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Sign snatcher? Yes, but...

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | October 26, 2021 1:09 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Kiki Miller did it.

She took down some campaign signs, an act over the weekend that some enterprising photographer happened to capture.

But there's more to this political sign-snatching story.

According to a Facebook post, Miller, a Coeur d'Alene City Councilwoman, and her husband were "caught taking conservative signs" from Windermere Coeur d'Alene Realty's property facing Northwest Boulevard.

True. But there's a reason.

On Monday, Miller told The Press she didn't steal any signs. Instead, she said, the property owner had asked her to remove them because he'd never given permission for them to be put there in the first place.

Don "Pepper" Smock, the real estate agency owner, confirmed that Monday afternoon.

"The four people who asked me - Kiki Miller, Jim Hammond, Steve Anthony and Linda Wilhelm - I said yes," Smock told The Press. "No one else called and asked me, and all of a sudden there are signs everywhere."

The Smocks own property throughout Kootenai County.

"I'm an independent. I'm all in on free elections," Smock said. "But I never heard of some of these people who put signs on our property without even asking."

That, in a nutshell, has been happening elsewhere, Miller said.

"Many property owners who gave me permission for my signs are exhausted with removing illegally placed signs by opponents at the same locations, repeatedly," Miller said. "They are falsifying support and removing real endorsements by our community."

After Smock's initial request, Miller said her "sign guy" removed the illegally placed signs and brought them to Coeur d'Alene City Hall Saturday afternoon. However, more unauthorized signs had replaced them just hours later, Miller said.

"When we noticed, we stopped and were cornered by a car with a video person," she said.

The vehicle "pulled in blocking" the Millers after they arrived and seemed to be "waiting across the street," the councilwoman said. Miller said she did not recognize the camera person.

Despite her current re-election campaign, Miller said she didn't consider her candidacy or think "anything was wrong" in removing the signs as requested by the property owner.

"When asked for help to remove signs, I was not comfortable sitting back any longer while they cheat and betray the voters," she said. "I don't like this incivility and game-playing."

She added that at least 10 of her signs are "missing from real supporters' properties." Miller said she hasn't filed a police report yet because she would prefer whoever has her signs to return them instead of "wasting law enforcement's time."

Signs removed by Miller are available for candidates to pick up at City Hall.

To date, the Coeur d'Alene Police Department and Kootenai County Sheriff's Office have received two incident reports related to missing signage.

Capt. Dave Hagar said the report submitted to CDAPD was filed Saturday afternoon by a third party and is waiting for a follow-up. Several individuals have inquired about missing signs, but their absence could be linked to a "myriad of reasons."

"Sometimes street maintenance or code enforcement remove them because they were in the right of way," Hagar said. "Or a property owner took it because the sign did not have permission to be placed on the private property."

KCSO Lt. Ryan Higgins said the incident filed with the office occurred last week, but he didn't have any other information on the claim.

Per Idaho Code 18-7029, it's unlawful for any person to "erect, install, attach or paint" election posters or signs on public or private property without permission from the owner or occupant of that property. Violation of I.C. 18-7029 is a misdemeanor.

Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said Monday that Idaho has minimal rules relating to political signage. Considering the situation, Houck noted the removal of signs is more related to theft, private property rights, and freedom of speech.

"Anytime a sign is posted on private property, they should have permission to be posted because the person has private property rights," Houck said. "If you're on private property and remove something, likewise that could arguably be trespassing and theft."

According to I.C. 18-2403, theft is when "a person steals property," including the "wrongful taking, obtaining, or withholding of another property."

Petit theft is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or both, per I.C. 18-2408.

Houck said the concept of removing or placing a political sign is "a lot less law and a lot more common sense."

"There needs to be some respect," he said. "Taking down a neighbor's sign because you don't like a candidate arguably becomes a First Amendment issue as well."

Despite the situation, Miller said she'll continue focusing on "the real issues" and the "tremendous amount of work already done on addressing growth and housing solutions so we can maintain our great city for years to come."

Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said he also has removed unpermitted signs at two of his downtown properties. Though there have been issues with political signs in past elections, Widmyer said this year is more troublesome. 

"This election, there is no respect for private property rights, and they're going to do whatever they want to do," he said. "It is concerning because the people who want to hold public office don't seem to respect private property rights, and they need to."

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