A change could come to Berkeley County's enforcement of political signs in public right-of-ways this month.
During Monday's regular meeting of the Justice and Public Safety Committee, council heard from the county's planning director, the Berkeley County GOP chair, and a citizen, who questioned the constitutionality of the county's ordinance regulating the erection of political signs in public spaces.
The county does not allow signs in the public right-of-ways but, in 2005, created an exemption that said political signs can be placed along roadways within 45 days of an election and would not be subject to setback requirements if they pertained to a candidate or ballot measure. The county does not regulate signs on private property.
No action was taken during the meeting. However, council talked about convening a special meeting April 28 to pass a resolution that would stop the planning and codes department from removing signs related to an election issue or candidate.
County GOP Chair Terry Hardesty and another citizen threatened legal action if county staff removed noncompliant signs. Under the current ordinance, an example of a noncompliant sign includes the RINO (Republican in Name Only) signs that are placed in the public right-of-way next to a Republican candidate's sign.
Planning Director Eric Greenway also questioned the legality of the county's ordinance.
"I'm not sure if much of this ordinance would stand up in court," he said. Greenway said he's particularly concerned over the 45-day restriction. He added that his staff would have to enforce whatever ordinance is on the books so it can't be accused of selective enforcement.
In other Berkeley County committee news, the Justice and Public Safety Committee of council approved a budget request seeking an additional 16 corrections officers at Hill-Finklea Detention Center. The request will continue into budget talks in the county.
Last month, Sheriff Wayne DeWitt made the request for the extra staff. He said his employees are working mandatory overtime and safety is a concern. The increased staff would allow more space to open up at the center. The additional officers would be a $775,000 recurring expense.