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Nov 29, 2008 11:07 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Road 39 billboards defaced

Nov 29, 2008 11:07 AM

Vandals defaced two billboard-style speed limit signs on County Road 39 in Southampton last week, most likely under the cover of darkness on Thanksgiving morning, according to Captain Anthony Tenaglia of the Southampton Town Police Department.

But it seems the act of vandalism was intended more as a statement than a prank, as the culprits sprayed “thank you” across the westbound sign and “please” across the eastbound sign, having covered with white paint the life-size image of the police officer standing against his cruiser aiming his radar gun at passing motorists.

The billboards were installed by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works in May, as part of an effort to enforce the new 35-mph speed limit along the roadway following the widening of the county road.

On Tuesday, workers from the county were cleaning up the signs, washing away the graffiti with soap and water and scraping away the white paint. Repairs on each sign took more than three hours, according to the workers.

From the beginning, many residents, including Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, argued that the two billboards were not only unsightly but unnecessary. “I’ve always been opposed to the signs,” Ms. Kabot said. “They have drawn a lot of hostility from the beginning.”

The supervisor said she went along with adding the signs because there wasn’t a consensus on the Town Board to fight the county.

Now, after this latest stunt, the supervisor said she is urging Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to remove the billboards. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the county gave us a holiday gift and took them down?” she said.

The billboards were placed on the westbound side on County Road 39, at the corner of Shrubland Road, and on the eastbound side, across from the Lobster Inn, and fall under the jurisdiction of the county. Periodically, an actual police officer is parked on the concrete slab, in front of the image, during rush hour traffic to target speeders.

However, Gil Anderson, Suffolk County Public Works Commissioner, said it was unlikely the signs would come down anytime soon. “In my opinion, the signs are effective in controlling speed,” Mr. Anderson said. The commissioner said the signs, which cost the county about $3,000 each, are covered with an anti-graffiti coating that allow for easier cleaning.

While condemning the acts of vandalism, Ms. Kabot said she liked the message that was being sent by the vandals. She noted that the billboards should be more welcoming and inviting. However, “there’s no excuse for defacing government property,” Ms. Kabot continued.

Frank Zappone, chairman of the Shinnecock/Tuckahoe/Southampton Citizens Advisory Committee, shared the supervisor’s sentiments and said his group had previously asked the county for more aesthetically pleasing signs.

“We were looking for something more along the lines of ‘welcome to the hamlet’ or ‘please drive safely’ or ‘thank you for driving safely,’” Mr. Zappone said. “We were unhappy with the tone of the signs.”

One of the criticisms of the billboards is that it appears at a glance as if the image of the life-size police officer is pointing a gun, not a radar gun, at drivers.

Regardless, Mr. Zappone noted that, most importantly, the billboards had not achieved their goal—convincing motorists to adhere to the 35-mph speed limit. “They are totally ineffective,” he said. “Especially the one heading west, right before the speed changes. Like them or not, at least the sign coming into town makes more sense.”

Mr. Zappone, who often travels on County Road 39, said he understands that speed is a problem and has advocated for other measures to mitigate the hazard. Recently, his group created “I Drive 35 On 39” bumper stickers that are available at Town Hall, the Southampton Chamber of Commerce office, Shinnecock Hardware, and other merchants. “I’m seeing more and more of them,” Mr. Zappone said.

But, in his view, the placement of electronic devices that digitally display how fast a vehicle is traveling are preferable and more effective than the oversized billboards. “I respect the traffic gurus who say [the electronic devices] don’t work, but every time I pass one I slow down and everyone I talk to tells me the same thing,” he said. “I think the town should also look into landscaping and other aesthetic solutions as traffic-calming measures.”

This is not the first time that vandals have targeted the billboards. In July, the image of the Southampton Town Police officer was replaced with an image of actress Angie Dickinson, who starred in the 1970s television series “Police Woman.”

Additionally, the most recent illegal makeover of the signs has solicited many positive reviews from town residents. In a letter to the editor published in The Press this week, Johanna Halsey, of Water Mill commented, “Although I do not endorse criminal activity, I feel compelled to give kudos to the brave souls who whitewashed the large, visually offensive, and unnecessarily intrusive billboards that mark the entrance and exit to Southampton. Well done—a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ gets the same message across with far greater civility.”

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Bravo to whoever did this. We didnt even need the signs but thats all they needed to say. Some common courtesy in saying please and thank you was needed not some aggressive cop in full out gun mode, Saying do it or else.
By OrignialLocal (34), Southampton on Dec 2, 08 6:43 AM
Althought I do not condone vandalism of public property, I think this recent incident speaks to the overriding concern the community has with regard to CR 39. What is appropriate for this roadway? Several Town documents identify CR 39 as the "Gateway to the Hamptons." Yet, at least one official has decribed the roadway as "confused and disorganized." Is CR 39 a welcoming gateway into the community or a highway designed only to get to points further east? The insertion of the words "thank you" ...more
By Frank (3), Southampton on Dec 2, 08 12:41 PM
I don't condone vandalism, but I quite like the "new" signs.
By jm (17), Hampton Bays on Dec 2, 08 4:27 PM
I saw somebody in a yellow truck defacing our new signs... in broad daylight!
By Viewpoint (26), Southampton on Dec 3, 08 7:12 AM
I think every taxpayer should be asking which of our elected officials is so bright that they thought it was a good idea to waste fifteen thousand ($15,000.00) dollars for EACH of those offensive signs.

What is depicited most clearly in those signs isn't the cop, radar gun and cruiser, but the arrogance of the public official or officials who decided to put them up with such content.

By A Campanelli (3), Mineola on Dec 3, 08 4:50 PM
Mr. Campanelli where did you come up with the figure $15,000. The article clearly states cost of $3,000 and two signs..my math is completely different than yours. However, I think instead of the signs as a reminder..the police should be out in full force enforcing the speed limit. Take a ride on CR 39 and if you are doing the speed limit..you are one of the few and are just waiting for one of those speeders to jump on your bumper.
By BeachGal12 (8), Hampton Bays on Dec 4, 08 4:36 PM
See the discussion on Hamptons.com, where they discuss that the actual cost was $15,000 per sign. I would imagine the actual amount paid is reflected within public records, which anyone can ask to see.

The fact remains, that even if they only costed $1, those signs are offensive to virtually every motorist who passes them, residents and non-residents alike.

Given the alternative images of "please" and "thank you" which were posted by the "vandals," it is obvious that the vandals ...more
By A Campanelli (3), Mineola on Dec 5, 08 8:30 AM
No one cares how they spend our tax dollars...we are in the process of selling off at least the next three generations to be tax slaves for these politicans that don't know to tighten their belts. I agree with you Mr. Campanelli..they are offensive and it is mind-boggling to think that anyone with intelligence authorized them.
By BeachGal12 (8), Hampton Bays on Dec 6, 08 11:33 PM
What is the real speed limit? It seems like you can travel at 50 MPH and not get arrested.
By Big Ed (1), Southampton on Dec 8, 08 9:34 AM
By fdny7318 (60), Water Mill on Dec 8, 08 10:20 AM
The jerk who authorized those signs should be fired or resign from their position Obviously they have abused their power and have no regard for taxpayer funds or the esthetics of our town I thought living is a police state died with Hitler
By harbor man (47), sag harbor on Dec 8, 08 10:31 PM
Harbor man, if you really thought that "police states died with Hitler," then you need to get out of Sag more often! What do you think Cuba has been for the past half-century? Or Cambodia under Pol Pot? Or Panama under Noriega? Or NYC since Giuliani?

Allusions to Hitler and Nazis are stupid if you weren't there!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Dec 9, 08 9:32 AM