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Man battles signs around city

June 19, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Franklin Erck III got sick and tired of seeing signs he says were illegally placed around the City of Hagerstown and decided to do something about it.

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"So I took them down," he said.

He did so after some of the signs had been up for three weeks and he couldn't stand it anymore, he said.

Representatives from Allegheny Energy, the City of Hagerstown and the Maryland State Highway Administration said they have no problem with Erck's actions.

"I think it's excellent," said City Light Department Manager Terry Weaver.

Over a period of about 10 days, ending about two weeks ago, Erck removed almost 30 signs which urged people to call 1-800 numbers to improve their lives.

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Some of the signs were posted on state property on Dual Highway medians while others were on utility poles, he said.

Now the signs are starting to reappear, but in places where Erck can't reach them, he said. Signs are being posted 10 to 15 feet high on poles and he can't get to them, he said.

Businesses from outside the area are posting the signs and citizens here shouldn't tolerate it, he said.

Through his experience with health issues as executive director of the Hagerstown YMCA from 1973 to 1988, Erck said he knows that one sign suggesting that someone can lose 30 pounds in 30 days can have dangerous consequences.

He also took down signs that offer, for free, to help singles find dates and to help people make money from their homes.

Diane Mensh of 1-800-678-DATE, based in Gaithersburg, Md., said she was unaware that any signs had been put on highway property or had remained up for longer than a weekend. She said she would talk to the employee who puts up the signs here to remind him of the laws, she said.

A person answering the phone at a company with a sign promising to help people lose weight said it would take down any signs put up in violation of any codes or laws. However, he said he had not heard any complaints from Hagerstown before now.

The employee would not give his name and declined to answer other questions.

Erck said he never called to complain about the signs because he didn't think it would do any good.

Erck is correct in saying that any signs put on state highway rights-of-way are illegal, said Lora Rakowski, State Highway Administration spokeswoman.

Weaver said people placing signs on utility poles don't seem to realize that utility employees climb the poles to make repairs. Not only do the signs get in the way but so do the staples and nails used to keep the signs in place, he said.

"So whenever we see signs attached to the pole we immediately remove them and clean off the nails," he said.

There is no law in Maryland against posting signs on utility poles, Allegheny Energy spokesman Scott Shields said.

The poles are private property, however, and the signs were posted without the company's permission, he said. The utility asks people not to put signs on poles because it makes it harder to climb the poles and damages them, he said.

"As far as taking them off the poles, we would not be opposed to someone doing that," he said.

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