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Public Service – And Lip Service

By Anthony Noel

Earlier this week I had a lot of fun imagining and writing an “interview” with Mayor Allen Thomas. Political satire is what drew me to newspapering and I was lucky enough to be introduced to it through the weekly ramblings of maybe our most gifted such writer, the late Art Buchwald.

Buchwald was lucky. People expected funny from him and he had a gift that allowed him to give it to them week in and week out. I have tremendous respect for stand-up comedians, but making the written word funny is tougher in some ways than standing before an audience, because you don’t get the immediate feedback a crowd provides. You write it and hope people “get” it.

Buchwald was lucky in another way: Since people expected funny, he never had to be serious.

Lacking his comic genius, however, I don’t have that luxury. There are instances when, no matter how I try, I just can’t make light of something. One such thing is dishonesty. Or more precisely, the initial realization that I’m being deceived. Cutting up over Allen Thomas’ transgressions is easy because after watching him in action for years, they’re no surprise. But when someone seems earnest and you begin to suspect otherwise, that’s disappointing to say the least, and – for my money, anyway – no laughing matter.

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IMHO

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This column is hard to write because for the last nine days I’ve been hoping to write a very different one. I wanted to publicly applaud the Michael Overton campaign for making right their apparent error in posting oversize, over-height signs in highway and street rights of way.

The prospects seemed promising. When I first broached the subject on Oct. 2, Overton campaign manager and fellow real estate developer Mike Saad commented on the story. Though he was a bit fast and loose regarding when I’d tried to contact Overton about the sign issue, Saad seemed genuinely interested in – and committed to – bringing the campaign’s signs into compliance.

If that had happened, you’d be reading something very different than what you’re reading now. I’d be saying how refreshing it is that a campaign is able to admit an error and correct it. I’d be saying that between them, thanks to their real estate interests, Overton and Saad hold the key to getting Greenville on the path to smarter growth, and their willingness to correct their signs might indicate a willingness to work with those who have seen the horribly negative results of the sort of growth Greenville is now pursuing, to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes.

And I’d have certainly taken the opportunity to ask the mayor – the only other candidate not following state law on the placement of oversize signs – just one more time what is so hard about following the rules, since it didn’t seem to be a problem for the Overton campaign.

Sadly, however, it is a problem.

A week after our reporting first appeared, Saad and I traded emails Wednesday:

9:17 a.m.
Hello Mike,

I am following up on your comment […] and my reply to it at The Guardian website, to ask the status of the campaign’s work on relocating or removing oversize and over-height signs from rights of way. Again, I think it laudable that you and Mike plan to address the issue.

It’s been a week since our coverage on this was published. Your note […] promising to address the out-of-place signs was received six days ago, but it appears none of the signs has been moved. I am preparing a new report which will include photos of some of the signs and would appreciate your response by the close of business this date (October 9). I’d be happy to include photos of campaign staff removing/correcting the infracting signs if you’ll advise of the time and location.

Thanks again for your earlier reply and, in advance, for your anticipated reply today.

Best regards,
Tony

He replied at 5:26 p.m.:
Anthony

The supporter who put out signs went back and reviewed them and felt that five were marginally in the right of way. They were just moved recently so they are fine now. I’m driving around tomorrow [Thursday] because Mike and I feel that a just a few more may still be in the right of way. If we find any, the supporter who put them out said that he would be glad to move them.

Please keep in mind we have permission to place them on every property they are located. It was never intended to be in the right of way, but was intended to be on the property in which we had permission. We have had quite a few support[er]s who were more than generous to allow us to place these signs on their property, and that was our intention from the beginning.

Have a great day!

Kindly,
MS

An hour later I wrote back:

Thanks for your reply, Mike. I’ll be taking a last look on Friday prior to posting my story.

Have a great evening.
T.

And here’s what I found:

Image 6

Image 5

Image 4

Image 3

Image 2

Image

Image 1
Then, just before 1 p.m. today, as I was writing this column, Saad posted this comment to our original coverage:

An update to the sign issue:

The supporters who put out signs went back and reviewed them and felt that a few were marginally in the right of way. They were just moved recently so they are fine now. I drove around and found additional signs that I feel may be in the right of way. I’ve forwarded the locations to our supporter who said they would be moved by first of next week hopefully.

There is some debate in our camp exactly where the right of way is. The electric/power/light lines are not always on the right of way line. Our supporter is pulling up GIS plans to find out exactly where the line is. He assured us that any signs found to be in the right of way will be moved. We put everything on hold this week because of the extensive rains all week.

Please keep in mind we have permission to place these signs on every property they are located. It was never intended to be in the right of way, but was intended to be on the property in which we have permission. We have had quite a few supporters who were more than generous to allow us to place these signs on their property, and that was our intention from the beginning.

I hope this helps clarify this issue. Our intention has always been to do the right thing.

Kindly,
Mike Saad
Elect Michael Overton Campaign Manager

This sounds very nice and proactive. And there’s a small – albeit shrinking – part of me that wants to believe what Saad is saying. But the fact is that the rains didn’t begin until Monday, four full days after our reporting on this. Each of those days was gorgeous. But even if they weren’t, one would hope an interest in doing the right thing isn’t contingent upon the weather.

Maybe my cynicism is getting the better of me. But when two developers – whose livelihoods are in no small way connected to knowing and abiding by rights of way – cannot address an issue like this within one day, let alone four (let alone what will be 12 by next Monday), reality trumps my will to believe them. And the reality is simply this: Every day these signs remain in violation is another day that one campaign is gaining an unfair advantage over the others.

If the Overton camp is really sincere about correcting this, a sure way to show it would be by simply posting all their oversize/over-height signs behind power lines, as District 4 Candidate Terri Williams has done. Another would be removing them until the research this campaign should have done before posting them in the first place is completed, and re-posting them with absolute certainty that they are within the law.

One Response

  1. These pictures show–among other things–that no matter how big your sign is, you can’t blot out Mario’s Boots. Heck, my eyes went right to the tiny yellow and red sign.

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