Elections

No 'malicious mischief' in campaign sign fracas

POULSBO — The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department is not going to pursue charges in the alleged removal and damage of campaign signs belonging to 23rd District state representative candidate James Olsen.

Olsen, a Republican, registered a complaint with the Sheriff’s Department against James Sommerhauser, parliamentarian of the 23rd District Democrats and a county planning commissioner. Olsen sought a third-degree malicious mischief charge against Sommerhauser.

Olsen posted a YouTube video, titled "Kitsap Crime and Punishment," about the sign fracas, showing him picking up the signs at Republican Party headquarters and loading them into his truck. He’s shown carrying a sign that had been damaged; he alleges Sommerhauser damaged the sign when he handled them. Sommerhauser said the signs were fine when he delivered them to Republican Party headquarters in Silverdale.

A sheriff’s deputy, Craig Hanson, interviewed Olsen and Sommerhauser on Sept. 11 and filed a report. Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said the case was ending there.

Sommerhauser told Hanson the signs had been brought to him by others over a period of about a month, and that they had been removed because they exceeded the size limit for signs posted in the public right of way. Sommerhauser said he took the signs to the Republican Party headquarters in Silverdale.

In his interview with Hanson, Sommerhauser cited a county code limiting political signs posted in the public right of way to a size of 2 feet by 2 feet. If the sign is larger than that, it can only be posted on private property with the property owner’s permission.

“I checked the county code, #17.445.090 which discussed the size of the signs posted on county right of way,” Hanson wrote in his report. It appeared Sommerhauser was correct with the size of the signs.”

Hanson reported that he recontacted Olsen and advised him of the county code. “He said nobody had permission to take the signs down unless it was the county,” Hanson reported.

Olsen ended his video with this message: The Democrats should tend to their own signs, not his, and showed a photo which he says shows Democratic candidate signs in the public right of way.

“I told him, like at the end of the video, tend to your own signs,” Olsen said. Campaign signs have historically been a subject of contention in political campaigns in Kitsap County, with sign theft a regular worry. According to some candidates, campaign signs can cost about $3.50 each.

Sommerhauser said he knows “conspiracy theorists” who believe candidates from opposing parties are responsible for missing signs. But he believes children are often responsible. “It’s a game. They knock ’em down, play with ’em,” Sommerhauser said. “Whenever you put signs up near a walking path, near a school or a bus stop, sign predation goes up.”

Other signs are not stolen at all. Sommerhauser said a campaign worker will sometimes place a sign on private property, thinking it’s public right of way; those signs are usually removed by the property owner. County workers or politically astute citizens may remove signs that are placed in the right of way but are too large to be legal.

“We tell all of our supporters, if signs appear on your property, we’ll pick them up and return them,” Sommerhauser said. “Folks have taken signs down from their personal property and delivered them to my house, and I return them [to the candidate or candidate’s political party].”

Sommerhauser said he planned to check signs next on Ridgetop Boulevard in Silverdale. “I asked Public Works for the right of way boundaries on Ridgetop. If I can prove campaign signs are on private property [without permission], I will go over and remove them.”

WHAT THE COUNTY CODE SAYS ABOUT CAMPAIGN SIGNS

From the Kitsap County Code, 17.445.090D:

D. Political campaign signs shall be subject to the following:

1. Political campaign signs must be removed fourteen days following an election with the exception that candidates or issues which will remain on the ballot for the general election following a primary election may remain until fourteen days following the general election;

2. Any political campaign signs located within county right-of-way are subject to the following requirements:

a. Use of metal signs, metal supports, metal frames, or wire frames is prohibited,

b. Political campaign signs placed within a county right-of-way are limited to a size no greater than four square feet and may not extend higher than thirty-six inches measured from the point in which they are placed in the ground to the top of the sign;

3. A political campaign sign may not be placed on a utility pole, or on any state or county regulatory or informational sign or post;

4. Any political campaign sign found to be inconsistent with the requirements contained within this subsection is subject to removal and disposal by the county, and the candidate or campaign may be held responsible for the cost of removal.

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