Fairfield County Council chair caught removing campaign sign

Fairfield County Council chair pulls up Blythewood Town Council candidate Donald Brock’s campaign sign.

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County’s council chairman has gotten involved in Town of Blythewood politics.

On Oct. 27, security camera footage captured Council Chairman Doug Pauley removing a campaign sign belonging to Blythewood Councilman Donald Brock, who, days later, won re-election.

The footage recorded Pauley pulling up a sign, and then tossing it into the back of his pickup truck and snapping the tonneau cover shut.

The sign had been posted on property at 303 Main Street, which is leased by The Voice newspaper. Pauley and two other tenants sublease offices in the building from The Voice.

According to Brock, he had permission from the newspaper to place the signs outside the building.

Voice publisher Barbara Ball said she has never restricted who could post campaign signs on the property and has never asked anyone to remove one.

The sign was removed five times in a little over a week.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the sign theft, and Brock has stated in the incident report that he plans to file charges.

“I was advised by an attorney to press charges,” Brock said. “What the ultimate resolution is, I don’t know yet.”

Shortly after two local television stations broadcast the surveillance video of Pauley removing the sign, Pauley contacted The Voice’s publisher, saying he took the sign down because he didn’t want it in front of his office. Pauley said he thought it would hurt his business, according to Ball.

Pauley declined to comment when contacted Tuesday by The Voice.

“I said what I needed to say to Richland County and that’s the only statement I will make at this time,” Pauley said. “It might be a future date that I do a story outlining what really happened in the case, but as of right now, no comment.”

What the law says

A Richland County sheriff’s deputy told The Voice that the investigation into sign removal is ongoing.

The deputy said investigators are trying to determine whether removing the signs was a criminal or ethical violation.

S.C. Code 7-25-210 specifically classifies the theft of campaign signs as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $100 fine.

“It is unlawful to deface, vandalize, tamper with, or remove a lawfully placed political campaign sign prior to the election without the permission of the candidate or party,” the law states.

The South Carolina State Ethics Act is actually part of Section 8, not Section 7, of state law. Campaign sign theft isn’t mentioned anywhere in the act.

According to a heavily redacted incident report, an unidentified political candidate later confirmed to be Brock said he got permission from The Voice to place political signage outside the building.

According to the report, the deputy contacted the suspect, who agreed to be interviewed.

Disappearing Act

Brock said he placed the first sign outside The Voice’s offices on Oct. 15. That sign and two others were removed and replaced within that week.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, after Brock replaced the sign a fourth time, The Voice’s publisher asked a third party to install a surveillance camera on the property.

At about 8:30 a.m. the following morning, the camera recorded Pauley removing the sign. The Voice provided Brock with a clip from the surveillance video, and he installed a fifth sign in the same spot a few days later.

That sign disappeared Tuesday, Oct. 31, when the building’s internet service, which fed the surveillance camera, went off at 9:31 a.m. When the internet service and surveillance resumed, the sign was gone.

Jay Bender, a media law attorney with the S.C. Press Association, confirmed that the theft of campaign signs violates state law.

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