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Case of the vanishing election signs

GOLD HILL — Were downed campaign signs in town the work of vandals or state workers? It looks like a combination of the two, although the heated political climate in town has two factions bickering over the issue.

Councilman Mike Ely reported Tuesday morning that a dozen campaign signs had disappeared between a Monday night council meeting and his drive to work on Monday morning.

"Someone went around town and stole every single campaign sign put out," he said Tuesday morning. "They were large, hand-painted signs for Gus Wolf, Cathy Swick and Donna Silva.

"It certainly runs against the principals of a democratic government "¦ to take down a campaign sign like that is really to speak out against democracy."

Although one especially large sign for presidential hopeful Barack Obama was taken down, Ely said the sign removal did not appear to be in opposition to a particular political party. By midday, most of the signs had been found close to where they'd been installed, lying face down.

As for signs that had simply disappeared, they might be found at the nearest Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance yard.

ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said state transportation workers removed a handful of signs over the weekend because they were illegally placed on state rights-of-way. He added that signs left lying down would not have been the work of state crews.

"We wouldn't lay them down and leave them in place. We would have taken them to the maintenance office if we'd touched the signs at all," Leaming said, adding that candidates can reclaim and signs picked up by ODOT crews.

Write-in candidate Cathy Swick said she noticed the downed signs and wondered if the tampering was connected to ongoing issues with vandalism and graffiti in the city or a political statement.

"It sure seems like it's all the write-in names are being pulled off the street so it sounds like somebody's up to something," she said.

"I'm thinking it might have something to do with Kathleen Price but you never know."

Kathleen Price, who lost her council seat by recall last year by a two-vote margin and is seeking to regain a spot in the coming election, said she noticed the signs were down but said she would have had "absolutely no reason" to mess with signs posted by fellow candidates, nor the ability.

"I was driving through Gold Hill on my way to work and I noticed all the signs were either missing or lying face down except for the state (candidate) ones," Price said Tuesday. "I have no idea who did it; I'll be putting my signs up shortly so we'll see how that goes.

"How demoralizing for a write-in to even suggest that a 5-foot-2, 115-pound woman would go around in the dead of night taking signs down — Cathy Swick just made a funny!"

Ely said he preferred to believe any issues with the signs had little to do with the candidates they represent.

"As much as Kathleen Price and I might have our differences on various issues, I want to believe she would probably choose a different means of expressing herself," said Ely. "I do think this speaks volumes to some of the larger problems we have in Gold Hill — people not feeling like they have an outlet for their frustrations or really any positive activities."

He added, "It'd sure be nice if people could find something more productive than having burnout contests on Second Avenue or tearing down political signs."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.