This is from today’s Douglas Neighbor.

Sign Placement Disputed
by Stephanie Siegel
Douglas Neighbor Staff Writer

With the election season underway, the issue of campaign signs is again a hot issue for some Douglas residents.

Captain Eddie Morris, commander of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division, said after receving recent phone calls about missing campaign signs, the department was forced to take action.

“We got a complaint from two citizens about somebody taking down campaign signs,” Morris said.  “We did some investigating and found it was Mr. [James] Bell.  He admitted to it.  We just gave him a warning and told him if he took property that wasn’t his, he was subject to arrest for theft by taking.  If you take property that doesn’t belong to you, that’s a theft.”

Bell did it again and was arrested, Morris said.

Bell, who lives in Douglas County, said he had asked campaigners to remove signs from a beautification area known as Dogwood Strip, which is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

“I’ve asked the candidates not to place signs along the strip.  Their response was to put even more signs there,” Bell said.  “Let them go back to their own neighborhoods and trash them.  We don’t want their trash here.”

Though the strip is not owned by Bell, but the railroad company, he said civic groups have helped maintain the property for years, even erecting a flag and community clock.

Bell runs a civic group called Lithia Springs Clean and Beautiful that has held various community clean-up projects.

“Codes should be enforced equally across the board.  When politicians are allowed to violate the codes they enact, I see a real problem.  It’s the old story of ‘Do as we said, not as we do.’  All we are asking is that the campaigns respect our community and not place signs on Dogwood Strip.”

When told that a Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman said campaign signs are not allowed along state highways, Morris said, “Who are they?  What authority do they have to say that?  They probably don’t make the ordinances and laws.”

David Spear, a GDOT press secretary, said political signs are not allowed on state right-of-way, and GDOT crews pick them up when they find them, and throw them away.

If GDOT employees pick up signs along Highway 78, would a Douglas County deputy arrest them?

“We would have to see what they’re doing,” Morris said.  “We haven’t had a complaint on them.  When we have complaints, we have to follow up on them.  The property belongs to other people.

“The candidates are told that they can place their signs six feet off the roadway when they qualify,” Morris added.  “We have to go by what the county ordinances say.  I don’t work for the state.

However, Major M.O. Harper of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said, “We don’t enforce ordinances here.  We only enforce state laws.”

Morris and Harper agreed that “theft by taking” is a state law.  But the question of where signs may be placed is not in their jurisdiction.

Spear said Highway 78 is under state jurisdiction, so state rules apply.

“From our perspective, if [Bell] was taking signs from our right-of-way, it would be prosecutable only if we elected to bring charges, which is certainly not something we’d consider doing,” Spear said.

Morris said if Bell or others think the law conflicts, “They get to go to court.  That’s why we have courts.  Then the judge will teach us all something.  Maybe he’ll make a ruling that everybody can follow.”