Road-side sign on Ledo Road Friday urges motorists to vote in favor of T-SPLOST. (story by C. Fletcher) photo taken 7-27-12 (email@example.com)
LEESBURG -- Tim Nelson, who announced Friday he has collected the required number of voter signatures and plans to run for the District 4 seat on the Lee County Commission as an independent candidate, will have no problems being recognized around the halls of government if he is elected.
He's introduced himself to a number of Lee government officials in recent days while protesting multi-message signs placed at strategic locations beside county roads as a means of gathering support for the regional special-purpose local-option transportation sales tax, or T-SPLOST, referendum on Tuesday's primary ballots.
Nelson said the signs, placed on U.S. Highway 19, U.S. Highway 82 and Ledo Road by Oxford Construction Co., violate the county's sign ordinance, and he's demanded that they be removed.
County officials, meanwhile, say the signs do not violate the sign ordinance and their political message is protected free speech.
"I am asking one final time for you to do your job," Nelson wrote in an email sent to Chief Marshal/Code Enforcement Officer Jim Wright Friday. "Your boss is in the wrong, and you know it. I will prosecute the case in Magistrate Court for you."
Nelson said the pro-T-SPLOST signs violate Section 70642 of the county's sign ordinance which says, "No sign structure shall be placed and/or maintained within the county except in conformity with this sign ordinance." He argued that the signs in question were placed without a proper permit, that messages on the signs change at 10-second intervals rather than the ordinance-prescribed 20 seconds and that multi-message sign requirements stipulate that the face of the message shall not exceed 50 percent of the total sign face area.
"Conformity is the issue," Nelson said. "These signs do not conform to the requirements of the county's sign ordinance."
Nelson said he first brought the signs to the attention of Wright, followed up with complaints to County Administrator Tony Massey, County Attorney Jimmy Skipper, District 4 County Commissioner Rick Muggridge, County Clerk Christi Dockery and Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander.
He was not satisfied with the responses of any of the officials.
"Mr. Skipper said the county couldn't regulate political signs, so I asked him if that meant I could put a multi-message sign up in my backyard and as long as one of the messages was political, it would be in compliance," Nelson said.
"I went to see Mr. Alexander and asked to see a memo on the sign ordinance, and he told me, 'I don't have time for you.' I went to the city clerk (Dockery) and asked the process for filing a complaint against a county employee. I've gotten nothing but a runaround."
Massey said Friday that Nelson's issue has less to do with the sign ordinance than it does with the message of the signs in question.
"If these were anti-T-SPLOST signs, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Massey said. "Mr. Nelson may not agree with our interpretation of the sign ordinance, but I think he mostly doesn't agree with the message on these signs.
"I believe he's basing his complaints on an earlier version of the sign ordinance, because the ordinance does not require a permit as he's suggested."
Nelson said he plans to take his complaints to the full Lee County Commission at its next meeting.
"I'm going to ask for an opportunity to speak at the next commission meeting, and I'm going to ask that A, B, C, D be reprimanded," he said. "And I'm going to ask them to take this matter to a judge. That's all I'm asking, that they let a judge decide if the signs are in compliance.
"If they refuse to do that, they're just proving that their sign ordinance is not worth the paper it's written on."