It was 10:45 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, and Alexis Baird waited on a stop light at Shoop Avenue and Linfoot Street in Wauseon when she noticed some odd activity.
A man dressed entirely in black had exited a later-model black pickup truck with its lights off in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station. The parking lot was lined with the campaign signs of candidates for Fulton County Clerk of Courts and a county commissioner’s seat.
Baird’s boss is current Clerk of Courts Paul MacDonald, an incumbent candidate in the March 15 primary election. Curious about the man in black, she continued briefly down Shoop Avenue, then turned around and parked in a lot adjacent to the former gas station to observe. She noticed immediately that both of the truck’s license plates were obscured by snow.
She also noticed that two of MacDonald’s signs she had just seen at the parking lot were now gone. Baird said she then caught the man’s attention, and he jumped in his truck, which sported lights on the cab roof, and drove away in darkness. She tried to follow but lost sight of him.
For the next 45 minutes Baird drove around the area, looking for the man’s truck. She never found it, but noticed in the process that more of MacDonald’s campaign signs – at least 20 –were missing from spots on Shoop Avenue and at spots at the city’s Haven Heights subdivision, the Fulton County Sportsmen Club, the city’s corporation limit on State Route 2, and near Sunny’s Campground on County Road 13, among others.
MacDonald reported the missing signs to both the Wauseon Police Department and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. In doing so, he discovered that signs planted around Pettisville by his campaign opponent, Chief Deputy Tracy Zuver of the sheriff’s office, also were missing.
Zuver believes his signs were removed by juveniles as a prank. MacDonald believes his missing signs have a different story.
“Mine are deliberate,” he said. “Up and down Shoop Avenue, for someone to take them all?”
MacDonald said he doesn’t know if the person Baird saw stole all of his missing signs. Still, he’s surprised by the sign thief’s – or thieves’ – behavior. He ran two previous campaigns locally, and his signs always stayed put.
“For what reason (these were taken), who knows?” he said.
Wauseon Police Chief Keith Torbet isn’t as surprised. He said candidates’ signs go missing with every campaign.
“Sometimes, it’s malicious, sometimes, it’s kids playing pranks,” he said. “Sometimes, you figure out who it is, and if we find out who it is we will prosecute.”
Oftentimes, the stolen signs are relocated by the thief. In some instances, the bulk of signs taken will end up replanted overnight on a single lawn.
“I can’t remember a time with an election when we haven’t had signs come up missing,” Torbet said. “If we have a hotly-contested race in Fulton County, we have signs come up missing. We’ve had some very nasty campaigns where people were doing malicious stuff.”
If signs are found in someone’s possession, the police will prosecute if the candidate agrees, he said.
Zuver planted 400 campaign signs in the county, and plans to place 100 more. He keeps a list of locations.
A few he put around Pettisville were taken, but the thefts occurred at the same time as a school event. He suspects juvenile fun.
“I’ve seen them where it’s a joke, and someone will slam somebody’s yard with a bunch of them,” he said. “(Stolen signs) happen every election.”
What the thieves don’t realize is the signs can cost around $3 each, he said. Depending on the situation, if he caught a perpetrator he might report them to the county prosecutor.
Gary Loar, a Metamora resident running for Fulton County Commissioner Paul Barnaby’s expiring seat, has about 75 campaign signs up around the county. He expects to place another 150 this week, as well as several banners.
If any of his signs have been stolen, Loar is not aware.
“I don’t know why people would,” he said. “This campaign that I’m in, I don’t know that there’s opposition that would warrant people taking signs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Wauseon Councilor Shane Chamberlin’s signs remained in place during his three campaigns, but he worried they could be swiped.
“During campaigns I’d drive around and make sure mine were still there,” he said. “(But) it’s nothing I’ve experienced.”
When incumbent Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller ran again for office some of his signs disappeared from Metamora and Delta.
“During campaigns we normally get some kind of vandalism or theft. A lot of times they’d end up in somebody’s yard as a prank,” he said. “Most of them seem to be kids involved.”
Miller said people don’t realize campaign signs come with a cost. He said their theft could lead to a criminal charge, for which there is a penalty.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.