Political signs cause for confusion in some McHenry Co. communities

Fate of political materials, regulations concerning them often unknown

Mayor Debbie Herrmann hammers one of her 4-by-4-inch re-election signs in front of a business center on route 176 in Island Lake on March 9.
Mayor Debbie Herrmann hammers one of her 4-by-4-inch re-election signs in front of a business center on route 176 in Island Lake on March 9.

Each election cycle, some political signs go missing. And for the most part, that's the end of the story.

The McHenry County Sheriff's Office usually gets three to five reports of missing or stolen campaign signs each election cycle, according to Freedom of Information Act officer Jan Weech.

Debbie Herrmann, Island Lake village president, doesn't think it's a product of contentious races.

"I don’t necessarily think it’s the political opponents, as much as young adults doing mischievous things just for fun," she said.

Herrmann is in an intense race herself. Her opponent, Charles Amrich, was kicked off the ballot after his nominating petition was challenged, but a Lake County Circuit Court judge reversed that decision. An appeal is pending.

"If people are spending their time [stealing signs], especially if they’re adults, they’ve got bigger issues," Herrmann said. "There are bigger issues. Signs mean actually nothing, nothing more than fliers or Facebook messages. Taking a sign down here or there isn’t going to make or break an election decision."

A 3-foot-by-4-foot yellow sign with black lettering promoting Linda Moore for re-election as Grafton Township supervisor was reported stolen just weeks before Moore lost in the primary.

The sign wasn't necessarily stolen, Huntley police officer Rich Miller said in his police report. It could have been cut or knocked down, and then covered by the snow that had recently fallen.

Bill Seedorf of Huntley, who reported the theft, suspected a person involved in another campaign because another candidate's sign was left untouched in the same area, the report said.

In an unusual case, Larry Lezon, Oakwood Hills deputy police chief, actually witnessed an issue over political signs.

He saw Ryan Provenzano, 18, get out of his car and head toward a group of political signs, according to a police report. Lezon didn't see Provenzano damage any signs, but he heard "banging" sounds.

Provenzano, whose family is politically involved, told Lezon that he had been asked by the property owner to remove the sign.

"I explained to Ryan that I was not disputing the right to take the sign down; I took issue with the damage to the property (conducted in a semi-surreptitious manner) without prior attempt at contacting either the candidate or the police/sheriff to request removal," Lezon wrote in the report.

Confusion abounds over where signs can go and how people should go about removing them.

Matt Hansel with McHenry County Planning and Zoning recommends contacting the local government entity that maintains the road. The last couple of years, he's had to field questions but not any complaints, he said.

Each municipality and township has its own rules on whether political signs can go in the public rights of way and how big they can be. McHenry County got rid of specific rules for political signs and decided to defer to the state, Hansel said.

The state in 2010 banned limits on when political signs can be posted. Before the change, many municipalities required that signs not be posted any earlier than 30 days before an election.

Some communities still mistakenly maintain duration limits, said Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

"We hear that from time to time," he said. "Occasionally that issue will pop up. What we usually see is, when it's brought to the attention to a municipalities, they generally fix it."

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