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Vandalism adds to election tension

by ELLI GOLDMAN HILBERT & MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | October 27, 2021 1:09 AM

POST FALLS — With less than a week to Election Day, police reported the vandalism of a house and political candidate sign with swastika images.

Post Falls police found a backward black swastika painted inside the acronym “GOP” on the front of an abandoned house on Mullan Avenue Sunday morning, PFPD Capt. Mark Brantl said Tuesday. A sign supporting school board candidates Guy McAninch, Logan Creighton and David Reilly was also defaced with a painted swastika on the front lawn.

Defacing property with graffiti is a misdemeanor in Idaho punishable by up to one year in county jail or a $1,000 fine.

"It is not by definition malicious harassment. If the victim was Jewish in this case, or the act was racially charged, that would change the scenario," Brantl said.

With no suspects or leads, Brantl said the vandalism case is closed. Anyone with information about the vandalism can contact the PFPD at www.postfallspolice.com or (208) 773-3517.

Brantl has been a PFPD officer for 24 years. He remembers when the Aryan Nation and images like the swastika were seen around town, but those concerns hadn't returned until recently.

"This area has done quite a bit to work on our image," Brantl said. "We don't want to return to that and the days of the Aryan Nations. Anytime that image is used in this manner, it is always concerning."

One local resident shared Brantl's distaste for the image and did something about it.

The woman, who asked that her name not be published, said she purchased paint and spent about 10 minutes covering the graffiti.

"When we moved here, there wasn't a spray-painted anything in sight. Now, this is happening," she told The Press.

The woman said she was on the way to join Citizens for Post Falls Schools during a door-knocking effort Sunday when she first noticed the graffiti.

"In our neighborhood, that is hate speech, and it's disgusting," she said. "People in the community are upset with the GOP, but I can't say one way or another what kind of person may have done that."

With Reilly allegedly having ties to the white supremacist movement, she believes the community is calling out the GOP for endorsing him as a candidate, she said.

Having moved to Post Falls to escape political extremism, she and her husband now wonder if they made the wrong decision in moving to Idaho six years ago.

"My kids are in the school system now, so I'm out in the world more," she said. "I've become very aware and more active, and I see all of this negative energy in the community about candidates, COVID and CRT. But mostly, I am just concerned for my kids."

The local political race has been nothing short of a roller-coaster, and upset about sign stealing is still running rampant as some candidates feel more targeted than others.

"The signs we have been putting up are constantly being removed," resident Jennifer Noel said. "Some we know are on city property, but most times only our signs are gone and not our candidates' opponents. If we all have to abide by the rules, they have to enforce them for everyone."

City, county, highway district and state entities all have rules for signage placement. Code enforcement and municipal department staff pulled some of the signs from the unauthorized area.

Rules for sign placement are:

• Signs can be on private property with the owner's permission

• Signs cannot be on any public property, including right-of-ways and easements

• Signs cannot impede drivers' line of sight on a street, road, or intersection, nicknamed the "vision triangle."

According to Idaho Code 50-1301, a public right of way is "any land dedicated and open to the public and under the jurisdiction of a public highway agency" — meaning sidewalks, curbs, the patch of grass on the other side of your sidewalk, and sometimes part of your front lawn.

Hayden City Clerk Abby Sanchez noted Tuesday that the public works department frequently removes all kinds of temporary signage in right of way areas around town. She added the city has “no bias” toward signage and that business advertisements and help wanted signs are regularly removed for violating the rule. Her tip for sign placement is:

"Find a utility pole, like a power line, and find a straight line down to another close by. The side of the line your property is on is usually safe. Right of way changes all around town, so it's hard, but that's the rule of thumb I try to follow."

Brantl didn't know of any signs PFPD has removed. However, he said other city departments could have moved those in unpermitted areas.

In Coeur d'Alene, code enforcement personnel typically remove signs after receiving a complaint, City Clerk and Municipal Services Director Renata McLeod said. McLeod said signage is not allowed on public property, and illegally placed signs are brought to City Hall for pick-up.

"There are days where there could be a stack of 30, other days there may be five, some days there are a heck of a lot more," McLeod said. "Every campaign season, we jokingly refer to it as sign season."

In her 30 years with the city, McLeod said there are always many signs removed due to code violations. Much of the issue, in her opinion, is due to public right of way confusion.

"People don't think twice about that front yard area that abuts the sidewalk, and they mow it, water it, and don't realize it is a right of way," McLeod said. "So some signs truly are just placed there accidentally but are picked up all the same."

Either way, McLeod said, it's an "educational opportunity" for candidates and residents.

"I sent an email out yesterday to all the candidates to please retrieve their signs around Ramsey Road because there are so many signs there," she said. "We do not independently pick who has their sign taken. It is based on the complaints we get and who sees them."

Coeur d’Alene Police Department Sgt. Jared Reneau said officers respond to reports of stolen or illegally placed signs.

"We try to be very careful. If there is a law being broken or an allegation that the law is being broken, we have to address the issue," Reneau said. "We don't want to come off as partisan to one candidate or another."

Government entities have mapping systems available to residents that outline private and public property lines. If you're missing a sign, contact your city, local law enforcement and highway district for potential retrieval.

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The vandal also defaced a candidate sign that was found in on the same property as the abandoned house. Photo courtesy Post Falls Police Department.

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A local woman painted over the graffiti after discovering it over the weekend. Photo courtesy the painter.

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