By Paul Gable
Government officials in Conway have increased their war on political signs during this primary campaign season to a point that it has spiraled out of control.
Grand Strand Daily has learned that summonses with potential $1,000 fines, for alleged illegally placed campaign signs, have been issued to at least several more candidates in current primary races.
Most interesting is the June 13, 2021 date on the summonses for these cases to be heard in Conway City Court. That date is one day before primary election voting will take place at the polls.
Nothing in Horry County politics happens in a vacuum. One must wonder if certain Conway city government officials are attempting to influence the outcome of some of the races in the June 14th primaries?
Two weeks ago, GSD ran a story on this issue. At that time, blame for a summons and fine issued to one candidate was put at the feet of Conway City Administrator Adam Emrick due to prior statements he had made during a meeting of Conway City Council.
In the interim, several city council members have stated that candidates would be allowed to pick up their confiscated signs and no fines would be collected. However, with the escalation in the issuance of summonses, that does not now appear to be the case and city council members are now complicit for not doing anything to stop the problem.
Who is setting policy here, Conway City Council or Emrick?
During city council elections in Conway last fall, various candidate signs were picked up for the same reasons by city employees. However, unlike the current policy, candidates for city office were allowed to pick up their signs from a city building with no summons and no fine.
No new ordinance has been passed in the interim between last fall’s elections and the current primary campaign season. Yet, two very different policies exist in how candidates for city office and candidates for county, state and federal offices are treated.
Maybe one explanation is it’s not good policy to fine someone who may become one of the seven people who decide on whether you keep your job or not. Maybe it is something more sinister such as attempting to influence the outcome of an election.
Either way, there is certainly no equal application of the law here, as required by the U. S. Constitution.
In addition to violations of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, there could be a serious case made that the arbitrary actions currently being conducted by Conway officials are an attempt to curb free speech during political campaign season, violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.
It is not a smart idea for Conway City officials to violate the U.S. Constitution.
Emrick has been admonished in the past by city council members for his perceived arrogance in dealing with businesses and citizens in Conway.
Rather than learning anything from those admonishments, it now appears he has chosen to double down on this demeanor with the political sign issue.
No one argues that political signs should be placed in areas deemed appropriate in the city ordinance (i.e. private property).
However, there appears to be no evidence that the candidates themselves were the ones who placed signs in public rights of way. Yet, they are the ones being cited.
An example of just how arbitrary this ordinance is being used, at least one of the campaign signs picked up and subject to a fine is a Tracy Winters campaign sign. Winters is a candidate for Horry County School Board District 3. There is no part of her district in the city limits of Conway and she certainly knows this.
Should she, or any candidate, be subject to a fine because someone picked up one of her signs at a campaign event and placed it in a public right of way?
How does the city know it is not opponents who are picking up signs of their rivals and placing them in illegal areas? Simple answer, it doesn’t.
And there is a very subtle distinction here. Campaign signs are property of the committee to elect a candidate, paid for by that committee, not the individual candidate. Yet, the candidates are the ones being cited, not the committee.
This entire issue has spiraled out of control, apparently on the whim of one person.
Conway City Council members should prepare themselves for the repercussions that will inevitably follow.