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DOT contractor wrecks campaign signs

It appears Florida Department of Transportation subcontractor VMS Inc. was more than a little confused Wednesday when it tore roughly 60 political signs out of the ground in front of the Guidance Center of the Middle Keys.

DOT spokesman Brian Rick said workers removed the signs -- without maps on hand -- believing the property belonged to the agency.

VMS Project Manager Steve Warfield authorized the work to be done. He refused to respond to questions from the Keynoter.

Rick said Florida Statute 337.406 governs DOT rights of way "in terms of anything not permitted or approved."

"Fifty percent [of the signs] were on the DOT right of way and the others were not," Rick said, adding the signs were all placed closely together.

Marathon City Manager Clyde Burnett has designated the lot, which is owned by the city, as one of three that all political candidates were invited to place signs. He spoke to Warfield, who originally had no intention of bringing the signs back.

"I wasn't very happy," Burnett said. "If you send workers out to do something, they ought to know what they can and can't do."

Monroe County Sheriff's Office Lt. Lou Caputo said VMS eventually agreed to bring the signs back, most of which were lying in a pile Friday in front of the Guidance Clinic. He said VMS will not re-erect the signs.

"Every candidate has a different method of putting them in," Caputo said. "The crews don't know who does what."

Caputo added that despite some rumblings, no charges of vandalism will be pressed because VMS had no criminal intent. But he acknowledged that while the signs were returned within an hour, workers damaged many while removing them.

Marathon City Council candidate John Bartus said he is considering filing a complaint alleging criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.

"My sign was pretty much mangled. After they dropped them off, they were in a pile and there are pieces missing from my sign," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, they haven't fulfilled their obligation."

Marathon Mayor Pete Worthington said he observed the signs being brought back and inquired with a VMS worker. He said his sign was scratched and missing its legs.

Hal Schuhmacher, campaign manager for Circuit Court judge candidate Teagan Slaton, said VMS workers ruined a sign worth between $50 and $70.

"We were quite disappointed they were going to do that but it seems like an honest mistake," he said.

"VMS brought the signs back to the site and will work out arrangements with the candidates for any damage to the signs," Rick said.