Police remove campaign signs from city right of way
MARSHALL — The removal of more than 100 political campaign signs from lawns in Marshall caused confusion for residents this week.
Marshall Police said officers started removing some campaign signs on Wednesday, after receiving complaints about signs placed too close to the street.
“There were a significant number of concerns brought forward in the last month and a half,” said Marshall Public Safety Director Jim Marshall.
Marshall city ordinances don’t allow signs to be placed on streets or public property, and state laws don’t allow signs within a highway right of way.
Marshall estimated around 115 signs were removed from the city right of way. Due to time constraints the police weren’t able to check the whole city for improperly placed signs on Wednesday, he said.
Marshall said the MPD and the city of Marshall have tried to get the word out about proper sign placement to residents through a few different channels, including social media and radio interviews. But the sign removals still came as a surprise to many residents.
“People were confused as to whether or not they had been stolen,” said Anita Gaul, chairwoman of the Lyon County DFL. Gaul said she received calls Thursday from Marshall residents whose campaign signs had been removed overnight.
Marshall resident Marty Seifert said he was “a bit startled” to see the political signs gone from his property. Seifert said he’s put out campaign signs for more than 30 years, but there wasn’t a problem with their placement before. “I’ve never had this issue brought up or discussed, ever,” he said.
Jim Marshall said the sign removal came after the MPD started receiving a lot of calls about improperly placed signs. Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson said the Marshall city offices had also received concerns about political campaign signs over the past month and a half.
Before taking the step of removing signs, Marshall said the MPD and the city had put out social media posts about sign placement, as well as contacting leaders of the Lyon County Republicans and Lyon County DFL. Marshall said he also did radio interviews on the subject.
On Aug. 19, a post on the Marshall Police Department Facebook page said the MPD had received concerns about the placement of “political and other signs” in Marshall.
“The Marshall Police Department would like to remind everyone that the placement of political campaign and other signage is not allowed under state law on any highway or street right of way,” the post said. “Highway right of way includes driving lanes, inside and outside shoulders, ditches, and sight corners at intersections. City street right of ways are typically 12 feet from the curb or on the boulevard.”
The MPD’s post said unlawfully placed signs may be removed by city officials. The post also included a link to the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s website, which talks about laws regulating the right of way for state highways. Minnesota statutes don’t allow advertisements like campaign signs to be placed within the limits of a highway.
Marshall city ordinances have additional rules for sign placement. Under the ordinance, it is unlawful to place a sign or other structure in a street or on public property without getting a written permit from the city council. The ordinance doesn’t have rules that apply only to political signs, or say how long a political sign may be displayed.
The ordinance also doesn’t say how wide the right of way is on city streets.
Hanson said that the actual width of the right of way along Marshall streets can vary. A distance of 12 feet from the curb would usually comply with the city ordinance, she said.
Besides being against city ordinances, Marshall said having signs in the right of way was a safety concern. Signs right next to the street can block sight lines and be distracting to drivers, he said.
Gaul said the Lyon County DFL received the email about sign placement from the Marshall city clerk’s office, and forwarded the information to the party’s mailing list. However, she said the way the sign removals were handled was “poorly communicated.”
Gaul said Marshall residents were also left with questions why political lawn signs were removed for being too close to the street, when commercial lawn signs were left alone.
On Thursday, the MPD posted on Facebook that people could come to claim their campaign signs at the Law Enforcement Center Sunday afternoon. However, Jim Marshall said that most of the signs had already been picked up by residents or political candidates as of Thursday.
While Seifert had concerns about campaign signs being removed, he also said he thought sign placement was an issue that could get worked out with the city of Marshall.
“It’ll have to get discussed and clarified,” he said.
Hanson said she thought the city should work to make the question of where campaign signs are allowed more clear in the future. She said city staff were starting to look at how other Minnesota cities have communicated about their sign ordinances.
“We are looking at ways to clarify what can and can’t be done,” she said.