Derhan Horton is the owner of Liberty Tax Service on Moores Ferry Road. His sign holders, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, get the attention of drivers near the intersection of South Carroll Road and Highway 61. Horton says his seasonal business could not operate without the billboards.
“For us at Liberty it’s the number one way to get customers,” said Horton. “I’m only open for three and a half months during tax season. I can’t let a poorly written ordinance stop me.”
The ordinance was passed with safety in mind. Some council members are worried that the signs and costumes distract drivers and lead to traffic accidents. Councilman Verland Best says the policy needs to be enforced.
“I think the council made it clear when we voted on Sept. 4, 5-0, to ratify the new sign ordinance,” said Best. “That ordinance said no handheld signs in the city. The biggest issue is about safety. If somebody is waving a sign or jumping while dressed as a hot dog in the right of way and somebody is watching them, doesn’t see the car in front of them and has a wreck, that creates a problem.”
Best said it’s up to the city to enforce the law, but so far no citations have been issued by the Villa Rica Police Department.
Horton feels human billboards are no more a distraction to drivers than cell phones and radios.
“I disagree with the public safety angle,” he said. “People get in accidents all the time for numerous reasons. They should ban cell phones in cars or putting on makeup and eating while you drive before they go after someone holding a sign.”
Horton said sign holders are skilled laborers who can earn up to $30 an hour in prime locations.
“I have tryouts, people try to make a laugh,” he said. “I take it seriously because it’s how we get customers in. The guy I have is an expert, he’s a professional. He started with me and he’s worked his way up so he is really good. I pride myself on this; I became successful by finding good sign wavers.”
Villa Rica Mayor J. Collins thinks businesses should be allowed to hire sign holders at their will. He does not have a vote on the City Council, but he plans on asking for support to change the ordinance.
“There are a lot of laws on the books that are not enforced,” Collins said. “In these economic times if a man or woman is willing to carry a sign to make a little money, I say more power to them and we need to encourage that. I think we have bigger fish to fry than having to enforce a human billboard ordinance. It’s not worth a hill of beans in my opinion.”
Capt. Keith Shaddix of the Villa Rica Police Department said it’s an issue that normally would be handled by code enforcement rather than the police.
“If the city manager said, ‘y’all go enforce this,’ we would,” he said. “At that time I’d take a better look at the ordinance. But personally I’m not familiar with it.”