles and medians.
It seems the best bet is to place signs on private property, with the owner’s permission of course, and well away from a public rights-of-away.
In this high-tech, computerized world of instant communication, old-fashioned campaign signs may still serve an important function: name recognition. If people don’t read the newspaper, listen to local radio or know the candidates (or know someone who knows the candidates), these signs might do the trick.
Me? I think it’s just clutter, but I don’t get too worked up about it. It’s a basic form of free speech, but one governed by laws that requires such signs be removed within a week of election day.
That works for me.