City says yard sale signs are permitted but with restrictions

Linemen can be seriously injured from nails left in electric poles

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According to Sparta’s codes officer, Mike O’Neal, yard sale signs are permitted on city property as they are advertising a temporary public event.

“We are supportive of the community and the history of hosting yard sales during the spring and summer seasons here in Sparta,” O’Neal said. “However, there are a few major concerns we have recently been trying to address surrounding the placement of signs on city property.”

The first of those issues addresses the placement of signs on utility poles, which is prohibited by the state of Tennessee as stated in Tennessee Code Annotated 2-19-144, which states the following:

It is unlawful for any person to place or attach any type of show-card, poster, or advertising material or device, including election campaign literature, on any kind of poles, towers, or fixtures of any public utility company, whether privately or publicly owned or as defined in § 65-4-101, unless legally authorized to do so.

“The tacks, nails, or staples that are used to affix the signs are a serious danger,” O’Neal said, and explained they are often left behind after the sign has been removed and threaten the safety of the city’s, and other utility districts’, linemen. “Linemen have to climb poles for maintenance or other operations and often wear climbing gaffs with spikes that penetrate the poles, allowing them to climb. The staples, tacks, nails, and other similar items can block the spike from penetrating the pole, causing the climber to slip, potentially fall, and cause serious injury.”

O’Neal went on to explain that the rubber gloves, as well as other protective clothing linemen wear, can be punctured by these objects, rendering them useless, and even stated that in some instances hands, arms, and even legs can be cut or punctured.

“We could have serious injuries due to the small objects left behind when someone attaches a sign to a utility pole,” he said, and added that while Sparta hasn’t yet had a serious accident, there have even been lineman fatalities that are directly attributable to signs and flyers at other districts across the nation.

O’Neal said that in addition to signs being prohibited from being attached to utility poles at the state level, the city of Sparta has a municipal code (11-905) that takes it a step farther to include light poles and tree branches.

Municipal Code 11-905. Attaching signs to tree branches, street lights, utility poles. No sign shall be attached, erected, or permitted to hang from branches of trees or any street light or utility pole. (1978 Code, 10-257)

“When signs are on branches of trees and light poles, they can obstruct the view of motorists making for dangerous conditions at intersections,” O’Neal said.

McNeal said the city does not prohibit putting signs on city property as long as a temporary method is used.

“People are welcome to put signs out using stakes, or lawn signs, or even taping them to a tote or crate and then anchoring the crate to the ground so it doesn’t blow into the road and become a traffic hazard,” he explained, but then added a disclaimer to the statement. “However, these need to be picked up at the conclusion of the weekend. The law permits temporary signs for temporary events.”

O’Neal explained that failure to pick up the signs could result in a citation for littering.

“I pick up so many abandoned signs on Monday mornings,” he said, adding that the clutter keeps the streets of Sparta not looking their best which can deter tourists in addition to possible safety hazards that could arise should an accumulation of signs block visibility for motorists.

Again, O’Neal pointed out one of the city’s municipal codes, this time No. 16-104, to remind citizens about littering laws and the real possibility of a citation.

Municipal Code 16-104. Littering. It shall be unlawful to throw or deposit any paper, paper boxes, or other rubbish upon the streets or sidewalks of the city (1978 Code, 12-104).

O’Neal also said the allowance for signs is only regarding city property and that no private property owner is required to allow signs that would sit on their properties.

“We have many businesses that have corner lots, and, while they might be prime location for advertising an upcoming sale or event, it is completely at the discretion of the property or business owner as to whether they will allow that,” he said.

O’Neal said he hopes this year’s sale season provides plenty of opportunities for people to shop. He stressed that city officials are not trying to prohibit yard sales.

“We are absolutely, in no way, against our citizens hosting yard sales,” he stated again. “We aren’t even against them advertising the sales. We just need them to do so in a way that promotes safety for everyone as well as clean up after the sale.”   

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