Could paint cause traffic signal boxes to overheat?

By Heather Leigh, Mobile journalist, hleigh@wjxt.com
Published On: Mar 20 2014 06:26:17 PM EDT
Updated On: Mar 20 2014 08:10:17 PM EDT

VIDEO: Graffiti that's being called a crime has many people talking around Jacksonville. Police arrested the man who says he was just trying to pay tribute to a New York Artist. The city is trying to figure out if the dark paint used could cause the electrical boxes to malfunction.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

It's hard to miss the paintings that are still scattered on traffic control boxes around Riverside and San Marco. The only problem is the artist, 42-year-old Kevin Southworth, didn't get permission from the city to use its 11 boxes as his canvases.

Painting secretively for months, Southworth was known as the “Ghost of Keith Haring,” a deceased artist from New York. Tuesday, Southworth's cover was blown and police arrested him Tuesday on felony charges of criminal mischief.

“That's not right. I don't think that's right," says resident Mike Bullock.

“I don't think it's fair to cover it up. The city is saying art in public places and this is a public place and art is OK with me," says Howard Taylor.

The city of Jacksonville says the paintings caused more than $1,000 worth of damage and they are trying to figure out whether dark paint can cause traffic signals to malfunction.

“We want to see when there is paint or when there isn't paint on it, how the temperature changes in the box because the ultimate goal is how to protect that box," says David DeCamp, a spokesman for the city.

The Public Works Department has started to cover up some of Southworth's work with whitewash, but the graffiti still shows through. That why some people think the city's effort is a waste of money.

"Why not pay the police and fire department their pensions rather than worrying about painting a box on the street? It's like it's ridiculous," says Taylor.

“This is kind of a cool, creative thing to do. We just want it done in a way so we can protect what taxpayers have invested in," says DeCamp.

Southworth (pictured in Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo) faces up to five years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

The city says it's just cooperating with JSO's investigation and says it's working with the Cultural Council and the Arts Committee to find a solution that encourages creativity while protecting city property.

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