Even in pieces, big Ehrlich sign breaks county rules
You have to give Keith Stouten credit for trying, even if his cutting maneuver with a large Ehrlich for Governor sign may still run afoul of Baltimore County rules.
Last month, the Dundalk man who owns Stouten's Bear Creek Marina received a notice from the county that he had to remove the 4-by-8-foot campaign sign from his front porch on Wise Avenue because it was four times too big for that particular area, where political signs are limited to 8 square feet. He said he did a bit of research and came up with what seemed a solution.
"I thought I'd have some fun with it," said Stouten. "I took a razor knife and cut it into four pieces I knew would be 8 square feet" each.
Then, spacing the four panels a few inches apart, he mounted the sign back on the porch rail, where it once again announced his support for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who hopes to unseat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in November.
That seemed to fix the problem, Stouten said, or at least he never heard anything further from the county. But the county's inspector returned, took a photograph of the altered sign and noted in the case file: "Sign cut into 4 pieces and install(ed) on front porch."
Timothy M. Kotroco, the county's director of Permits and Development Management, said the razor tactic might satisfy the size limit, but it still falls short of another requirement that signs be spaced at least 12 inches apart. That way, it's more clear what is one sign and what is several signs.
Still, Stouten is safe for now from a citation that could mean $200-a-day fines for not removing the sign.
Because another county resident has taken a dispute over his 4-by-8 Ehrlich for Governor sign to U.S. District Court, Kotroco said, the county is pulling back enforcement on political signs. Unless there's a question of public safety — such as a sign blocking a motorist's view of the road ahead — the county will respond to complaints by issuing a notice, but won’t pursue the matter further if a sign is not removed.
"We're not going to be pressing charges pending the outcome at federal court," said Kotroco. He added that he's seen the sign-cutting move before, during one political season or another. Campaigns can never be over soon enough for his taste.
"In our world we look forward to the day when these signs go away," said Kotroco.