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Further Developments

By Anthony Noel

Two days ago I documented what appeared to be illegally posted signs of the Allen Thomas for Mayor campaign. Late last week, it was the spate of signs for both Thomas and At-Large Councilor Dennis Mitchell in rights of way prior to the date such placements were lawful.

Today I was out taking more pictures. Up and down Greenville Boulevard – at Evans Street, Red Banks Road, near Landmark, at St. Andrews, and in other locations all over town – I found Thomas signs which appear to be in the right of way but violate North Carolina’s size and height restrictions. Case in point, at Red Banks:

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I’ll spare you the others for now, but as you’re out driving look for them. In each case, the signs (or part of them) are forward (i.e., on the street side) of the power pole line, which NC DOT Traffic Engineer Steve Hamilton said last week is the typical inner boundary of the right of way. All are either 48 inches square or twice that, at 96 by 48. The maximum for any political sign in the right of way is 864 square inches, making these three to five times larger than the law permits.

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IMHO

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Up to now I’ve reported this “straight,” as the news story it is. I continue to work it that way. I’m awaiting Mayor Thomas’ reply to an email asking if he is aware of the potential violations, and whether he plans to assure his signs comply. I’ve also emailed Hamilton asking about the penalties for violations, and because he hasn’t yet replied, I’ve followed up with his deputy, Ken Peedin.

But beyond the possible violations, there’s a broader issue, to which my reporting has alluded. I’ll address it now – from a decidedly opinionated point of view.

In prior coverage, I asked readers if they had any notion of why so many of Mr. Thomas’ and 4th District Council candidate Terri Williams’ campaign signs occupied high-traffic properties. Reader Linda McGowan’s comment came closest: “It is interesting that very few of the mayors signs have been posted in the yards of voters, but they are found in abundance in the public right of way.”

In fact, signs for Thomas and Williams are found in abundance on properties owned by real estate developers – including rights of way fronting developers’ vacant lots.

State law says campaigns must get the permission of abutting property owners even when a sign will occupy the right of way. But it also says no sign posted in the right of way – even when permission is given – may exceed the 864-square-inch limit, or be more than 42 inches above the edge of the pavement. Many of Mr. Thomas’ signs violate both rules.

To Ms. Williams’ credit, I have yet to see even one of her signs which appears to be in violation. Although several of her signs are as large as Mayor Thomas’, they are well behind the right of way – on vacant lots being marketed by developers.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Legally, not one thing.

But from a voter awareness standpoint, it is, in my humble opinion, interesting indeed.

Both Mr. Thomas and Ms. Williams have vested interests in Greenville’s development community. In paperwork filed with the city in 2011, Thomas said he was employed by “Tide Development,” and described his occupation as “Real Estate.” Ms. Williams is a real estate agent whose web page details her work with developers.

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I’ve been covering growth issues for much of my life. Developers carry tremendous impact in every city. Their projects are often characterized as economic bonanzas, bringing new business and new jobs.

Something I’ve heard time and again from developers is the same thing a local one told me shortly after I’d moved here: “Just tell us what the rules are and we’ll follow them. If you don’t like the way things are done, change the rules.” In my experience, however, developers are far less open about the things they’ll do to ensure no changes to the current rules take place – unless, of course, the change will make them more money. One such thing is helping candidates who support their practices get elected – and one of the ways developers do that is by permitting those candidates to post huge campaign signs on the vacant lots they own.

The trouble is, Greenville is approaching a breaking point. Sprawling beyond its limits, allowing huge commercial projects in unwise locations, and forcing people to jump in their cars for something as simple as a bottle of milk.

Think about it. You’ve just graduated from ECU. You can put down roots in Greenville or someplace where getting a gallon of milk – or taking your kids to soccer practice, or getting to your job – won’t become a traffic-snarled ordeal. And where your neighborhood’s concerns will be heard – not ignored – by city leaders.

Which would you choose?

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One Response

  1. Don Clement says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to these sign violations. The issue may seem minor at first, but it warns of a possible troubling attitude: a scorn for fair play in running for office, and an arrogant flouting of the rules. This is hardly what one wants in city officials.

    BTW, I have a personal policy of not voting for realtors for municipal office. The built-in conflict of interest seems inescapable. Pleas to the contrary usually ring hollow.

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