Candidates must ask permission to place campaign signs on private property
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This time of year, weeds and political signs sprout with unsightly regularity. I can't walk from my driveway to my front doorknob without stumbling into thistle or a dangling flier.
Outside my neighborhood, the signs only grow larger. Colorful fields of campaign ads - filled with blues, yellows and greens - grow this season along many city corners.
Political signs have never bothered me in the way some bother Dawn Euton, though. We both understand their purpose and importance. The 49-year-old Victoria business owner, however, can't comprehend a recurring reality.
Politicians, or the campaign workers who help them, regularly plant big signs on her property without first getting her permission - and they have done so for years, she said.
"They need to go by the rules, to ask permission before putting these signs out," Euton said. "This is aggravating."
Euton's 40 acres off U.S. Highway 59 South sits across the highway from Aloe Elementary School, a popular county polling location.
While she approved the signs that are planted on her land now, other candidates placed signs without contacting her, she said. Euton called the offices of those candidates and asked workers to take the billboards away. After Euton failed to receive a response, she removed the signs.
So, what are the laws regarding the placement of political signs? What can private property owners do if signs appear even after you've asked for campaigners to remove others?
I called George Matthews, the Victoria County elections administrator, to learn answers to those questions.
Often, overzealous campaigners plant signs on private property - land stocked already with other candidates' signs - without first receiving permission to do so, Matthews said.
Campaigners also place signs on public property, which includes rights-of-way in residential areas. Placing political signs on any public land is prohibited by city ordinance, Matthews said.
Ray Miller Jr., the city's deputy director of development services, sent on Jan. 13 a letter to all candidates running for public office. He described the local sign ordinance.
Permission from the property owner should be obtained prior to sign placement.
No sign shall be placed within public right-of-way, on bridges or utility poles.
No signs shall create a visual hazard or obstruct visibility especially near roadway intersections or near driveways.
All signs shall be removed 10 days after the election.
Rules pertaining to areas in the county are similar. County rules forbid placing signs on state, county and federal rights-of-way, which often comprises the area from one barbed wire fence to another across the highway.
The Texas Ethics Commission requires all signs to include a written notice aimed to assure those planting them understand rights-of-way restrictions.
What can private property owners do if campaigners fail to heed these restrictions?
First, property owners can remove or dispose of unwanted signs without facing liability, so long as the campaigner didn't gain permission, said Victoria Police Det. Thomas Eisman. Even so, Eisman encourages property owners to first contact the candidate, campaign manager or party chairperson.
Secondly, campaigners who plant signs without the consent of private property owners can face criminal charges.
"Going onto private property without permission can constitute the offense of criminal trespass if it was obviously private property and the alleged offender was aware they did not have permission to be there," Eisman said.
These types of cases are often tough to build and prosecute, he explained.
While this year isn't as bad as most for Euton - sometimes a few dozen signs appear without permission on her land - she worries the current pattern will worsen as the March primary and November General Election near.
"The people who don't get your permission don't take those signs down at the end of the election either, so guess who gets to? I do," Euton said. "If we can nip it in the bud now, maybe it won't get really bad."