Like Rawls, Watson criticizes newspaper

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 6/13/18

Even though the May 1 Bradley County Primary Election is long over, vestiges of unsuccessful campaigns remain in the form of a few candidate signs still dotting the landscape.

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Like Rawls, Watson criticizes newspaper

Posted

Even though the May 1 Bradley County Primary Election is long over, vestiges of unsuccessful campaigns remain in the form of a few candidate signs still dotting the landscape.

It is the continued presence of those signs that led the Cleveland Daily Banner to publish an article on June 5 about the campaign sign laws and to note that the deadline for unsuccessful primary election candidates to remove signs had passed. The photo accompanying that article showed two signs still on display for Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls, who was seeking re-election to his second term. The photo showed Rawls’ campaign signs standing in tall grass on the shoulder of Trewhitt Road. The photo caption noted that, “A few campaign signs from the May 1 election that will not be needed for the August General elections are still evident in some parts of the county.”

During Monday’s county commission work session, Rawls took exception to his signs being featured in a photo and said he was “taken aback” when he saw it. In taking the newspaper and its county government reporter to task, he commented that he had taken his signs down and "somebody put them back."

“It’s also really interesting that you would see those two signs on a two-lane road” when there is a "full-size billboard" on one of the most traveled roads in the county “and no mention of that.” He added that on Dalton Pike “there is also almost a billboard-size election sign that still exists there.”

Rawls’ comments were reported in the Banner on Tuesday, along with photos of the two other campaign signs he mentioned. The photos of signs for Sheriff Eric Watson and 6th District Constable candidate Dewayne Hicks accompanied the article to verify Rawls’ claims.

In response to the article focusing on Rawls’ comments, Watson issued a written statement to the Cleveland Daily Banner defending the continued placement of his sign, as well as following Rawls’ lead in questioning the newspaper’s journalistic ethics.

“I am extremely disappointed in the apparent lack of journalistic ethics shown by the Cleveland Daily Banner as shown by its front page story of June 12, 2018, concerning the removal of campaign signs,” Watson’s statement noted.

“It does not surprise me Commissioner Dan Rawls, when pointed out he had not removed some of his campaign signs, would be happy to point a finger at me. It does surprise me that neither the Banner’s reporter nor photographer chose to confirm the legality of the sign which was chosen to use on the front page as an example of campaign signs not removed according to state statutes.

“The sign as pictured is on the private property of Beverly Finnell, who herself requested the billboard-sized sign which she could have posted at that position,” Watson’s statement continued. “Neither I nor Mrs. Finnell were ever contacted to confirm the status of the property on which the sign is posted. Never. Not once. Not even an attempt.”

Watson’s statement also noted that according to Tennessee Code Annotated 2-1-116 (a), the statute is specific when it states the campaign signs covered are those “which have been placed on highway rights-of-way or other publicly owned property.”

“The sign in the photograph is on PRIVATE property, not public property and is therefore not covered as part of the state statutes on removal of campaign advertising,” Watson’s statement continued. “If one surveys the entirety of the county, it is obvious I and my supporters were diligent in removing my campaign signs — especially those which were located on public rights-of way or publicly owned property — as expediently as possible.

“In the end, this is Mrs. Finnell’s private sign, private property, and her right to have the sign posted at that location,” the statement concluded. “It is not the business of anyone else, including county commissioners nor the newspaper, to question her about ... her Constitutional rights concerning her own property.”

Attempts were made to contact Hicks regarding his sign on Dalton Pike, but his voicemail box was full and cannot accept any messages.


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