Columbia County officials say the organization that called a county sign ordinance unconstitutional has its facts wrong.
Days after receiving a letter from the Southeastern Legal Foundation demanding the county change their ordinance or face a possible lawsuit, county attorney Doug Batchelor said he is comfortable with the ordinance and doesn't anticipate any changes.
"Preliminarily, I think the ordinance is constitutional," Batchelor said.
The foundation sent out a statement Monday denouncing the ordinance, saying it "violates federal and state constitutional free speech guarantees."
Foundation officials said on Monday their two main concerns were that it singles out political signs period and limits the amount of time candidates can leave their signs out.
Basing their argument on a 1996 Georgia Supreme Court Ruling, the foundation asked for immediate action by the county and that the foundation be assured county officials will not try to enforce the ordinance and that candidates be told the ordinance is "legally unenforceable."
Foundation officials did not return phone calls made to them on Thursday.
Batchelor said the concerns the foundation used to threaten a lawsuit with are inaccurate, when the intention of the ordinance is considered.
He said political signs are not singled out to limit free speech. Instead, Batchelor said, political signs are separated to allow them more visibility during an election year.
The ordinance allows candidates to post signs in areas they wouldn't normally, he said.
"We say anytime during the year, you can put up your political speech," he said. "During the election period, in addition to that, you can go in any zoning district anywhere and put up the signs."
As for the time limit concern the foundation has, Batchelor said he believes they misread the ordinance as saying candidates can only leave their signs up for eight weeks, when in fact, he said, the ordinance says they can start putting up signs eight weeks before the primaries.
They must then take them down five working days after general elections. That gives candidates approximately five months to leave their signs up.
"I think we can convince (the foundation) that we're OK." he said.
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