Lee sign issue widens

LEESBURG, Ga. -- The battle between Lee County Commission candidates Ed Duffy and Lester Leggette widened to include current Century Commissioner Rick Muggridge this week when Leggette's campaign manager indicated Muggridge may have been involved in removing Leggette's campaign signs adjacent to property on U.S. Highway 19.

Herbert Gladin said Tuesday a "passing motorist who I know and trust" called to say he'd seen Muggridge's vehicle parked in the vicinity of Roberts Mobile Home Park on U.S. 19, where a number of Leggette's campaign signs had gone missing.

Gladin, a retired businessman, sent an e-mail to Lee County Administrator Alan Ours to report the missing signs and asked Ours, "Is the commissioner (Muggridge) taking our signs? Is he the person who has already taken so many of our signs? Is he authorized to take this action?"

Gladin said the motorist who called him assured him the missing signs were in place when he passed them traveling in one direction at around 3 p.m. (last Wednesday) and were gone when he returned in the other direction some 45 minutes later.

"And he reported seeing Mr. Muggridge's truck parked there with its flashers on," Gladin said. "And this person knows Rick's truck; he's ridden in it on a number of occasions."

Muggridge, meanwhile, said he passed the property at 11 a.m. on the morning in question and noticed the signs gone then.

"It is currently 4:38 p.m. Wednesday. I have been in my office since about 1 p.m.," Muggridge said in an e-mail response to Gladin's e-mail. "I was on U.S. 19 this morning and passed the Roberts property at around 11 a.m. and the signs that had been illegally placed on State ROW (right-of-way) were gone. I assumed the DOT had picked them up.

"Let me assure you since (Lee County Attorney) Mr. (Jimmy) Skipper has specifically informed me that private citizens should not remove illegal signs, I will not. If I might be so bold, I will suggest that Mr. Gladin not place his signs where he and Mr. Leggette have been told is unlawful. Second, Mr. Gladin, please don't accuse me of theft."

Muggridge said Tuesday that while he had actually confiscated commercial and state political signs placed on rights of way prior to the qualifying period for the County Commission race, he had not taken down any of Leggette's signs.

"When I ran for office, (Elections Coordinator) Veronica Johnson handed me a piece of paper that included a memo about the sign ordinance," Muggridge said. "It clearly stated what (candidates) could and couldn't do. I adhered to that, but my opponent did not and that frustrated me. If a person who would help govern a community can pick and choose a law to disobey, why can't a member of the public choose his own law to disobey?

"When we were discussing a new sign ordinance earlier this year, I asked an official with the Regional Development Center about removing illegal signs, and he said citizens had the right to remove them. I did that while we were putting out census signs; I took maybe two political signs and three commercial signs ... seven at the most."

But Muggridge said when he questioned Skipper about sign removal and was told signs on county property should be removed only by county employees, he did not remove any other sign.

"I will reaffirm to you that I have not touched any signs since being advised by Jimmy Skipper that I shouldn't," Muggridge said. "These accusations are frustrating to me, and, quite frankly, I have not ruled out taking legal action."

When Leggette was copied on the e-mails sent to Ours by Gladin and Muggridge, the candidate e-mailed Muggridge and told him the incident "seems a little childish to me."

"The sign thing needs to be laid to rest," Leggette wrote. "We are all supposed to be grown men taking care of the county's problems. In the scheme of things -- e.g. war, oil spills, failing economy, etc., this seems to be taking a huge amount of your and the county personnel time."

Muggridge's reply included a quote that he attributed to Lawrence Bell: "Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things, and I'll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things." He added, "The willful disregard of a county ordinance by someone who would ask to govern the County is not a little thing to me."

Gladin, meanwhile, said he had a "gentlemanly conversation" with Duffy about the signs and that Duffy, apropos of nothing, said, "I didn't ask Rick Muggridge to help me."

Gladin indicated "ambition" could have served as motive for Muggridge.

"The way this Commission has been going, a lot of the power is centered around Ed Duffy," Gladin said. "Rick Muggridge is a very frequent supporter of Duffy's on most issues. Rick's the vice chair; it appears there might be some ambition on his part."

Duffy said he would not get involved in the dispute.

"I really feel this is something I need to stay out of," Duffy said late Tuesday. "I'm not involved in that sign situation whatsoever."