(WBIR) As of Tuesday, Knox County voters are 30 days away from the August election. That means lots of campaigning and some arguments over campaign signs.
Although they're intended to help a person running for office, in at least one local race a sign more than likely cost a candidate some votes.
Late last week, South Knox County resident Stacy Davis said she was upset to discover a political sign on her property along Maryville Pike, a state highway. The sign was for 13th District State House candidate Jason Emert. Emert faces Eddie Smith in the August 7 Republican primary with the winner squaring off against incumbent Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, in November.
"When people drive by, people know this is our property. And then they see a sign for someone I barely even know, and (I am) not sure I would support who did not even ask permission to put it there" said Davis. "We pretty much never put up signs."
Davis said she believes the tree line between her home and the highway could cause someone to honestly mistake the edge of her property line. So, Davis contacted Emert, made him aware the sign was on private property without her permission, and asked him to remove it.
Davis said Emert initially declined, telling her that it was in the right-of-way and that he could put his sign there.
"He [Emert] left the sign, making sure I knew he was within his rights to do that and it would be a violation of law if I tampered with it," said Davis. 'I can understand the intent of the law because that way utility poles can be erected and street signs can be placed without having to ask everyone. But I'm quite sure the law was not intended for politicians to put their signs wherever they wanted."
Emert is, in fact, within his legal rights to leave the sign in place because it was on the right-of-way of a state highway. In Knox County, candidates cannot put signs on private property without the owner's permission. However, signs can be placed on the right-of-way as long as they do not interfere with visibility to create a driving hazard. Signs cannot be larger than 32 square feet without securing a building permit.
WBIR 10News looked at the laws regarding political signs. While there are many rules and regulations, they are pretty much unenforceable and carry no penalties if candidates or their campaigns violate them.
Nonetheless, Knox County Administrator of Elections Clifford Rodgers said politicians can "avoid a lot of the drama" by getting the property owner's permission before they post a sign.
"The first thing I tell people is that the election commission is not the sign police," he said. "Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the candidates and their supporters to properly and legally place their signs out in the community."
Rodgers said candidates and their supporters must avoid placing signs on private property. If a campaign is unsure about where signs are allowed along a particular route, Rodgers recommends contacting the county's highway department for information about an exact location's right-of-way.
"They're going to have to be on the public right-of-way. I can't emphasize that enough. You cannot be putting signs on private property," said Rodgers.
Rodgers said his office rarely receives complaints prior to an election. The real influx of complaints comes after an election when residents are tired of signs cluttering the roadside.
"The calls I get are about complaints about when they [candidates] have to get the signs cleaned up. Of course, in Knox County, they have five days to get the signs cleaned up. State law gives them three weeks, but here in the county they have only got five days," said Rodgers.
Rodgers added that signs on school property have to be removed by 7 a.m. the day following the election.
The Knox County Election Commission's website features a page specifically devoted to information about local campaign sign regulations and who to contact if there's a problem.
As for Davis, she said the issue with Emert was finally settled after reaching out to him again over the weekend. Emert agreed to have the sign removed and someone from his campaign took the sign down Tuesday morning.
Emert told 10News on Tuesday he was "within his rights" to put up the sign, but removed it because he didn't want to upset Davis or her family. Emert also said he did not want "campaign signs to become a distraction from real campaign issues."
The back and forth between Davis and Emert is just one example of the possible confusion residents, candidates, and property owners face as election season kicks into overdrive. Emert was technically in the right, but Davis said his response has convinced her to not vote for him.
"A sign is not going to win you a lot of support, but how you treat people is going to say a lot about you," she said.