Today’s column could be titled, “Hey, we finally did something that’s good for everyone–and nonpartisan too–so let’s get the facts right.”
We all have been complaining for years about signs of all kinds littering our highway rights of way. Signs in the medians and along the sides of our roads are not only a driving hazard, but are ugly as well.
Ever since I have run for public office, I have heard the plaintive question,”Can’t we get rid of those signs?” Usually followed by a statement like this, “I’d like to tear them out of the ground myself!” Good news, folks, as of this past July we can get rid of those signs and you can pull them out of the ground yourself. As soon as Fairfax County holds a public hearing on details such as exactly who can do the pulling, and formally enters into an agreement with the Commissioner of Highways at VDOT. The newly enacted and nearly unanimously passed law empowers ‘local law-enforcement agencies or other local government entities to act as agents of the Commissioner for..(this) purpose…’ and specifically refers to ‘its (county) employees or any volunteers who are authorized to act..’ I think that this is pretty straightforward language that would be difficult to misconstrue, don’t you?
Yet in the October 2nd Metro section of the Washington Post, Tom Jackman’s column,”The State of NoVa’, succeeds in doing just that. He has characterized the section of the Code that was just changed as having been a law that prohibited Fairfax County from taking down ‘political’ signs in the highway right of way, and did not mention any other type of sign or advertising. Actually, the previous Code section prohibited Fairfax County from taking down campaign signs, and ballot initiative signs, and signs advertising and/or providing directions to a special event to be held on a stated specified date, and ‘other signs and advertising erected from Saturday through the following Monday’.
Once you read the entire list of signs Fairfax County was not legally empowered to remove, you see that this law was not focused on campaign politics– but on prohibiting any old sign to be placed in the highway right of way. Mr. Jackman also neglected to mention that the former law prohibited Fairfax County from taking down all the signs listed above until three days after the special event or election.
He also stated that ‘local governments aren’t spoiling for new services to take on’. That is true; and the state has not been offering new revenue to localities when imposing new responsibilities. But he doesn’t state that, according to the newly enacted law, when Fairfax County enters into an agreement with VDOT ‘local law enforcement agencies or other local government entities (will be able) to act as agents…for the purpose of enforcing the provisions’ (i.e. pulling up prohibited signs) and ‘collecting the penalties’, the money collected as penalties ‘shall be paid to the affected locality’. That clause is very important . A $100 fine for each illegal sign is the mandated penalty. Surely $100 for each offending sign pulled out of the ground could come close to covering the cost of the authorized sign-puller. And when the fact that volunteers may be authorized to pull up illegal signs is added to the equation, this change in law might even bring a few extra pennies into Fairfax County’s coffers.
Why am I so indignant about misrepresentation of the content of this new law, HB 34 patroned by Delegate Dave Albo? Because my constituents have been begging VDOT for years to allow them to volunteer to take down illegal signs and have been refused. My constituents have also been begging Fairfax County to allow them to do the same and have been denied. Now these altruistic folks can finally be granted permission to legally pull those annoying, ugly and now-illegal signs out of the ground–if only Fairfax County will hold a public hearing and enter into an agreement with the Commissioner of Highways. After the General Assembly has had the gumption to adopt these sensible changes, let’s not let a public hearing and a technical agreement hold back the eager volunteers any longer.
P.S. In Mr. Jackman’s postscript he refers to an exception in the law for Fairfax real estate agents. Again, this is not entirely accurate. The exemption to the list of signs deemed illegal is ‘signs and advertising promoting/and or providing directions to a special event erected from a Saturday through the following Monday’. Realtors are not the only citizens who hold special events on the weekend. Citizens organizing a volunteer sign-pulling party on the weekend might want to advertise too.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.