SALEM, Ore. – Two green Adopt-A-Highway signs reading "American Nazi Party" have popped up on a rural road a few miles from downtown, and it's got people upset with the county for agreeing to put up the signs and worried about their neighborhood.
"I know we live in a free world. But that's not part of freedom, anything to do with the Nazis," said Barbara Hamblin, a 64-year-old who lives in a mobile home park just down the road from one of the signs.
"They had to have been off their rocker," she said.
The two signs were erected by Marion County (search) road crews earlier this week, costing taxpayers $250 each.
County officials said they know people are upset. But free-speech guarantees in the Constitution prevented them from turning down the person who signed the American Nazi Party (search) up with the local Adopt-A-Highway program.
"Our hands are pretty much tied from a legal standpoint," said Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne. "This has been very difficult, but the bottom line is they are entitled to participate."
"We can't pick and choose what parts of the constitution to follow," said Milne, a former Republican state legislator.
Marion County put up the signs after a person named C. Marchand applied for a permit under which the "American Nazi Party" agreed to help clean up the road.
A person answering the phone at the number given on the permit application said "maybe" when asked if he was Marchand.
He declined to make any further comment, referring inquiries to a Jim Ramm, who has previously been identified in news reports as leader of the Tualatin Valley Skins (search), a white-supremacist group that has been active in the Willamette Valley.
No listing could be found for Ramm.
The Web site for the American Nazi Party lists as its chairman Rocky J. Suhayda.
Responding to an e-mail, Suhayda said his group has nothing to do with the two signs in Salem, writing, in part ... "we would never pick up garbage along a highway in this toilet-bowl of a country..."
County officials said they got about a dozen complaints about the signs as of mid-Thursday afternoon, and more were coming in after their existence was broadcast on TV news.
The applicants for the sign may have been borrowing an idea from the Ku Klux Klan (search).
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that free-speech rights prevent Missouri from barring the Klan from participating in that state's Adopt-A-Highway program.
Out on Salem's Sunnyview Road, someone expressed their views about the two signs by bending one of them in half.
The sign is near a house where Patti Buetler lives, practically in her yard.
Buetler said she had called county officials about the sign.
"I don't want to get myself involved in this. All I want is for it to not be in my yard," she said.
Buetler may get her wish.
County officials say the vandalized sign will be replaced, but only if the permit applicant pays for a new one.
"If they want to replace it, the Nazi Party will have to pay," said Dan Estes, spokesman for the county commissioners.
He said that is standard policy — the county erects the signs at its expense the first time but charges organizations to replace them if they are vandalized or stolen.