LEESBURG, Ga. -- Blasting Lee County Commission candidate Lester Leggette and his campaign manager, Herbert Gladin, for what he called "an assault on my integrity," Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge said Thursday he's discovered what happened to Leggette's campaign signs that Gladin implied Muggridge had taken.
Muggridge said Brian Roberts, an official with the Georgia Department of Transportation's maintenance department, confirmed that he had removed Leggette's signs from the right of way on U.S. Highway 19.
"When I read the article (in Wednesday's Albany Herald), I felt that I'd responded to your questions poorly," Muggridge said Thursday. "I didn't appreciate fully the assault that had been made on me. But when I read that article -- and my wife read that article -- I realized that the things that were said by Mr. Gladin and Mr. Leggett hurt my family.
"Frankly, I didn't understand their motive to draw me into a campaign that I have nothing to do with. But these slings and arrows were directed at my family. They assaulted my integrity."
After reading the Herald story, Muggridge said he called the local DOT office and was directed to Roberts, who confirmed to Muggridge that he had taken Leggette's signs off the state right of way.
"When Mr. Roberts told me he had taken some of Lester's signs, I asked him if he specifically remembered taking the ones in question (adjacent to Roberts Mobile Hope Park)," Muggridge said. "Mr. Roberts said that he did. Then I asked him if he minded telling me what kind and color vehicle he drove. He said he drove a white truck.
"Mr. Gladin had said (in the article) that a third party who knows my truck because he's ridden in it a number of times had told him he saw my truck parked where the signs were located. I drive a black truck. I also asked Mr. Roberts if he minded describing himself, and he told me he's around 6 feet and weighs around 275 pounds. We wouldn't be mistaken for each other."
When contacted by The Herald Thursday, officials at the local GDOT office directed questions to Department of Transportation Communications Officer Craig Solomon in Tifton. Solomon confirmed that maintenance officers had taken some of Leggette's signs.
"Our DOT maintenance crews did pick up some of Mr. Leggette's political signs along with many other signs in Lee County," Solomon said. "All signs that are removed from the highway right of way are stored at the Lee County Maintenance headquarters at 137 Walnut St. North in Leesburg."
Solomon also forwarded a DOT notice about the placement of political signs.
"The Georgia Department of Transportation is cautioning state political candidates and campaigns to make certain roadside signs are not placed in rights of way," the notice reads. "Those that are will be removed by Georgia DOT maintenance crews.
"Georgia law stipulates that the Department is required to maintain a safe roadway for the traveling public, which includes the immediate removal of any obstruction or hazard that may pose a threat to the traveling public," DOT Assistant State Maintenance Engineer Eric Pitts said in the notice.
"Georgia Code 32-6-51 states that it shall be unlawful for any person to erect, place or maintain within the right of way of any public road any sign ... and that persons who violate the restriction shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."
Muggridge said in the previous Herald article that he'd taken down a couple of political signs before qualifying for the County Commission race was even held, and some wrongly interpreted that statement as an admission that he'd taken Leggette's signs.
"The signs I took down before (Lee County Attorney) Jimmy Skipper told me that such action should be taken only by county employees were signs for Rudy Adams, who did not even qualify to run for office," Muggridge said. "I've never in my life touched one of Lester Leggette's signs, and for that matter I've never touched one of Mr. (Ed) Duffy's signs. (Duffy is Leggette's opponent.)
"I would call on Mr. Gladin to name my accuser. He's slandered me, and I deserve, my family deserves and the people of Lee County deserve to know who this person is that Mr. Gladin said saw my truck parked near Mr. Leggette's signs. I don't think that person will be revealed, though, because he doesn't exist. All of this is based on a lie."
Gladin brushed off Muggridge's accusation Thursday.
"I'm glad to hear that Mr. Muggridge mentioned character, because sterling character is what I like," Gladin said. "I agree with Mr. Muggridge that this sign issue should be put to bed. We have real work to attend to in our campaign, and I'd like to get to it."
But Muggridge wasn't particularly ready to let the issue drop.
"I would like to know Mr. Gladin's incentive in this," he said. "He's not from Lee County, and the first I heard of him is when he wanted the county to assume ownership of a private road on property he owns in the county, which would have significantly increased the value of the property. Our code will not allow us to assume ownership of any road that doesn't meet the county's standards, so I question if his motivation in supporting Mr. Leggette has to do with some kind of promise to assume this road.
"This attack on me speaks to the character, I think, of Herbert Gladin and Lester Leggette. If this is the way they do business ... well, let me just say that they are running the most negative campaign I've ever seen in this county."