So there's a man in the north part of the county who goes around pulling the signs out of the ground (and out of everyone's ruined sight). Mike Pierce is his name, and I think he deserves a community service medal of some sort, because he has made it his fulltime everyday avocation to yank out what he calls "litter on a stick."
But he ran afoul of a company whose business it is to wreck the roadside vista, and how he has to go to court to defend himself on a misdemeanor criminal charge of theft less than $100.
He was on Providence Rd near the Baltimore Beltway - just a mile from my once-rural childhood home, where as a child I played and gamboled about "in sweet fragrant meadows of dawn and dew" - and he saw a yellow HOUSE FOR SALE sign. Mr Pierce rang up a NO SALE and pulled that sucker right on out of the ground.
But he was being observed by one Darren Hahnfeld, owner of iStuff sellers, which does estate sales in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and DC. "Marketing is a big portion of what we do," says Hahnfeld, who also told the Baltimore SUNpaper that "one well-placed sign can mean a world of difference."
That is true. But I don't think that we all think it's the same kind of difference that Hahnfeld thinks. He sees money, and we see a roadside despoiled by ugly little plastic signs.
So Hahnfeld tips off the police, and they show up at Pierce's house, and here is where I have to throw a penalty flag on Pierce. The PD asked him to relinquish the sign he had taken, on the indisputable grounds that it was not his property. He refused, and some lucky District Court judge will bang the gavel on the whole matter soon.
After all, the law here does say it's legal "for a person who is not an employee of the county to remove a sign" that is posted in violation of the law. What is left unclarified is what is to happen with the sign after that.
Pierce is represented by attorney Andrew Alperstein, who says, "It's unusual, but the code seems to sort of deputize citizens to be allowed to remove signs on public rights of way. He's passionate about his community and how it looks and appears."
"He probably would never have been charged with this theft if he hadn't refused to cooperate with us," said Baltimore County Police Officer Jen Peach.
"He could've righted everything by just giving it back," Hahnfeld said.
Pierce figures he has removed 10,000 signs over the years.
I hope he gets 10,000 more, and that if he's asked again, will return the sign to the person who owns and illegally planted it. Maybe he'll get to remove the same blight twice!