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Campaign signs dot Bryan County landscape
Campaign signs 001
Campaign signs fill the southwest corner of Highway 144 and Belfast River Road near the roundabout. - photo by Ted O'Neil

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”

Drivers around Bryan County lately can’t be blamed if they find themselves singing that lyric from the 1971 hit song “Signs” by Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band.

There are six contested races on the May 24 general primary ballot featuring 14 candidates, each with their own designs, color schemes and messages on campaign signs big and small stretching from Belle Isle to Groveland.

Because campaign signs are temporary, ordinances in the city of Richmond Hill and Bryan County exempt them from many of the requirements to which permanent signs are subject — such as those for businesses or subdivision entrances — provided they meet certain requirements.

“Part of the situation is that it’s a First Amendment issue,” said Eric Greenway, the county’s planning director. “The candidates want to put their signs out, and people want to support them by displaying signs.”

Richmond Hill Assistant City Manager Scott Allison, who also serves as the city’s director of planning and zoning, said the city sign ordinance does not limit the number of signs a property owner can display.

“There have been Supreme Court cases where cities try that, but you might have a husband and wife who support different candidates,” he said.

Greenway said that if county officials become aware of an illegally placed sign, they will reach out to the candidate.

“They’re pretty good about relocating them if we call,” he said. “The rule of thumb is that signs not be placed in a manner that would interfere with sight lines or cause safety issues. We ask that the candidates use good judgment.”

Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jill Nagel said state law requires all signs, not just political ones, to be clear of the right-of-way on state roads.

“If you live along a state road or have property on one, look for the utility poles because they are generally located at the edge of the right-of-way,” she said. “As long as you are behind that, you’ll be out of the right-of-way and on private property.”

Nagel said state highway crews will pick up signs that are in violation. Candidates or residents who believe a sign was removed in this manner can call the GDOT maintenance office in Savannah at 912-651-2144 to ask.

“We keep them for a period of time, but once we get so many, we have to dispose of them,” she said.

Allison said city residents can avoid placing signs in the right-of-way by not putting them between the sidewalk and the street. Signs also cannot be put on utility poles or traffic signs.

City ordinances allow signs to go up when a candidate qualifies to run and must be taken down within 10 days after the election.

“That doesn’t mean on the 11th day we’re going to start going around taking signs,” Allison said. “Candidates are pretty good about it because the winner doesn’t want to gloat and the loser just wants to get their signs down as soon as possible.”

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