Campaign signs sprout up illegally Conservative messages target school board election

Candidates not identified

Property owners say they haven't given permission

September 22, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons and Anne Haddad | Sheridan Lyons and Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The candy-cane-striped poles went up first, then a series of red-and-white signs touting a conservative line aimed at Carroll County's impending school board elections.

Appearing in Finksburg a few at a time, the signs with sequential political messages have intrigued motorists for more than a week.

But they are illegal, according to the State Highway Administration.

Campaign signs are protected under the First Amendment and recent court cases, said Gary Bowman, chief of the SHA's outdoor advertising section.

But they must carry the candidate's identity, and campaign signs may go up no sooner than 45 days before the election -- in this case, yesterday.

No campaign or candidate is identified on the signs in question. But the themes they carry are espoused by William M. Bowen Jr. and Jerry L. Brunst, two challengers for seats on the Carroll County Board of Education:

"Your property taxes go up?"

"56% of your taxes go to education"

"Does more money mean a better education?"

"Private schools do better for much less."

"Common sense: annual audits."

L "Reward good teachers. No O.B.E" (outcomes-based education).

"Vote NOW against your new tax hike."

Bowen and Brunst are the only school board candidates who are campaigning against outcomes-based education; who have called for an annual audit of school system spending; who have praised private schooling over the county's public schools; and who have criticized the schools for wasting money.

The longtime school board critics have opposed any tax increase for schools.

Neither Bowen nor Brunst could be reached for comment last week.

The owners of the property where the signs were posted, along Route 140 just north of Dede Road, say they do not know who is responsible.

"We haven't granted anybody any permission," said Larry Caulk, vice president of Griffith Management Co., from the car dealer's offices in Towson.

"We manage it [but] I have no idea who put them up. I guess somebody just took it and stuck it up because it's vacant land. Let's put it this way: We're not endorsing anybody or anything," Caulk said.

Westminster developer David Max, whose Max Limited Partnership holds a contract to purchase the site, said he was not aware that the signs had been placed there.

At the Carroll Racquet Club and Fitness Center, which overlooks the site, owner-manager Vicki Ferguson said, "I thought the road was going to be widened because before they started putting the words up, there were just sticks."

Gary Bauer, a school board member and longtime active Republican from Hampstead, has a theory about the signs.

Bauer unapologetically loves politics and knows election law by heart -- including the 45-day rule for campaign signs.

Occasionally, he said, someone may try to circumvent the rule by putting up message signs earlier than the law allows and not crediting a candidate or campaign.

Bowman said that whoever put up the signs is required by law to remove them within 15 days after the election.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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