Candidates for the Dayton Town Board have filed complaints with the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office accusing Town Chairman Chris Klein of removing several campaign signs from private property on State Highway 22.
“I called him (Klein) and he admitted to taking the signs down,” said John Miller, a candidate for the town board.
Miller told the Waupaca County Post that a passerby saw Klein remove the signs and notified him.
The person who saw Klein remove the signs was Judge Philip Kirk.
Kirk said he was northbound on State Highway 22 in Dayton around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, when he saw a red pickup truck parked alongside the road and a person walking toward the three campaign signs.
Kirk turned around in a nearby parking lot and drove back south.
“Klein had tied a string or some type of measuring device to one of the signs,” Kirk said.
Kirk drove south until he came to a road where he could turn around again.
“I slowed down to see who it was,” Kirk said. “He had already picked up John Miller’s sign and Jane Haasch’s sign and was throwing them into the back of his truck.”
When asked if it was legal for Klein to remove the signs, Kirk said he had not researched the issue. However, he doubted if Klein has the authority to remove the signs from a state highway.
“My problem is the arbitrary, capricious behavior that he engages in,” Kirk said. “He unilaterally decides what is or is not legal.”
Kirk said he believes the issue is not simply who has the authority to determine what may be an obstruction on a state or county highway.
“Give me a break,” Kirk said. “These people are doing what’s normal in a campaign. They’re not his direct opponents, yet he decides he’s a self-appointed entity that is going to police those things. It’s just ridiculous.”
In her written complaint to the sheriff’s office, Haasch said the candidates had permission from the property owners to place the signs there. She also noted that the same location on State 22 had been used for political signs in prior elections.
Haasch said three signs were placed at the site, and all three were removed some time on March 18.
On March 19, Haasch contacted Klein about the signs, then went to the Dayton Town Hall and retrieved them.
On March 19, Klein sent an email to Bob Dixon regarding the signs.
“I am sorry that you and your committee are unable to read or understand our town ordinances,” Klein said in the email to Dixon. “If I have a complaint from any source, future signs found in the public road right of way or any other public property will be removed and destroyed.”
Haasch returned to the site on State Highway 22 and replaced her sign, this time about 30 feet farther away from the road. Two other campaign signs were also placed at the same place. Klein removed them as well.
Haasch again installed her sign at the same location on State 22, this time nearly 100 feet back from the road, on top of a berm.
Again, Klein removed the signs.
“Yesterday’s signs were 50 to 60 feet into the public right of way and today in the same area they were approximately 20 feet within the public road right of way,” Klein said in a March 20 email to Haasch.
In his email to Haasch, Klein indicated that the right of way on State 22 is 120 feet from the highway’s centerline.
“Some of the signs were put up three different times in approximately the same location,” Klein told the Waupaca County Post. “They kept moving them back, but they were still in the right of way.”
Klein said the town has authority under state law and town ordinances to remove any signs within the road right of way.
State law gives the town the authority to remove and dispose of signs.
“The statute doesn’t say return to someone and give them a fourth chance,” Klein said. “It says ‘disposal.'”
He also noted that state statute provides fines for placing signs within the right of way of up to $500 for a second offense.
Klein said he intends to enforce the town ordinance that bans political signs on any road right of way.
He said there are also campaign signs in the road right of way on County QQ in King. He plans to contact the sheriff’s office and ask that they enforce state law in other towns.
“Those running for public office need to understand that their oath of office is to enforce town ordinances and state statutes and not be the ones who break the law,” Klein said.
On Monday afternoon, County Highway Commissioner Dean Steingraber sent an email to Klein and Dave Armstrong, who is challenging Klein in the race for town chairman.
“Please remove your signs from the STH 22, CTH K, CTH QQ, CTH Q highway rights of way by Thursday, March 26,” Steingraber’s email said. “Please instruct your installers that these signs must be placed outside of the highway right-of-way. The right-of-way can be found by locating yellow R/W posts or estimated to be near the utility poles and pedestals.”