Tensions were high during Tuesday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board, as local Democratic party leader Jeannine Belt sat down across the table from commissioners and addressed the issue of political campaign signs in the county.
The controversy began a few weeks ago when Chad Goldschmidt, husband of Democratic county coroner candidate Cassy Diehl Goldschmidt, parked a truck featuring images of area Democrats running for office outside the Waterloo campaign headquarters of Republican State Senate candidate Paul Schimpf. He also parked a politically themed trailer on a private lot just outside Waterloo city limits at Route 3 just south of Old State Route 3.
“I wanted to go on record reiterating that no violations have occurred,” Belt said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have observed the ordinance in the past, and we will continue to do so.”
The ordinance in question is under Section 40-6-12 of the county code, wherein it states that political campaign signs are not allowed more than 30 days before an election. Belt told the Republic-Times that the trailer is an advertisement rather than a political campaign sign and that is why no ordinance is being violated.
Chad Goldschmidt’s truck remained in the parking lot for several days until Schimpf’s office contacted the property owner to confirm whether the truck could remain there.
On June 16, the landlord visited the site and concluded the truck was on her property, at which point she asked Goldschmidt to move the truck elsewhere. He complied, moving it up the road to the vacant Michael’s on Market property.
Since the sign is a mobile advertisement, there is no ordinance that would allow Waterloo city officials to request he move the truck from Michael’s or any other location in the city.
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing, a Republican, appeared before the county board on June 20, stating Democrats were indeed violating an ordinance with the trailer on Route 3. He ultimately told the commissioners not enforce the ordinance because matters such as these in other areas have gone to federal court.
Belt countered the sheriff’s claims on Tuesday.
“The sheriff stated that he had spent so much time investigating a possible violation of the ordinance that he doesn’t have time to go after drug dealers and sexual predators,” Belt told commissioners. “His admission was extremely alarming to me as a taxpayer. In fact, I wanted to know why he was investigating the issue when Monroe County has a zoning official who is perfectly capable of investigating ordinance violations.”
Monroe County Republican Committee Chairman Ed McLean told the Republic-Times after the meeting that he sees this as the St. Clair County political playbook carrying over to Monroe County.
“I’ll give you an example. The truck parked in front of Michael’s… You can’t tell me there was no intent there,” he said of putting the truck in the same parking lot as Schimpf’s office. “It’s that boldness of ‘we’re going to challenge everything.’”
On the other hand, Belt argued the Democrats’ intentions are not to cause heartache or a difficult dispute among political parties, but rather to simply get the candidates’ names out there.
“It is unfortunate that the opponents to the Monroe County Democratic organization want to stifle open conversation regarding the upcoming election,” Chad Goldschmidt told the Republic-Times. “It appears they are attempting to quiet my right to free speech. I will not, however, let that deter me from continuing to fight for working families, just like the candidates I support.”
Rohlfing cited free speech as the reason he did not want the county to challenge the Democrats on the sign ordinance. Yet, he did recommend leaving the ordinance on the books.
Monroe County Board Chairman Terry Liefer offered to mediate a closed-doors meeting between Belt and McLean immediately following Tuesday’s regular board meeting.
“We are not going to bring politics into this at the moment,” Liefer told the Republic-Times as to why the meeting would remain closed to the public.
Both parties agreed to sit down and talk, and while no compromise was reached on the current signs, Belt and McLean agreed that Republicans and Democrats will not post any yard signs more than 30 days out from the November elections.
“I have no interest in a sign war,” Belt told the commissioners. “I believe someone spoke of a gentlemen’s agreement from the past. That hasn’t always worked so well, but we got through.”
(Alan Dooley contributed to this report)