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‘Tis the season for political signs

People have been asking me (and sometimes complaining) about the campaign yard signs that started popping up around town earlier this month. This is a perennial issue — see the June 2010 post “Signs Too Early and Signs Too Flashy” on this blog.

In no particular order, here are some answers to this year’s questions:

  • Yes, there are restrictions on these signs in the city of Oak Ridge. City ordinances (specifically, the “Sign Ordinance” section of the zoning code) tell where and when campaign signs can be displayed.
  • Yard signs can’t go up until 30 days before early voting begins in the relevant election. Since early voting for the August 2012 election begins on July 13, signs began to appear legally on June 13.
  • One of the races on the August ballot is a special election to fill the remainder of an unexpired term on the Oak Ridge City Council. This is the seat to which Tom Hayes was elected in 2007. After he resigned last year, Chuck Hope was appointed to serve until a special election to be held on the next regular election date. That turned out to be August 2012. The person who is elected will serve for just 3 months, as this seat will be on the ballot again in November when the regular City Council election is scheduled. Three Council seats (including the one that I hold) will be on the ballot then. I will run for re-election.
  • The two candidates in the special election for City Council are Chuck Hope and Trina Baughn. Both of them are also expected to be candidates in November. (In effect, they will be running for office from now until November.)
  • You shouldn’t be seeing yard signs for me or other November candidates for City Council yet. That’s because we won’t begin campaigning seriously until after the August election. (The situation of two elections 3 months apart is confusing enough as it is – it would only add to the confusion if we started campaigning before the special election!) We can’t legally put up yard signs until the date in mid-September (30 days before early voting begins for November).
  • A city charter referendum in November 2010 changed City Council elections from June of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years. City Council had nothing to do with initiating this. (In fact, I think most Council members preferred the old arrangement.) The proposal to change the election date came from an elected charter commission and it was approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. To make the transition to the new election schedule, the current terms of office for all elected city officials were extended by almost 1-1/2 years.
  • It’s been suggested to me that certain local candidates have signs that are too large, but my experience is that local candidates pay attention to the rules for the size of signs, so the signs they buy are in compliance.
  • Candidates’ eager supporters – for candidates at the national, state, and local level — are a different story. They often are unaware of the rules, so in every election some candidate signs pop up too early or in prohibited locations such as traffic islands or less than 15 feet from the pavement of an arterial street.
  • Not covered in the city ordinance, but something residents should know: Candidate signs shouldn’t be placed on private property without permission. Sometimes, well-intentioned people stick signs for their favorite candidates in the ground without worrying about property owner permission – and, remarkably, I’ve learned that some property owners leave those signs in place because they think they are supposed to accept them. (No wonder people gripe about campaign signs!) Other times, pranksters pull up signs and place them in different yards. If a candidate sign appears in front of your home or business, but you don’t support that candidate or you don’t want to have a sign on your premises, take the sign down. (Particularly if it’s a sign for a local candidate, it would be neighborly to contact the candidate or campaign and let them retrieve the sign.)


  1. Chuck Hope says:

    Thanks for the post Ellen, this goes a long way to explaining what is happening in Oak Ridge right now.

  2. I can’t wait til the november election, I am going to become a sign NAZI, lol

  3. nuclear.kelly says:

    So why are there Chuck Fleischmann signs up everywhere, if that election isn’t until November?

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    Fleischmann’s signs are up now because the August 2 election includes a primary for the Republican Congressional nomination, and he has opposition (Scottie Mayfield, Weston Wamp, and Ron Bhalla). There’s a primary for the Democratic nomination, too. Democratic candidates are Mary Headrick (a former Oak Ridger!) and Bill Taylor.

  5. Carol Donath says:

    I noticed several large Terry Frank signs still up as of yesterday and a couple of others. Are there time limits on when those signs are taken down and what is the procedure if they are not removed in a timely manner?

  6. Ellen Smith says:

    Political signs are supposed to come down in 5 days after an election. I was impressed that the forests of signs around mostly disappeared pretty quickly. However, as you note, some signs are still standing. From experience, I know that it’s difficult for candidates and campaigns to keep track of all their signs in order to remove them as required.

    You can take these signs down yourself if they are on public property, call the candidate, or call the city community development department.

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