HOUSTON -- A Houston City Council candidate's ubiquitous -- and illegal -- campaign signs are raising eyebrows and triggering complaints from civic activists, bloggers and even utility company officials.
Eric Dick's signs have become a common sight alongside Houston freeways, generally nailed onto utility poles in public easements. That makes them illegal under the city's sign ordinance.
Political campaigns routinely break the ordinance, but their stubby yard signs are usually planted in the ground in public rights of way. So the mess can generally be cleaned up by neighborhood activists.
City workers also spend a lot of time -- and taxpayer money -- picking up the illegally posted signs.
But Dick's campaign postings are especially aggravating to people who spend a lot of time cleaning up illegal signs. They're nailed very high on utility poles, well above human reach, making it impossible for anyone to clean them out without special equipment.
"I mean, they're all over the city," said Rick Hurt, a civic activist who picks up illegal signs in his spare time. "All up and down the freeways."
Critics of Dick's signs have complained on blogs and launched email chains vowing they won't vote for him.
"I'm sorry, campaigns put out signs," Dick said. "And that's what happens. Campaigns put out signs. That's the nature of politics."
Dick is an attorney, and he said he's very familiar with the city's sign ordinance.
"I have had overzealous volunteers do that. I don't promote that. I was told by Centerpoint -- I think it was Centerpoint -- not to put them up or not to take them down."
Centerpoint Energy confirmed that it contacted Dick, telling him he shouldn't post his signs on the company's utility poles. Beyond the fact that it's illegal, a company spokesperson said it's dangerous.
So dangerous, in fact, Centerpoint has told Dick he shouldn't try to have the signs removed. That's a job for utility company workers, the spokesperson said. As a result, it seems Dick's signs may stay up for a long time to come.
Hurt is so upset that he's devised a novel response. He routinely patrols the streets in an old car marked with the words "Blight Buster," pulling down illegal signs.
"It goes against the code of enforcement," Hurt said. "And if our city leaders and people who want to be city leaders can't abide by the code of enforcement, what does that say about them?”
When he realized he couldn't safely knock Dick's signs off utility poles, he pieced together a long pole attached to a paint roller. Now, he slaps two coats of paint over Dick's signs, obliterating the candidate's name.
"My advice to those who are campaigning? Abide by the law," he said.