FORSYTH COUNTY — Complaints are a sign of the times for the Forsyth County Code Enforcement Department.
“We’re into the hundreds,” department director Steve Zaring said of the reports staff members have received about unwanted or unsightly campaign signs on public roads. “Every work day [staff] is out picking up violations or responding to a complaint.”
While Zaring said private property is the only place campaign signs are allowed, it’s up to the homeowners to place the signs in their lawns. This spring, however, people have been waking up to find signs have been put there overnight. Particularly as the May 20 primary draws closer.
“That happens quite a bit,” he said.
While removing signs from public property could result in theft, a property owner is fully within their right to take down unwanted signs placed in their lawn, Zaring said.
For signs on public property, it’s best to call his department because residents “don’t want to put [themselves] in that position to be involved in a criminal thing.”
“It also may or may not be a violation and we won’t know until we’re able to respond and have a look at it,” he said.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has directed its maintenance crews to remove any signs along state highways and interstates.
“As part of our routine maintenance work, the department will remove any and all signs from our right of way,” said Bayne Smith, district maintenance engineer.
“Right of way is defined as the strip of land over which facilities such as highways, railroads or power lines are built and maintained. It is a wise practice to ask the property owner where the right-of-way line is when you get permission to install your sign on their property.”
In addition, signs are not allowed within 150 feet of polling places.
Mandi Smith, Forsyth’s elections supervisor, said the office helps candidates by providing measurers and aerial photos that show the exact lines on a map.
But violations can still occur. And that’s when poll workers step in and remove the signs.
“When it’s an actual polling place and polling is taking place during an election day, that is something we poll workers would enforce,” she said.
“We go past the 150-foot line and lay it down. We won’t stick them back in the ground though, they’ll just be taken and laid down outside of that line.”
The best practice for candidates is to ask private property owners for permission.
Besides the rules about sizes and placement, Zaring said he hopes candidates also will follow the law for removing signs, which must happen within 15 days after the election.
“If they would do that, it would save county resources,” Zaring said. “It would be great if they would come and pick them up and not have county people do it.”