Sign Spam Bounty Proposed

Old School Spam

By Tom Taylor, used with permission.

I despise sign spam, those wireframe-cardboard signs illegally (§18-4.15.7) stuck up along roadways. Anecdotally, the scourge of these eyesores has increased quite a bit in the past year or two. One needs only spend a few minutes driving on secondary roads in northern Virginia to know how really, really bad things could get if nothing changes. So I’m glad to see that Albemarle and VDOT are considering teaming up to solve the problem, paying a $25/sign bounty to folks who pull them up and turn them in. VDOT imposes a $100 fine against the advertised business for each sign posted illegally, so the math works out on this. Here’s hoping that the Board of Supervisors (and City Council!) has the wisdom to make this happen. I’ll be the first in line to collect on it, my car piled high with signs.

09/02 Update: This story just isn’t true. Keep reading for the explanation and the correct story.

County Spokeswoman Lee Catlin tells me that the Free Enterprise Forum’s story isn’t right, which means my story isn’t right. She says that it’s true that Albemarle is working with VDOT to figure out what to do about all of these signs on the side of the road, but that they’re looking to empower building inspectors to remove them, and only in entrance corridors for the city. That would be any sign in VDOT’s right of way, regardless of content. She says that “there may have been some off-hand comments about ‘bounty hunting’, it was never really a serious consideration.” The good news is that the county is open to taking things up a notch, which is fining repeat offenders, as they’re current empowered to do. VDOT emphasizes that private citizens can not remove signs, and that if you do, the owner of the sign can, bizarrely, press charges. (As far as I’m concerned, they’re litter, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop ’em from coming after me.)

The moral of the story? Not all local organizations are created equally. I think we’re spoiled with the really excellent, reliable blogs that we have in town. I took a gamble relying on the Free Enterprise Forum, a group that I don’t much like, but didn’t see why it should mean that I shouldn’t trust with the facts. This isn’t an abdication of my responsibility—it’s my job to get the facts straight in everything I write here—just an explanation of where I erred and how I intend to avoid doing so in the future. Sorry for all the navel-gazing; this is all a very minor thing, and it’s not like anybody’s upset, but I like to get things right and, when I don’t, I like to learn from that mistake.

27 Responses to “Sign Spam Bounty Proposed”


  • That’s great, because the Cub Scout ones that have erupted around town have been really pissing me off. Love it when there’s a full court press to spread homophobia to our young ones…

  • Are the signs that advertise new housing developments in this category? If one shows up, it seems to attract others immediately.

  • Let’s hope this applies for political signs too. It is in terrible taste to see campaigns abuse public spaces with self promotion.

  • How long before someone decides to double-dip?

    John Doe gets on board with a local sleazeball to plant signs all over town and gets paid accordingly. But, instead of planting the signs, John Doe simply turns them in and collects $25/sign.

    And if the sleazeball asks what happened to the signs, John Doe can simply point to the recent crackdown on signs and say that he posted them, but they must have been yanked up.

    Any students out there need some quick cash?

  • How are they going to make sure that legally displayed yard signs aren’t removed by overzealous bounty hunters? When Al Weed was running for congress, I had countless signs stolen out of our Belmont yard. They were behind a retaining wall, many feet from the public right of way.

  • yeah, this seems ripe for abuse/fraud. wonder how they’ll stop that.

  • Here’s a scenario for ya: Pat’s got something against Jamie. Jamie runs a business. Pat orders 15 signs advertising Jamie’s business, gets them a little scuffed up and takes them to the bounty sites. County fines Jamie $1,500.

    Possible solution: the fine is only levied after the n-th sign is turned in, say 20th…

    Also, what happened to the issue Waldo reported on a while ago where he said it was illegal to pull up the signs?

  • How long before someone decides to double-dip?
    John Doe gets on board with a local sleazeball to plant signs all over town and gets paid accordingly. But, instead of planting the signs, John Doe simply turns them in and collects $25/sign.

    You describe that like it’s a bad thing. :)I believe they call that “having an inside man” in law enforcement.

    Here’s a scenario for ya: Pat’s got something against Jamie. Jamie runs a business. Pat orders 15 signs advertising Jamie’s business, gets them a little scuffed up and takes them to the bounty sites. County fines Jamie $1,500.

    Well, that would be fraud, for starters. Also, VDOT has to recover the money from Jamie, and Jamie is free to demonstrate that he’s not guilty, as anybody is when accused of a civil wrong or a crime. Understand, too, that this is the case now. Pat could already screw over Jamie in just this manner. The only change being proposed here is that Pat could get $375 for his troubles.

    How are they going to make sure that legally displayed yard signs aren’t removed by overzealous bounty hunters?

    I think that’s a great question. Presumably that will be handled substantially by existing laws against trespassing and theft. (It’s one thing to steal somebody’s yard sign, but it’s quite another to then take it and present it to the county!) The county isn’t foolish, either—they live here, too, and they know which signs they tend to see illegally and which ones aren’t. If people are turning in “Mountain Kim Karate” signs, the county knows that those dopes have littered the county with their crap. But if people are turning in Virgil Goode signs, I suspect that the county knows that those aren’t often seen in the right of way.

    It’d be nice to know how this has been handled elsewhere in the state and the country. Surely we’re not the first town to deal with this sort of professional littering.

  • Political campaign signs in general should be exempted from the bounty – yes, they’re illegal in the right-of-way, but there I think the potential for abuse and the 1st Amendment issues if the ordinance/policy is seen to encourage that abuse outweigh the community’s interest in policing the signs.

    There’s too much campaign sign theft and vandalism going on as it is.

    As for abuse being fraud, theft, etc. under existing laws, sure it is – but how is anyone going to prove it either way? The only way I can think of would be to require the person collecting the bounty to submit a pic of each sign in the location from which it was taken (a printout with 12 low-res jpegs per page would probably be sufficient, unless you want to make the clerk issuing the bounty have to page through 150 pics on somebody’s cell phone).

  • To prevent folks from gaming the system just to make money, we could offer a bounty to people who turn in the defrauders. Bounty hunters for Booty hunters!

    Are folks who work for the county or the state ineligible? That seems to be a real insider job. That would cut out about 50% of the locals from this handout.

  • I’m going to start collecting signs now in anticipation. Baxter’s getting a new doggie bed out of this!

    Just kidding.

    With one quick search, I found a number of street spam websites. There’s even a Citizens Against Ugly Street Spam message board.

  • Someone was asking where to find tax dollars to fund legitimate public needs. This looks like a good place to start. If the County/State wants volunteers to uproot the signs then thats a different matter.

  • I’m pretty sure that the Weed signs were stolen because, well, they said WEED in really big letters. This is a college town.

    At any rate, the bounty system is cheap to implement, and part of that is not planning for regulation or verification. Perhaps, the could publish a list of signs/companies that have signs in violation and the bounty hunters can go looking. Other signs not on the list should be returned to the owners (like the WEED campaign headquarters).

  • What a windfall for the homeless. I predict signs will stay up for about 30 seconds before roving packs of bounty hunters will fight for the right to tear them down.

  • Perhaps, the could publish a list of signs/companies that have signs in violation and the bounty hunters can go looking.

    I really like that idea, Kelly. That’s totally doable, given the relatively low number of companies putting these things up.

    Oh, and Bruce, you’re totally right about exempting political signs. That’s a thicket that the county just doesn’t want to get into.

  • NBC 29 is saying that the pay-per-sign thing is a rumor.

  • An excerpt: “But rumors of sign bounties for the rest of us aren’t true. “We don’t want ordinary citizens rushing out to remove a sign anymore than we want them to rush out and put in a sign,” insisted Thomas.”

    the link:
    http://www.nbc29.com/Global/story.asp?S=8916531

  • Thanks for that, Lauren. I’m puzzled here, since it’s not like the Free Enterprise Forum to go making stuff up, so I’ve just put on my faux reporter hat and e-mailed Lee Catlin to ask for guidance. I’ll correct this story, or not, depending on what I hear back. :)

  • illegal street spam information on dedicated site can be found at http://www.causs.org

  • The Bounty Hunter idea is an excellent idea. Drive to Fairfax or Prince William Country and if that doesn’t change your view I don’t know what will. It might also change your view of our recent development.

    Also, I believe campaign signs are permitted given they have applied for and received a permit # but I could be mistaken. Weed signs were stolen because they said “AL WEED.” They were also stolen well because campaign volunteers, people who hate signs, and other people just decide to steal them. Its part of the game of signing.

    I believe there will initially be a lot of people looking to collect signs to turn it but its not going to be a system where you turn a sign in and get $25 cash. The popularity will fall as people find out it isn’t so easy to collect; however, this will get rid of the annoying and illegal signs.

  • i realize *why* my Weed signs were stolen, but the thought that one could (a) ruin their opponents advertising and (b) stick them with a bill and (c) earn $25 for their efforts might prove too alluring for some .

  • I always loved the sign that were together during elections in intersting combos.

    “GOODE, WEED” Always made me smile

  • “yes, they’re illegal in the right-of-way, but there I think the potential for abuse and the 1st Amendment issues if the ordinance/policy is seen to encourage that abuse outweigh the community’s interest in policing the signs.”
    I am one member of the community that has no interest in seeing how my neighbors plan to vote. I’m more interested in a sign in their yard indicating that their house is on the market or the sign on a building on 29N large enough for me to see before I drive past it. There are restrictions currently on the placement of political signs. They are restricted from road meduiums, monuments, parks,street lights, trees and fences in the public right-of-way and telephone poles. The large picture of Obama was just removed from the Mall headquarters, awaiting a judgment by the city’s Board of Architectural Review as to its size.

  • Ain’t nobody suggesting that we should ban political signs (or any signs!) from people’s yards. I’d be the first in line to protest that proposal.

  • I really wasn’t clear in making my point. I should have kept my comments to the fact that political are regulated to a agree and doing so is not a question of the 1st Amendment in all cases. Re-reading my post, I can easily see that people could infer that I thought Waldo and others were complaining about political signs in private yards.

  • i think people who put political signs in their yard should be fined for leaving them up after election day. either that, or we should be allowed to put a sign next to them that says “stop pouting” or “stop gloating” depending on the outcome of the election. same goes for bumper stickers. i’m glad you voted for clinton/gore, but they invented this stuff called “goo gone” that works wonders. look into it.

  • Waldo – I appreciate all the discussion about this important issue.

    I endevor to make the Free Enterprise Forum’s blog reporting as accurate as possible. I stand by my reporting of what was said at the Albemarle County BOS meeting in their discussion with VDOT.

    In hindsight, elected officials sometimes rethink their words (or the context they were provided).

    I encourage everyone to listen to the original podcast located here
    http://www.cvillepublicmedia.org/test/20080806-BOS-Part2.mp3

    Discussion is about 35 minutes in, I think.

    After listening, each individual can make their own judgement regarding the accuracy/inaccuracy of the reporting.

    Thank you for all you do fostering productive dialog in our community.

    Neil Williamson
    Executive Director
    Free Enterprise Forum

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