Irmo mayor faces backlash for political signs in his Harbison neighborhood amid re-election bid

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IRMO, S.C. – (WIS) Irmo Mayor Barry Walker has campaign signs up all around his Harbison neighborhood, signs the homeowners association that oversees the area says are against the rules.

Walker is facing backlash from some in the community for the lawn signs in the midst of his re-election campaign.

He has lived in the Harbison area, which is governed by the Harbison Community Association (HCA), for years.

Just as he did the last time he ran for office, Walker said he handed out lawn signs to his supporters when the candidate filing period opened on August 16.

The issue is that these signs are now against HCA rules.

“Thank you for all this extra publicity, but the individual supporters of Barry Walker, including myself, my wife, they put up the signs because they felt it’s alright to do it,” Walker said in an interview Friday.

The HCA covenant, or bylaw, regarding political signage clearly states that lawn signs may not be displayed more than 30 days out from an election.

Violators could be fined up to $1000 dollars, according to the Harbison Community Association.

Benjie Friday, who lives in the neighborhood, said she believes Walker’s refusal to comply with the regulation speaks to his fitness for office.

“I think if he can’t follow the rules of our community, I don’t know that he can govern the town of Irmo,” she said.

Town council member Erik Sickinger said this shows a lack of respect for the voters, and other candidates who do not have signs up within Harbison’s limits, including Walker’s opponent, Bill Danielson.

“Then are we encouraging people, candidates for an elected position as a representative position, is it then the current mayor’s stance that they should ignore any rule that they don’t like, or that they feel is bad or wrong?”

Sickinger, who is also running for re-election, compared Walker’s defiance to residents suggesting that the speed limit should be 50 miles per hour in all areas of an HOA.

“And then a number of folks are trying to use the speed limit, I mean madness, mayhem, we have to follow the rules,” he said.

Not taking down the signs is also disrespectful to individuals within Harbison who have worked to create “an orderly, well-run HOA,” Sickinger said.

Walker argued that Sickinger does not have standing in this argument because he does not live in Harbison, and “needs some publicity.”

Sickinger denied that this was a political, personal fight, and said, “I don’t win by having someone else lose.”

“My goal is to make sure that residents understand the government’s responsibility in relationship to HOAs and ensure that we clarify and clear up this issue so that we can move forward,” he said.

Walker contends that this rule was not in place when he moved into the neighborhood, and the change, which was made in the last few years, was not made transparently.

“If it was that serious of a problem, that they should’ve notified every homeowner here with registered letters or called a public meeting and made it transparent that this was a problem and if they were changing it, and then give us updated copies for our covenant books, they didn’t do that,” he said.

The mayor showed WIS a copy of the covenant handbook from 2019, which did not include any language about political signage.

Both HCAs and HOAs have the ability to enforce various covenants and rules that residents must follow, as long as they do not violate state or federal law.

However, the conflict in this case is that Walker contends that HCAs cannot change its covenants without approval from homeowners.

“If they want to solve this, tell me what your lawyer says, and I’ll tell you what my lawyer says, and then they’ll get together and talk about it and come to a conclusion,” he said.

Walker noted that he advised his supporters that they may incur fines if they put up his lawn signs, and he did not put any up on his own aside from the ones on his property.

As for any potential fines, Walker says the enforcement of those is on hold as the HCA’s lawyer reviews the legality of the change to the covenant bylaws.

The election is one month from Saturday, which would make the signs within the boundary of the bylaw as of next week.

Walker said within the next few days, residents should expect to see more of his political signs around the area.

Sickinger said this could have been a “nonissue” if Walker had backed down.

“This could easily not have resulted in any additional work, drama, strain, stress, confusion if the mayor had followed the rules of Harbison or not fought them publicly or encouraged his supporters to do that as well,” he said.

Town council has called a special meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the issue.

Sickinger says its purpose is to create a separation between what the mayor has said, and the town’s position.

Walker calls it a “publicity stunt” for Sickinger.

At council’s last workshop, Walker said he tried to discuss the issue, but was told it would be better handled during the special meeting.

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