It’s a common sight during an election year to see thousands of political signs throughout Wilson County, but many become casualties in an ongoing battle to get candidates’ names out there.
For both new and seasoned candidates alike, the reality of missing signs during a campaign continues to create problems among them cost, supply and demand, those victims of cities sign ordinances, theft, vandalism and other issues.
For businessman Tim Leeper, owner of Leeper Roofing, his venture into political support this year resulted in one of his signs stolen. He placed a political sign near his Mt. Juliet office on Lebanon Road in front of Tractor Supply close to the Davidson County line.
“There were three signs that were right next to it, and those signs remain,” Leeper said. “It’s frustrating because we want to support the candidate who will do the best job for the county. In this case, it was the mayor.
“I placed it to the side, so it would be visible. It’s pretty frustrating that people would stoop to that level to steal someone’s sign. I know it’s something that happens quite a bit, but it’s never happened to me.”
The sign Leeper said was stolen was in support of Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, who seeks his third term as mayor. Hutto said it’s par for the course – but it shouldn’t be.
“I think that No. 1, we have a lot of people putting out signs,” Hutto said. “It takes a lot of time to put them in the ground and get them in the right place, and when they are taken down, it’s tough.
“The second part of that, when your opponents’ sign is missing, you automatically get blamed for it. Knowing all the hard work that goes into it, you wouldn’t want your signs taken down, so you wouldn’t want your opponent’s signs taken down.
“A sign is a whole lot more than just a sign, you might say. I would hope no one’s sign gets gone.”
Hutto said he and his team of volunteers try to keep a watch out for missing signs and replace them when they go missing.
Hutto’s challenger in the mayor’s race is former state Sen. Mae Beavers. She took to Facebook recently to express her feelings about the 10-15 signs she’s noticed went missing in the past three weeks or so.
“We are missing a lot of signs in Lebanon, even big ones,” Beavers said on Facebook. “I will give a reward to anyone who gives us information leading to the arrest of the persons responsible. Play fair and run on the issues.”
Beavers said each sign costs $25 and more for larger ones. She said she’s seen signs missing from yards, along roadsides, etc. She said her husband, Jerry, also say several signs scattered along the interstate after the state mowed the right-of-way recently.
“I’ve been in this long enough to see all kinds of people do things like this,” Beavers said. “This has been going on for about three weeks now. It happens all the time, but it doesn’t make it easy, because candidates have a lot of money invested in signs…We’ve lost a lot of money on signs. I don’t want to speculate on who might be doing it.”
In the past two months, only one police report was filed in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and with the sheriff’s office. According to Lebanon police Sgt. P.J. Hardy, the sign was in support of Aaron Shane, a candidate who challenged state Rep. Susan Lynn for the District 57 House seat in the Republican primary. The sign was reported stolen at the intersection of Lebanon Road and State Route 109. Shane didn’t respond to The Democrat’s request for comment.
Melani Stephens owns Absolute Auto Repair at the intersection and often supports candidates by allowing them to post signs near her business.
“Usually, candidates will call me and ask to put their signs up here,” Stephens said. “If there’s a sign there from a candidate we don’t support, I’ll call them and ask them to remove their signs. I’ll give you ample opportunity to remove them, and then I’ll take them down and keep them so they can come pick them up within a reasonable amount of time.”
However, Stephens said she wasn’t responsible for Shane’s missing sign and indicated it likely was stolen from another corner of the intersection.
Lynn, who Shane challenged for House in the primary, said missing signs are something candidates come to expect during an election year.
“I think that the city of Mt. Juliet has taken a few, but that was because people just didn’t know [about the sign ordinance], but I don’t know of any that were taken out of anyone’s yard,” Lynn said. “You just have to factor in a certain amount of collateral damage, and signs are a part of it.”
Some political signs fall victim to city sign ordinances.
“They’re just prohibited in city rights-of-way, but during election season, in order to avoid charges of political favoritism or discrimination, I usually advise codes to take a very liberal position on enforcement,” said Lebanon city attorney Andy Wright. “If they’re causing any kind of issue or there’s a complaint or if there’s just too many of them in one place, then they’ll be removed.”
Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin also shared a Cliff’s Notes version of his city’s sign ordinance.
“Temporary signs in general are permitted on residential and commercial lots,” Martin said. “For safety and other reasons, we prefer that no signs be placed in the rights of way. This allows for our maintenance and utility crews to perform daily duties like mowing and utility work. It also helps reduce sightline issues often created by multiple signs being placed in the rights of way or on corners and intersections where motorists enter the main roads.”
Matt Mock, a newcomer to the Wilson County political scene this year, challenged incumbent Bill Robinson for the Wilson County Board of Education seat in Zone 2. Mock was a recent victim of missing political signs, and he also took to Facebook to express his displeasure.
This week, Mock pledged to sit in his vehicle at various locations where his signs went missing for two to three hours each day to look for anything suspicious.
Mock said Tuesday he had about four signs left before he would have to order more.
“I had 18 signs on Trousdale Ferry and down Highway 70; every one of my signs are gone,” Mock said. “Several of them in Tuckers Crossroads are gone.
“One of my signs was taken out of a sheriff’s deputy’s yard. I’m upset in the fact that someone has stolen from me. But I’m more concerned about someone’s safety.
“I honestly hope that one of the people in the other political camps would stoop to that level. I’m not going to speculate who I think it might be.”
Mock said the cost to replace the missing signs comes from his own pocket.
“I’m funding my own campaign, even though people have offered to buy me new signs. I don’t want to owe anyone anything if I am elected,” he said.
Robinson, who Mock challenged along with David Burks, said he was disgusted with the idea anyone would steal any candidate’s sign.
“There is no way I want anyone to bother anything of anyone else’s. I would never support that. That’s about as simple as I can put it,” Robinson said.
Burks couldn’t be reached for comment.
Former Wilson County Property Assessor Jack Pratt, who decided four years ago not to seek re-election, summed up the missing sign conundrum for all candidates.
“The sign-stealing deal is an election-year given,” he said. “It’s just part of it.”
By Jared Felkins