Macon Water Authority incumbent Desmond Brown waves from the sidewalk at Macon Mall where early voting is underway at the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. Brown said the mall’s sign prohibition infringes on his ability to campaign.

Macon Water Authority incumbent Desmond Brown waves from the sidewalk at Macon Mall where early voting is underway at the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. Brown said the mall’s sign prohibition infringes on his ability to campaign.

Credit: Liz Fabian

On the first day of advanced voting in the nonpartisan election, Macon Water Authority incumbent Desmond Brown cried foul that his campaign signs were pulled up from around Macon Mall, the new location of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. 

“We have a right to campaign. We are outside of 150 feet,” Brown said Monday as he waved to cars along Mercer University Drive. 

He stood on the sidewalk beside his sign which was placed on the other side of the right-of-way marker. 

Signs are prohibited in the right-of-way and within 150 feet of a polling place

Candidates are accustomed to signs being permitted at most polling places, but property owners must grant permission, according to Georgia law

In 2021, Hull Property Group donated about two-thirds of the mall to Macon-Bibb County’s Urban Development Authority which launched a $44 million renovation and construction of pickleball courts and a new amphitheater. Hull plans to deed over the remainder of the property in the next few years. 

Macon-Bibb County Elections Supervisor Tom Gillon said things were different when the office was in a rented building at the old Westgate Mall property.  

“Property owners can decide for themselves whether or not they want the signs there,” Gillon said in an email to The Macon Newsroom. “The signs at Westgate were OK because the owners didn’t mind or weren’t aware of them.”

That is not the case at Macon Mall. 

“Since the mall is public property no signs are allowed,” UDA Executive Director Alex Morrison told The Macon Newsroom in an email. “Hull Property Group also does not allow signs on their property. We’ve been enforcing this from Day 1.”

Brown said he supported the Board of Elections move to the mall because there was ample space for voters to wait in line inside instead of circling the old location. 

Now he says he’s been “sold a fake bill of goods.”  

“The UDA is Macon-Bibb,” Brown said. “You cannot be biased, Alex, and prohibit us because the mayor refuses to put out campaign signs. That is so unethical.”

Mayor Lester Miller publicly announced he was not putting out signs this campaign because of his “Clean Streets Matter” campaign and persistent issues with signs illegally being placed in rights-of-way. 

Brown said he feels that the county is infringing on his right to campaign. 

“In my opinion, it’s blatant abuse of authority,” he said.

Macon Mall

Macon Water Authority incumbent Desmond Brown places campaign signs at Macon Mall on April 20, but they were promptly removed as the mall prohibits unsolicited signs on the property.

Credit: Liz Fabian

On April 20, he spent about an hour placing about 50 of his signs and those of mayoral candidate Shekita Maxwell around the perimeter of Macon Mall on the morning of the Boombox Fest with Moneybagg Yo & Glorilla.

“You know I was going after that 420 young Black vote, and Shekita Maxwell was going after that 420 Black vote,” Brown said. 

County work crews took up signs, which cost up to $9 a piece, he said. 

His supporters invested in his campaign and their money was wasted when signs were thrown away, he said. 

“How dare you say you don’t want signs?” he said. “Signs have been a part of campaigning for decades.” 

Brown said not everyone watches television to see political ads and he wants his name to be top of mind when voters pull into the mall to vote early. Name recognition is important at the polls, he said. 

“You don’t want Desmond Brown the whistleblower,” he said of the decision to prohibit signs. 

Board of Elections Chair Karen Evans-Daniel, one of two Democrat representatives on the board, said it is the property owners’ decision whether to allow signs. 

“I do wish people’s signs hadn’t been thrown away,” she said. 

John Mulherin, Hull Property Group’s Vice President of government relations, told The Macon Newsroom that unsolicited signs are not allowed at any of the 35 malls they own and operate and will be taken down.

“If we did not, these properties would be overrun with signs and that does not comport with the standards we have set for the look of our properties. We consider these signs as litter and immediately remove them,” Mulherin stated in an email. “Candidates for political office in Macon, or their volunteers, are more than welcome to wave their signs at the Macon Mall but the placement of signs is not allowed.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with the Macon Newsroom.