Fairfax County can finally clean up illegal campaign signs that blanket roads during election years -- which, in Virginia, just so happens to be every year.
Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are the latest local leaders to sign an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation that allows the county to clear state rights-of-way signs and fine anyone who plops one down.
It will cost about $150,000 for the sheriff's department to supervise prisoners who will remove the signs, but county leaders are hoping the first sweep will send a strong message to keep off the lawn.
"It's the safety of the people putting them up. It's the safety of the drivers. It's safety from VDOT shooting metal spikes into the road when they mow the medians," said County Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield. "And you've got the fact that it's flat out illegal."
Placing signs along state roads has been illegal for quite some time, but until recently, an exemption was carved out for Fairfax County that prevented the county to remove campaign signs until three days after an election. Without a mechanism to punish offenders, most candidates running for office in the county were willing scofflaws, a small price to pay to keep up with the competition.
Herrity blamed state Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, for creating the Fairfax loophole. Saslaw could not be reached for comment.
Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, championed a bill last year that eliminated the exemption and clarified the law to ensure that all campaign signs were illegal, just like signs for local cellular or home improvement companies that often line the sides of roads.
The change in the law allowed Fairfax County to reach the agreement with VDOT to take on the responsibility of removing the signs.
The new sign law has already had a big impact on the 2012 elections, Albo said. Candidates now police them on their own, eager to report a competitor who violated the rules.
"The politicians were self policing," Albo said. "The problem almost took care of it self."
But Supervisor Michael Frey, R-Sully, said the burden of removing the signs should be on the state, not the local governments. In taking on the chore, he said, the county is sending the signal to the state "to hit me again."
"I understand the frustration that people have about signs along the roadway," Frey said. "The fact is this is still a state responsibility. They are state highways, it is state-owned right of way, and it's just one more example of the state government failing to do its job and local governments having to bail it out."