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Kerry Yoakum on local outdoor regulations

Date: September 12, 2016

Kerry Yoakum is VP, Government Affairs for the OAAA.  He joined OAAA in 2008 after practicing law as an attorney for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Kerry Yoakum is VP, Government Affairs for the OAAA.  He joined OAAA in 2008 after practicing law as an attorney for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Kerry, how did you get involved in the outdoor advertising industry?

Prior to joining the Outdoor Adverting Association of America (OAAA), I practiced as an attorney for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for 6 years. As Administrator for the Office of Contracts, I was responsible for managing five major work areas: Construction Contracts, Contractor Pre-qualification, External Civil Rights, Advertising Device Control, and ODOT’s Purchasing program. I received my J.D. degree from Capital University Law School, and a B.S. degree from The Ohio State University.

When I joined Ohio DOT, one of the first issues to land on my desk was about outdoor advertising. I had not had any experience with outdoor, nor was I familiar with the body of law governing the topic; I quickly familiarized myself and became quite interested in the topic.

For example, one interesting fact is that the Highway Beautification Act requires states to control outdoor advertising beyond 660 feet outside of the urban area. Many outdoor advertising historians believe this distance, which is equivalent to a furlong, was added by the Kentucky delegation, because that’s how far they could see on a clear day. I have not been able to confirm this, but it is at least a viable explanation for an otherwise arbitrary distance.

What your responsibilities for the OAAA?

My job involves assisting members and state associations in advancing the industry’s legislative/regulatory goals. I provide technical, regulatory, and legal expertise to our members. I am also involved in the Outdoor Advertising Political Action Committee (OAPAC).  I really enjoy helping our members enter jurisdictions that have previously prohibited outdoor advertising. A win here is a big accomplishment.

What regulatory or legal issues occupy the biggest share of your time?

- The number one regulatory and/or legal issue currently involves the regulation of digital billboards. The topic of digital billboards touches on a number of issues (e.g. traffic safety, brightness, and location). In most cases, our members are seeking materials to help with erecting or converting an existing billboard to a digital display. We have developed numerous documents aimed at helping our members present the information in a fair and responsible manner. Opponents often provide regulators with only pieces of information, while we strive to provide a complete and fair summary of the body of evidence and let the facts speak for themselves.

- Another significant area involves content. We get inquiries from members regarding copy for cigarette, electronic cigarette, cigar, marijuana and/or alcohol advertising. We have created many quick reference guides to explain the rationale behind the regulations surrounding content controls.While the courts have recognized outdoor advertising as an important medium of commercial and noncommercial speech, it is important to remember that just because you can advertise these products doesn’t mean you should. Free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but with great power comes great responsibility.

- As our members operate their businesses, they often encounter numerous state and local regulations that can contain ambiguity. When this conflicts with their plans, they call OAAA to help explain the regulations and offer options to stay compliant. I find these exchanges particularly rewarding, as they allow me to apply all of my training, knowledge, resources, and experience, offering thoughtful and creative solutions.

What experiences do you recommend to out-of-towners visiting Washington, DC?

I strongly recommend that everyone visit the monuments, especially the Lincoln and the Jefferson. The Lincoln monument is especially moving at night; almost surreal. Growing up in Ohio, I never realized that the Washington, DC area was so lush. I live in Virginia, and we have many parks nearby. If you are not from the area, you tend to think of the DC area as a sprawling urban concrete jungle. If you have the time, I encourage visitors to explore the area and experience some of the more underappreciated sights of the region.

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