Campaign ad draws ire in courthouse

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 04:20 AM

An advertisement placed on an ATM inside the Rutherford County Courthouse drew complaints from courthouse staff.

The advertisement is a campaign sign for Tammy Aldridge, who is running for the Republican nomination for Clerk of Court. It was placed on the ATM Friday.

The ATM is placed on the main floor of the Rutherford County Courthouse and the advertisement led Clerk of Court Lisa Smith to ask for it to be removed.

“It’s been very upsetting to the Clerk of Court staff,” Smith said.

Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen said there are no rules barring such advertising on county property. He said the county is working to move the ATM as it has become “disruptive” to courthouse operations.

“In our review of the situation, people have been concerned about the placement of campaign advertising,” Classen said. “We cannot find a policy about advertising on county property.”

There is state law which does stipulate the placement of advertising on state property but there is no law dictating what can be placed on county-owned property.

The ATM is owned by a third-party vendor and Classen said the county does not have a written agreement with the vendor however the vendor does remit a fee to the county, which he said averages about $40 a month.

On Wednesday, Smith said the sign was removed from the ATM leading her to suggest the machine not be moved.

Aldridge said she checked to make sure there were no issues with placing the ad before she placed it.

“I happened to see that the ATM at that location was available, so I took advantage of it,” Aldridge said. “This was after seeking approval from (the) Board of Elections and confirming with the ATM owner that there was no contract forbidding it.”

She said she believed it was “my best way to compete with several candidates that work there daily.”

She made the request to remove the advertisement after finding out about complaints inside the courthouse.

“The complaints were causing too much of a distraction for me and my campaign,” Aldridge said. “The sign has been removed as of this morning (Wednesday) even though there was no official mandate that I had to remove it.”

Additionally, the need for the ATM inside the courthouse may soon run its course as Smith said the Clerk’s office hopes to start accepting debit/credit cards as payment by the end of May.

However, the incident has led Classen to suggest the county look into policies and procedures regarding advertisements placed on county property.

He said he has asked County Attorney Richard Williams to draft a policy regarding campaign advertising specifically authorizing “traditional allowable” advertising on county property as long as the advertising doesn’t create a public safety hazard or is disruptive to county operations.

In an email to county commissioners, Classen said the proposal “will apply to property owned or controlled by the County and closely follow state law/policy regarding state rights-of way.”

He said the policy will be discussed at the May meeting of the Rutherford County Commission.