Public concerns over missing road signs throughout county
After multiple letters to the editor were submitted concerning the
county road name signs, this newspaper has tried to find some answers
to the issue. The concern is mainly because emergency assistance
could be or has been delayed due to not having a sign that provides
the road name and no one is addressing the problem.
What official is responsible and would a county be liable for
failure to put up new road name signs if a person suffers injury
because an ambulance could not find the person's residence due to the
lack of road name sign? Attorney General Opinion 95-032 answers that
question with an opinion that a county could be found liable if the
installations of such signs is required by law or policy adopted by
the county. This newspaper could not find any local adopted policy
addressing this responsibility. The court would have to look to
whether the county had a duty to erect the missing sign on a
While the Tennessee County Uniform Highway Law makes the county road
superintendent responsible for signage on county roads, the general
supervision of the roads remains on the county legislative body. The
opinion states that county road commissioners, though authorized to
supervise the roads in their districts, are merely the agents of the
county to construct and repair. It also indicates that while local
governmental agencies are encouraged to erect street name signs, it
does not appear to impose a specific mandatory duty on the county.
When asked about who's responsibility it was for the road name
signs to be maintained, Pickett County Road Superintendent Jimmy Cope
stated, "I have had my lawyer look into this situation specifically,
and have been advised that the highway department is not responsible
for installing those name signs. If the county wanted to negotiate a
plan for the highway department to maintain the street name signs, we
would be willing to do so."
There was also contact made with the Tennessee Highway Department
Association regarding legal responsibility to replace and maintain
street name signs by a local highway department. Executive Director
Rodney Carmichael stated, "it is the responsibility of the county
highway department to install and maintain traffic control signage
(stop signs, etc.) but not street name signs. The AG Opinion 95-032
also states there is no way to generalize whether a county road
superintendent should erect a road sign."
The PRESS reached out to Pickett County Executive Richard Daniel
asking if the county had plans for replacing the road name signs. In
an email by Mr. Daniel, he replied, "the county executive's office is
not responsible for road signs or for E-911 signs, nor can we define
the term "E-911" road sign. We would welcome anyone showing or
providing to us a copy of any state statute that gives road sign
responsibility to the county executive's office.” After that
response, all other questions were directed to and answered by County
Attorney Andrea Ayers. The reference to “E-911 road signs” was used
in last week’s published letter to the editor.
So, how did the street name signs get replaced in the past here in
Pickett County? Pickett County voted for a 911 district in 1990 but
later merged with Overton County. One of the first priorities was
making sure each county road was named and properly marked. Donnie
Matheny was hired and paid by Pickett County Government for that
responsibility which included submitting the list of signs needed and
installing the signs himself until he passed away in 2005. After
that, his wife Becky performed the duties until she resigned in 2015.
According to the information presented Attorney Andrea Ayers, there
was never an "official" contract with any individual for submitting
the list of new or missing road name signs.
When speaking to Mrs. Matheny about her responsibilities, she said
that she would spend approximately 13 hours every two months, driving
around all of the county roads. If there was a sign missing, she
would contact the highway department to see if road crews had located
it, and if not, would submit a list of the missing signs to the
county executive's office. The county would compensate Mrs. Matheny
and also paid for the signs, posts and brackets.
Attorney Ayers stated that as far as Mr. Daniel is aware, Mrs.
Matheny never physically installed road signs and that she used a
highway department vehicle and highway department fuel to drive
around and inspect signs. According to Mrs. Matheny, several years
before she resigned, she had received the help of Pickett County Road
Superintendent Jimmy Cope to aid in the installation of the signs.
"The motor in my truck went out and I didn't have anything to use to
get the signs up. I had been putting a ladder in the back of the
truck to install the signs and didn't have another vehicle that could
accommodate that," said Matheny. Both Mrs. Matheny and Mr. Cope
indicated the highway department began helping install the street
name signs only after the situation with the truck and was not
compensated nor obligated.
Up until 2015, Pickett County was paying for the replacement signs
($25-30 each), posts and brackets, with a cost of $250 every other
month for someone to drive around and submit a list, and the highway
department was helping install. With no one maintaining the road name
signs since then, there are now numerous signs throughout the county
that are missing and have been for years.
What do other counties do? Overton County Highway Department does not
install the road name signs, according to a representative with the
department, the local county recycling center maintains and installs
the signs through a grant program. The Fentress County Highway
Department website states that the highway department installs both
regulatory and warning signs on county roads and solid waste installs
street name signs. The county executive is responsible for managing
the solid waste department.
We can see, there could be grant opportunities available and that
other highway departments are not responsible for the road name signs
within their respective districts. Could Pickett County address the
concerns of the citizens and try to find a solution?