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9/6/2012
Sign clutter flourishes; Weiner: "If the candidate is motivated to adhere to the law, it is not difficult to comply with."

New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner said his 2010 campaign briefed volunteers on clear-zone regulations, avoided major intersections and stuck with private properties where the owner had previously agreed to host a sign. “If the candidate is motivated to adhere to the law, it is not difficult to comply with,” he said.

Sign clutter flourishes; Pamphlet advice has fallen on deaf ears

Melissa Nann Burke The News Journal Sep 6, 2012   

Delaware’s election commissioner distributes pamphlets to candidates explaining where, when and how campaign signs may be legally posted.

Some campaigns don’t read the pamphlets or choose to ignore the law, judging by the number of signs popping up in roadway medians and next to major highways.

“It’s like a carnival out there right now,” said Jeff Leonard, who works in the state Department of Transportation division responsible for yanking illegal signs. “In New Castle County, especially, it’s even more of a challenge right now.”

Most of the year, the sign pollution law prohibits unofficial signs in the state's right-of-way and in the “clear zone,” which includes medians, shoulders and the area within 10 feet of a roadway. Restrictions are lifted for 30 days before and after an election — Aug. 13 to Dec. 6 this year. Signs are never allowed in the clear zone for safety and visibility reasons, officials say.

Roadside-control agents try to get out twice a week to pluck signs from the clear zone, Leonard said, but a vacancy has left him down a staffer in New Castle County, where the volume greatly outpaces Kent and Sussex.

Resident Guy VanderLek was disappointed to see how many incumbents’ signs cluttered Del. 1 during the Labor Day weekend. He contacted the campaign staff of Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matthew Denn, whose signs are among those along the highway.

“What a great thing to show our beach-bound visitors. ‘Discover Delaware’ indeed,” he said. “I sent emails to them, saying, Why not set a good example for others to follow?”

Such signs aren’t illegal this time of year when placed outside the prohibited zone; however, it’s always illegal to stop alongside limited-access highways such as Del. 1 or I-95, except in emergency situations.

The campaigns might have dodged a traffic citation, but DelDOT emphasizes the danger of stopping on a highway without proper safety equipment or training.

Markell’s campaign said that each of its signs was carefully placed.

“I can’t tell you that no one stopped alongside the highway,” said campaign spokesman Jonathan Kott. “But the majority are near off-ramps or an area where they can be accessed from a road other than a highway.”

New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner said his 2010 campaign briefed volunteers on clear-zone regulations, avoided major intersections and stuck with private properties where the owner had previously agreed to host a sign.

“If the candidate is motivated to adhere to the law, it is not difficult to comply with,” he said.

A bill in the Legislature last year would have hiked clear-zone fines from $25 a sign to $50 for a first offense and $75 for repeat offenses. The measure stalled, in part because of politicians’ concerns about its effect on campaign signs, said sponsor state Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek.

“The concern was that the opposing campaign would take your sign and put it in an area where it would create a visibility problem, and DelDOT would fine the candidate even though it wasn’t their fault,” Miro said. “I want to bring it back next session. This is not a dead issue.”

Contact Melissa Nann Burke at 324-2329 or mburke@delawareonline.com

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