Political sign debate brewing in Warren County

Signs posted outside the Warren County Board of Elections office for two candidates in the March primary were removed Monday.

But signs for their opponents, propped up by a campaigner who was seated in the board office parking lot, were allowed to stand.

“I have first amendment rights to put my signs up,” Jack Chrisman said Monday after two signs he posted were removed from county property.

The Warren County commissioners are expected to vote March 1 on a new policy banning the placement of private signs on county property.

“You can’t convert public property for private use,” County Administrator Dave Gully said.

Gully said this does not prohibit people from displaying signs while on county property, protected as a form of free speech.

On Monday, campaigner Steve Burggraf was displaying signs for County Recorder Linda Oda and Steve Muterspaw, one of three candidates for state representative in the 62nd District in the GOP primary.

Removed from a knoll next to the parking lot were signs Chrisman had stuck in the ground for Donna Lynch, who is challenging Oda, and Ray Warrick, also running in the Republican primary to represent the 62nd District in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Scott Lipps is the third Republican in the state representative primary race.

Last fall, Gully said he directed county staff to remove any signs placed on public property after complaints from County Prosecutor David Fornshell whose office is near the board of elections office.

“Yesterday I received a phone call asking about campaign signs placed on county owned property — mostly near the Board of Elections,” Gully said in an October 2015 email. “I instructed Mark Harrison from Facilities Management to check for signs each night and to remove any he finds. My instructions to him are to remove any signs not attached to a live person (for instance a poll worker) and to start a stack in the storage yard.”

The issue has become more of a problem in Warren County with the increased popularity of early voting.

“You’re looking at two months or better potentially of signage over there,” Commissioner Pat South said during a Feb. 9 discussion of the new policy.

“People are getting more aggressive putting up signs,” Commissioner Dave Young added. “We’ve never had to address it before.”

While open to the overall ban, Commissioner Tom Grossmann, a county prosecutor in Hamilton County, warned against “content-based prohibitions” that could set the table for a successful legal challenge.

“This is a dangerous area,” he said during the February discussion.