Tupelo candidates still learning sign laws

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo City Council candidate Buddy Palmer wants to represent Ward 5 but freely admits breaking local laws.
Palmer seems to have done nearly everything wrong related to displaying his political signs. He didn’t pay the $50 fee to display his signs, began putting them out earlier than allowed and positioned them too close to the curb.
“I’m a sign criminal,” Palmer said, acknowledging his wrongdoing but showing little remorse.
He’s not the only one though among those running for office in the city. Lined along a wall in City Hall planning department, confiscated political signs found in prohibited locations wait for candidates to claim them.
However, with a $5 fine for each sign collected, some candidates said the orphaned signs won’t return home.
“I told people at City Hall that they’re welcome to put them in their yard,” Palmer said.
That’s his way of saying people shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for him to pay the fine.
A Tupelo ordinance related to political signs outlines their display and any penalties for not complying. After paying an “administrative fee” of $50 to display signs, candidates can began displaying them on private property approved by the landowner starting 90 days before the election and must remove them five days after the election.
So far this political season, about 40 signs collected wait at City Hall and countless others have been thrown away by public works employees.
Marilyn Vail, Tupelo zoning administrator, said a proliferation of political signs littering the community led city leaders to craft the ordinance guidelines. Rules also require signs to be at least “15 feet from the edge of the pavement or the back of the curb.”
At intersections, Vail said the city requires 50-foot visibility.
A rule of thumb for candidates and supporters with political signs is to look for overhead utilities.
“If it’s between the utility pole and the street, 99 percent of the time it’s going to be in the right of way,” Vail said.
Problems with complying with the sign ordinance isn’t limited to first-time candidates either. Zoning officers have collected signs from incumbents.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, campaigning for his second term, said following the law can be tough, especially when he paid less for the signs than their fine to collect.
“I told them to just keep them,” he said.
robbie.ward@journalinc.com