Adopt-A-Highway sign draws ire

Local organizations file petition with state against 'fictitious' road sign

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

At first glance it appears to be an average Adopt-A-Highway sign, but if you take a deeper look at the "Men's Crisis Center" sign on North Douglas Highway you will see a social club's idea of a joke that local women's organizations say is offensive and demeaning to women.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Several organizations, including the National Organization for Women Juneau Chapter and the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence-Juneau, filed a petition with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities commissioner's office on Monday asking for the removal of the sign.

The groups claim that information on the organization's Web site "offends, marginalizes, and demeans women."

The petition, sent to the office of Gov. Sarah Palin as well, also asks that the Men's Crisis Center be "removed from the rolls of participants" of the litter clean-up program and for the state to put measures in place to ensure similar "inappropriate" groups are not allowed to participate in the future.

"It's a mixed message," said NOW Juneau Chapter President Nadine Lefebvre, a signer of the petition. "If they wanted to have the 'Boys Drinking Club' and the state said that's OK, then that would be great. But to fly in the face of a very important issue and kind of belittling it, it's really too bad."

According to the Web site, doodoowah.com/mccpage.html, there are Men's Crisis Center chapters in Columbia, Calif., Twain Harte, Calif., and Juneau. The Web site includes a photo of the North Douglas sign in question, and claims that the Men's Crisis Center is a place for "alcohol therapy," and makes a statement instructing women to "get on back there into the kitchen."

"The Men's Crisis Center is in our imagination," the center's founder, Ron DeLacy of Columbia, Calif., said in a telephone interview. "There's no organized Men's Crisis Center. You go to the bar, you're at the Men's Crisis Center."

One of the founders of the Juneau chapter of the Men's Crisis Center, in a preemptive call to the Juneau Empire to discuss the matter, would not speak on the record.

DeLacy, who has been to Juneau and has seen the sign in question, said the Men's Crisis Center is a "humor organization" that was founded because of a woman at a crisis shelter that had "slugged" her boyfriend.

"The Men's Crisis Center talks about abuse we get from women, our wives - henpecking," he said. "That's all we're about. We're about humor and if they have none I just can't deal with that."

On Monday, several people associated with the petition met with DOT official Charles Correa - the regional construction chief that is sitting in this week as acting regional director - to discuss the sign and the scope of the Adopt-A-Highway program.

"We just got this complaint given to us this morning at 9:30 (a.m.) and we're still looking into what's going into it and see if this organization has met its obligations," Correa said during a telephone interview on Monday afternoon.

It is too early to comment fully on the petition, he said.

"We promised them we would get back to them by the end of the week," Correa said. "With this particular issue that is about all we can say at this point."

There are a number of stipulations an organization must meet in order for it to participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program, according to the DOT's policy and procedure manual. Organizations are required to do a minimum of three cleanups a year of at least a one-mile section of designated road for no fewer than three years. Organizations also must meet certain safety requirements and document their participation with the program.

The policy and procedure manual also indicates that the signs are purchased with state funds.

According to public records obtained by the Juneau Empire, since the initial application was submitted for the group on May 1, 1996, the Men's Crisis Center performed as few as nine cleanups of its designated area on North Douglas Highway.

The DOT has sent more than one letter to the organization over the years requesting that it follow through with its commitment.

In a response to an inquiry about the group's lack of participation in 2006 and 2007, DOT employee Bern Savikko, who said he was the "main contact person" for the Men's Crisis Center during that period, wrote in an e-mail from his state account to a program administrative clerk on Nov. 13, 2007, that the group had indeed met its obligations. The 2006 sign-out sheet for the program appears to contradict that statement.

The Adopt-A-Highway program should not fit the bill for a sign from a fictitious organization, Lefebvre said.

"Because they did it as a joke and it's made for public viewing, the idea of having these road signs is to publicly declare some sort of ... organization that has a mission, has a mandate, and serves the community with some purpose as well as cleaning the highway," she said. "When you take something like the Men's Crisis Center, which is almost directly across the channel from the AWARE shelter, it does belittle the efforts."

The efforts to have the sign removed may not happen because of the content of the sign, however. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on March 5, 2001, allowing the Ku Klux Klan to participate in a Missouri Adopt-A-Highway program under the protection of its First Amendment rights.

"We believe DOT should review their policies and ensure government funds are not used to endorse questionable organizations," AWARE shelter executive director Saralyn Tabachnick said in a statement Monday. "AWARE encourages DOT to investigate these concerns to determine if public recognition of this organization by a government sanctioned program should be discontinued immediately."

The Men's Crisis Center is trying to put a smile on people's faces and is not meant to harm anybody, DeLacy said.

"We have nothing against them, we're just having fun," he said. "People just get too serious."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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