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Saturday December 20th 2014

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Campaign Sign Controversy

lynn lairdA city of Pensacola truck just cruised Palafox, removing campaign signs from the sides of the street. The city employee said he was following instructions and pulling signs from the right-of-way. He referred questions up the chain of command.

Last night during a Pensacola City Council meeting, City Administrator Bill Reynolds was questioned about the recent flurry of sign removals. He said that staff was simply enforcing city ordinance.

“Signs are always an issue when it comes to elections,” Reynolds said, noting that the city had decided not to enforce penalties associated with illegal signs and explaining that the city had to achieve a “balance” between strictly enforcing ordinances and allowing candidates to display signs.

Lynn Laird, who is involved with Democrat Jeremy Lau’s campaign for the District 2 seat in today’s special election, had a different take. He charged that Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration was pulling signs because of fears that a Democrat might win the house seat.

The campaign worker told council that he approached the city worker who has been pulling signs. The city employee said he was acting upon Reynolds’ instructions.

“I said ‘why are you doing this,” Laird explained. “He said, ‘because our boss got word from Mr. Reynolds that we have to do it.”

Laird said he had been active in local campaigns for years and had never encountered such actions before.

“And I was in charge of Ashton’s signs, I put 110 of Ashton’s signs out,” he told Reynolds. “But now, all of a sudden, we’ve got a Democrat that might win and, all of the sudden, we have to take these signs down.”

City council members Sherri Myers and Larry B. Johnson said they had also heard from citizens who were concerned about signs being removed. Johnson said he had “legally” placed signs, only to have them removed.

“I would have liked to see us use those energies to do something else,” Johnson said. “At least until Wednesday, when the election is over.”

This morning, City Spokesman Derek Cosson said that staff was responding to an increased number of complaints concerning illegal signs.

“We’ve started to get more and more 311 complaints, code enforcement complaints,” he explained.
Cosson said that both the Lau campaign, as well as Republican candidate Mike Hill’s campaign, had been contacted recently and made aware of the rules governing signage. The city gave each campaign a “grace period,” then began pulling signs.

“We basically said, ‘you’ve got a week,” Cosson said.

The spokesman said that, according to the city’s Public Works department, the number of signs being pulled is on par with past elections. He described the Lau campaign as being “a little more vocal” about the issue.

Cosson said that he thought staff would be taking a break from pulling signs today, waiting instead for the election to wrap up. He was unaware the city truck was still out making rounds.

“I didn’t think we were doing that today, but maybe so,” he said.