Portsmouth man no longer gets free lawn-cutting because of political signs in front yard

Posted at 11:28 PM, Sep 13, 2016

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - For years, the Portsmouth City Jail inmates have cut elderly and disabled residents' grass for free through a program run by Sheriff Bill Watson.

One resident who says he was a part of the program for years because of a heart condition, is now off the list.

"I just thought it was just kind of unfair," says James Overton.

Overton says he went to schedule an appointment via phone on Friday, as he does every two weeks. He says he was told by the sheriff's office that because he has a sign supporting Mayor Kenny Wright, who is opposing the grass-cutting program, they could no longer cut his lawn if he keeps the sign up.

"I thought it was kind of weird," he says.

Despite their known disliking of each other, in an interview with News 3, Sheriff Watson says this is not about Mayor Wright.

Watson says it is illegal for inmates to be put to work for the support of a political candidate. He says he learned the hard way a few years ago when inmates set up a tent for someone who was hosting a campaign event.

He says he's now careful.

"I'm not going to put inmates on a property where they're campaigning for anybody," he says. "It always takes one person to spoil a program. He's the only one whining about this."

Overton says he has put up signs every political season and had his lawn cut for the past few years without an issue.

"I appreciate the law but if we had been informed, it's no problem," he says. "I guess it's conveniently being enforced now, as opposed to early on."

Sheriff Watson says he's telling everyone with campaign signs the same thing. If they want their grass cut, the political signs must be removed and not put back.

Overton says he will find a way to get his lawn cut, which has already been taken care of once by his close friend.

He's worried about others who depend on the inmates help.

"My concern was the other elderly and seniors, would they get their grass cut?"

In a phone conversation, Mayor Wright tells News 3 he was never planning on getting rid of the Sheriff's office grass-cutting program.