WITH VIDEO: Politicians cleaning up roadsides in election year
So what’s in a name?
Plenty, maybe, if it’s a roadside sign and it has your name on it in an election year.
Stretches of Walton Boulevard and Livernois, Silver Lake, 14 Mile, Cass Lake, Baldwin, Opdyke and North Telegraph roads all have the names of local politicians posted on them.
They’ve volunteered for adopt-a-highway programs where they pledge to keep the sides of small stretches of roads litter free.
What they get in return — and for free — is year-round name exposure to passing motorists while they hold office and while they’re running for re-election.
It’s a win-win deal, the participating politicians say.
They get a little name recognition and local streets are cleaned of trash two or three times a year.
“The only political gain you have is that there’s a small sign on the road where it starts and where it ends,” says state Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, whose district includes Pontiac.
Melton has adopted a mile of Baldwin Road from the Pontiac border north to Great Lakes Crossing.
“We only do it twice a year,” Melton said of the roadside cleanup responsibilities. “The expectation is not that you’re out there every weekend keeping the road clean.”
But the state lawmaker is somewhat strategic about the time of year when he marshals volunteers to do the cleanup duties.
“We actually try to do it the weekend before an election,” he said. “We’ll have like 15 volunteers and we’ll have, like, three people by the sign in the road with a Melton sign while the rest are cleaning it up.”
But there’s also a benefit for the volunteers and the county, he says.
“It’s good for the volunteers to get out and do some community service,” Melton said. “The county, they get all these free workers to keep the roads clean and all they have to do is put a sign up.
“If we get all these roads picked up two or three times a year, it’s an additional savings for them,” he said. “It makes the county look good and the cities it’s in, it makes them look a little better.”
Melton adopted his stretch of highway through the Road Commission for Oakland County.
Also adopting local roads for cleanup are county Commissioner Marcia Gershenson of Bloomfield Township, 14 Mile Road from Franklin Road to the Beverly Hills village limit; county Commissioner Tim Burns of Clawson, Livernois Road between Big Beaver and Long Lake roads; and state Rep. Gail Haines, a Lake Angelus Republican who also represents Waterford Township. She has adopted Walton Boulevard between Dixie Highway and Clintonville Road.
Melton actually has two stretches of road. Besides Baldwin, he has also signed up for Opdyke Road between South Boulevard and Featherstone.
Another adopter is county Commissioner John Scott, R-Waterford, who has taken on a 1.5-mile stretch of Cass Lake Road from Cass Elizabeth Road to Orchard Lake Road.
All of them will face political opponents this year, either in the August primary or November general election.
Both the county road commission and the Michigan Department of Transportation run road or highway adoption programs.
White Lake Township Supervisor Mike Kowall, a candidate for state Senate this year, has adopted a section of M-59 for cleanup through the state program.
The county program requires volunteers undergo a safety briefing, and that volunteers wear orange safety vests provided by the road commission. The litter is placed at designated locations for the road commission to pick up.
Politicians actually make up few of the participants in adopt-a-road programs. Most are civic organizations, labor unions, businesses, student groups or private individuals taking on small segments of roads around the county.
The signs stay up as long as the volunteers continue making an effort at keeping the roadsides cleaned up, says road commission spokesman Craig Bryson.
“We consider it a community service,” he said.
Scott, the Oakland County commissioner, has picked up litter on Cass Lake Road from Cass Elizabeth in Waterford to Orchard Lake Road in Keego Harbor since 2004.
He considers the political benefit of the road signs to be negligible.
“We’ve been doing it four times a year,” Scott says of the cleanup. “The next time we’re going to be out here is the week of July 10 to the 18th.
“You would think you would have a little political benefit, but I think it’s what they call ‘white noise,’” Scott said. “You probably noticed it when it first came up and after that, the sign never gets noticed.”
Well, not quite never.
“When the grass gets too long in Keego, they were saying, ‘Hey, your job is to cut the grass,’ ” Scott noted.
Contact staff writer Charles Crumm at 248-745-4649, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @crummc.