If it is election season, there must be a political yard sign controversy.
Signs asking residents to vote for a candidate, or a group of candidates in the same party, started to appear on private and public property all over the metro-east weeks ago, in preparation for the April 9 election.
Candidates consider the signs integral to their campaigns and want as many of them in the voting area as possible. Anyone who leaves his or her home in the run-up to an election may disagree, but the signs are a thing of beauty to politicians.
It is this love affair with the objects that many love to hate that has some Belleville candidates angry with the city for removing their political signs.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert ordered the Street Department, on March 12, to remove a collection of signs in the right of way near the Illinois Department of Transportation garage at 2107 Freeburg Ave. Eckert issued a memo to city officials the same day explaining that his office had received several complaints about signs placed on city property or in right of ways and asking that improperly displayed signs be reported.
Illinois, St. Clair County and Belleville law prohibit signs from being placed on public property or within rights of way.
The controversy in Belleville was sparked when Jim Chadderton, a committeeman in the Belleville Good Government Party, called the mayor's office to complain about political signs posted by Dallas Cook, Joe Hayden and Bob White in the right of way along Freeburg Avenue. Eckert, like Chadderton, is a member of the Belleville Good Government Party. Cook, Hayden and White are running as independents for city clerk, mayor and 6th Ward alderman respectively.
Chadderton said his complaints about the improperly placed signs were only meant to ensure a fair election. "If everybody plays by the same rules, it will be a good election," Chadderton said.
Ted Deets, campaign manager for Cook, said he didn't notice that any other signs in town were removed, although many are placed illegally.
"Most signs throughout town are in right of ways and easements," Deets said. "I'd like everyone to have equal rights and equal advantages under the system."
Deets said Eckert has signs placed in the right of way along Mascoutah Avenue, but acknowledged that it is difficult to determine the right of way without looking into county records.
Eckert said enforcing the laws for political signs is not something he expects city employees to do selectively.
"I've told the Street Department, if they see my signs in the right of way, take them down," Eckert said. "We are no different than anyone else."
The Illinois Department of Transportation removes political signs if time allows, said Joseph Monroe, district operations engineer for IDOT. The signs are only a priority if they are a safety concern or on an access controlled roadways, such as an interstate highway.
"We want to focus on the pavement and not signs," Monroe said. "They are illegal and against ordinances, but the public sees the pavement first, so that is our focus."
Eckert said he has issued virtually the same memo about political signs more times than he can remember in his eight years in office. "After the election, we may have to look at the ordinance again to see if we can improve it."
Deets said that, after Cook's campaign complained to the city that the Belleville Good Government Party was singling out its opponents, he has not seen any additional street signs removed.
Superintendent of Streets & Sanitation, Chuck Schaeffer, whose department is responsible for removing illegally placed signs, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Friday afternoon, another sign for Cook was in the same place along Freeburg Avenue where his other signs were removed.