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Council candidates question sign removal

By Jim Buice

The Clemmons Courier

Are the numerous “Stop The Median” signs posted alongside the roads in Clemmons considered to be political in nature?

Scott Buffkin, who was named the new town manager in March, didn’t think so and ordered them to be removed last Thursday based on his interpretation of not directly supporting or opposing any particular candidate or candidates, setting off a war of words at Monday night’s Village Council meeting.

Jay Faircloth, a former two-time council member, questioned why anyone on the council or city payroll would have anything to do with what he called an “illegal” and “criminal” act.

P.J. Lofland, one of the candidates for a council seat in the upcoming election also commented during the public comments portion of the meeting, stating, “Either we have a Town Manager that took it upon himself to act illegally, or we have an out-of-control overbearing council that ordered an employee to act illegally.”

Ultimately, the signs were returned to their previous locations after Buffkin said he was approached by an individual questioning the Village’s legal authority to remove the signs. He proceeded to speak with Village Attorney Warren Kasper, and he agreed that the state statute defines a political sign as any sign that advocates for political action and due to the fact that the median had been an issue raised by one or more candidates in the upcoming election, that these signs meet the definition and may be placed within the right-of-way.

‘Based on this, I instructed Village staff to return the signs to the locations they were removed from and to desist from removing any others similarly placed,” Buffkin said in a statement. “I would like to apologize for this mistaken interpretation of the law and any resulting issues. I take full responsibility for this situation and restate that Village staff persons were acting on my direction.”

Buffkin added that “nobody from the council made any sort of direction to me or to any of the staff as far as I’m aware.”

Mayor Nick Nelson said that after he learned of the signs being removed, he spoke with Buffkin and the staff, saying it was a state road and that his recommendation was there was no reason for staff to interact with political signs at all.

“I don’t think our staff should have ever touched one of those signs, and I do believe the actions were not legal because we’re not the enforcement agency, we’re not the interpretation agency,” Nelson said. “We need to recognize what happened and how to rectify it.”

Kasper admitted it was a confusing situation with two ordinances involved – one for state streets and another for the Village’s ordinance for non-state streets. Then there’s other issues involving the size of some signs, including some banners that may exceed the specifications, and dealing with other temporary signs put up by churches or charitable organizations.

Kasper added that this situation comes up every two years and suggested it might be best to let things remain as they are for now and consider making any adjustments to ordinances after the election.

Councilman Mike Combest agreed, saying he was uneasy about a quick solution for something this important and that the council should consider more uniform enforcement of the policies involving signs.

Meanwhile, councilman Lanny Farmer said he didn’t appreciate being called out by Faircloth and Lofland as part of the council for doing anything illegal or criminal regarding removing any political signs.

“I haven’t touched anybody’s sign, and I don’t know of anybody on this council who has,” said Farmer, who was accused by Nelson of putting out his own political signs too early, which Farmer denied. “I have never had my integrity questioned in any public or private forum, and tonight has been very difficult.”

In other business, the staff continues to look into finding an engineering firm to study the Lewisville-Clemmons Road/Sessions Court intersection as it relates to removing the left-turn movement at the intersection in an effort to make the road safer. Buffkin said that he reached out to five firms that were on the Village’s preferred list but none were interested or available, so he will now advertise for three weeks to solicit proposals.

The council also heard from Shannon Ford in her marketing report. She said that the Farmer’s Market on Saturday from 8:30 to noon at Village Hall will include a seminar on honeybees from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. inside the council chambers. Ford offered a reminder that the third annual Monster Mash and Goblin Hop will be held at the Village Point Greenway on Sunday, Oct. 22, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.