By Ron Maloney
MARION — Marion city officials will soon begin reviewing the placement of traffic signs in its school zones in the wake of being contacted by a San Antonio man who says as many as two dozen warning, street and school zone signs in the community don’t comply with state regulations.
And so far, he’s only reviewed about a quarter of the city that sits astride FM 78 between McQueeney and Cibolo.
Mayor Glenn Hild said he and Public Works Director Randy Schwenn have begun looking at the signs after being contacted by e-mail by Anthony N. Schneider Sr.
In a series of e-mails Schneider sent to Marion officials this week that were then sent to the Seguin Gazette Enterprise, Schneider informs Schwenn and Marion Police Chief Reed Crane of what he says are numerous violations in the placement, materials or repair of traffic control signs around the city — including signs placed in school zones that lower the speed limit or prohibit cell phone use, which Schneider says use non-standard colors or materials that raise issues of uniformity with state signs out on FM 78.
The e-mails include photographs of dozens of signs in Marion — particularly around its schools — and cite chapter and verse of the Texas Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Standards he says show violations of state rules that could lead to possible injuries or legal liability.
“I’ve never met Mr. Schneider,” Hild said Wednesday. “I assume we could have possible violations because he seems very knowledgeable.”
Hild said he and his city’s Public Works Director, Randy Schwenn have begun the process of looking into Schneider’s claims.
“You know us,” Hild said, taking time out from helping customers in his family’s grocery store. “It’s a potential safety issue, we signed on to take care of this community, and we’re going to address it.”
Many of the alleged violations are highly technical in nature, involving signs that are too low, too high, made of improper material or not sufficiently reflective.
Local officials don’t know who Schneider is or why he’s so interested in the street signage in the little Guadalupe County community.
What they do know, though, is Schneider has a similar interest in Gonzales, where he has officials contemplating sign repairs or replacement that could cost thousands of dollars.
That’s because in his e-mails to Marion, he’s included a copy of a story the Gonzales Inquirer wrote on the issue.
Gonzales Police Chief Tim Crow confirmed his community had heard from Schneider.
“We’ve looked at some signs, and some of them are out of compliance,” Crow said. “On some of them, there is debate about whether the regulations apply to city streets as opposed to state highways.”
The work is expensive and time-consuming, Crow said, and while he was uncertain what it could cost, a price tag measured in the thousands wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.
“We’ve addressed some of the stuff,” Crow said. “Obviously, we can’t just jump in and fix them all at once.”
Schneider first contacted Luling officials a year ago, and that city’s manager, Bobby Berger, confirmed the contacts Wednesday.
“He’s sent us notice some of the signs are illegal, and we’ve sent him an e-mail asking him to come in to show us what he’s talking about,” Berger said. “We’re waiting to see, but so far, we haven’t got any specifics.”
Schneider lives in the San Antonio area and said he works in the telecommunications industry, but he has a very real interest in traffic safety signs that goes back to 1972, when, riding his bicycle, a woman ran a stop sign and nearly ran him down.
“That’s what got me interested in this,” Schneider said. “I wondered why she ran the stop sign and learned that instead of trimming back the branches that obstructed the stop sign, the city had left them there, and officers used it to write tickets and generate revenue.”
In the intervening years, Schneider’s learned about the laws, had a career in the military and everywhere he’s gone he’s observed safety signs.
When he sees violations, he said, he reports them. Over the years, he’s contacted probably 100 communities with signage concerns — here in Texas and at other places where he was stationed while in the U.S. Air Force, including at American military communities in Germany.
“Now, I pretty much identify traffic control devices that are not compliant,” Schneider said. “Many are being used by cities to generate revenue without regard to safety. Sometimes they put them up with the right intent, but miss the mark altogether. The worst thing is, these signs can be unsafe and give a false sense of security to children, parents and the public.”
Mostly, Schneider said, he points out problems where he lives in Bexar County. He includes photos and video he takes from a dashboard-mounted camera.
“Department of Public Safety officers have dash cams,” Schneider said. “For the last five years, I’ve been running a laptop with a digital videocam. When I leave Bexar County, I bring my equipment with me.”
In many cases, Schneider said, particularly in his dealings with the Texas Department of Transportation, he has been well-received, and engineers have made changes based on his recommendations. Other times, not so much.
“Sometimes, the engineers thank me for pointing these things out,” In Luling and in Gonzales, he said, that wasn’t quite the case.
“They blew me off, thinking I was just some nutcase,” Schneider said.
Soon, he said, he would be going back to both communities to observe whether they are working to bring signage into compliance.
Marion has some problems, but nothing like he’s seen elsewhere.
“I hit the school zones first for the safety of the school kids,” he said. “So far, I’ve only finished one quadrant of the city. But others were a lot worse.”
Gonzales, Schneider estimated, could spend a quarter of a million dollars upgrading its signs.
“They spent and wasted all this money to do it wrong, so they have no excuse that they can’t cough up the money to do it right,” Schneider said.
Again and again, he said, he’s pointed out to city police departments that violations of the law pertaining to safety sign placement, which are a class C misdemeanor. To date, he’s never seen one act on it.
“I have yet to get a law enforcement agency at the local level to file the appropriate charges,” he said. “It’s actually a misdemeanor offense. But where do you get a police chief to cite the public works director? There’s professional courtesy there, I guess.”
But it’s important because of tort and civil liability issues, Schneider said.
“If a child gets injured and the right lawyer gets involved, they can get sued, and that’s why TxDOT gets right on these issues,” he said.
Hild said the cell phone and other school zone signs were put up by city and school officials who were anxious to do something to make the zones more safe.
Others have been up for years and years, and some of the standards have changed in the intervening time. There are even standards now for the placement of street name signs, Hild said.
“I know there’s some big book that thick that tells all this stuff,” said Hild, spreading thumb and forefinger about four inches apart. “It’s going to cost some of these towns thousands and thousands of dollars to address this.”
If signs have to be reset or replaced, he said, the city would do it with street funds — as best and as fast as it could.
“We appreciate having this pointed out, and we appreciate the opportunity to address it,” Hild said.
It won’t happen overnight, though.
“We have four employees in our street department,” Hild noted. “But we’ll look at it, and we’ll address it.”