Over the weekend, local attorney Laurie Longo brought to my attention a political sign placed on North Main by probate court candidate Julia Owdziej – who’s also the incumbent in that race.
This Photoshopped “art” took as its starting point a sign that was placed on North Main Street by the Julie Owdziej campaign. The alteration of the sign was undertaken so readers could be shown the physical dimension of the sign in context, without providing whatever publicity benefit that comes from having a photo of a candidate’s yard sign replicated on The Chronicle’s website. The bicycle is included for a sense of scale. The tagline is a Southern expression I grew up with that essentially means: Do not ask me what time it is, little one.
The incumbency is the result of a gubernatorial appointment made just two months ago, on June 2, 2014. And that forms a part of Longo’s objection to the sign – because it displays the text “Judge Julia Owdziej” in the context of the campaign tagline “Protecting the County’s Most Vulnerable for Over 20 Years.”
The sign seems to implicate that Owdziej has been serving as judge for two decades, not two months. Certainly if I were editing an endorsement op-ed that included a sentence like, “Judge Julia Owdziej has protected Washtenaw County’s most vulnerable for over 20 years,” I would move to strike the word “judge.”
I imagine some readers might agree with Longo’s conclusion – that because the sign is misleading (and violates Ann Arbor’s political sign ordinance), voters should consider other candidates instead. Other candidates in the race are: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, and Tracy Van den Bergh.
That conclusion is, I think, somewhat debatable. Some voters will likely consider that message to be, technically speaking, factually accurate – even if misleading – and within the latitude that is typically afforded political candidates who are trying to market themselves to voters.
What does not seem open to debate is Longo’s point that the billboard-sized sign was in obvious violation of the Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs – most clearly the maximum size for such signs, which is 4′ x 3′. [.pdf of Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs]
When I reached Owdziej by phone Sunday night (July 27), she indicated that the city of Ann Arbor had contacted the campaign about the sign and that the trailer to which it was affixed was to be removed on Monday. And on Monday it was removed.
That’s consistent with remarks made by all probate court candidates in response to a question posed about yard signs at a July 19 forum hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party: They’ll remove signs that are in violation, if the violations are pointed out to them.
So in this final week leading up the election, I would first like to encourage all candidates – not just those in judicial races – to make sure they adhere to local laws on political signs. If you don’t know that you’re not supposed to have any signs in the public right-of-way or within 5 feet of a sidewalk (with some exceptions), then please read up on the details.
For readers, there are at least two options for addressing political signs that you think aren’t in conformance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance. Contact the candidate and tell them where the offending sign is, and ask them to remove it – or to explain why they think the sign is actually in compliance. A second option is to contact community standards by phone at 734.794.6942, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are the responses that probate court candidates gave on July 19 to the question about campaign yard signs – as well as some thoughts of my own about yard signs, with a look back to a 2006 interview with Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum. [Full Story]