Charges possible over signs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2002

Illuminated message boards have upset Republicans in town. This is not the first time the signs, owned by Albert Lea resident Mal Prinzing, expressing his opinions with offensive words, have hit some people’s nerves. But, this time, they may invite a legal charge.

The first sign was erected Oct. 19 on a property across from Northbridge Mall, where Prinzing had an one-year lease from the property owner.

The sign says, &uot;Grace Schwab was seen taking the letters from this sign by eyewitness,&uot; and on the other side, &uot;OK to steal if you R a state senator right Grace?&uot;

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Local Republicans reacted promptly to condemn the act.

&uot;This sign contains a groundless attack against our incumbent State Sen Grace Schwab,&uot; Republican caucus co-chair Matt Benda said. &uot;The timing of this attack makes it obvious that someone is trying to focus the election on negative and untrue rumors. This apparent supporter of Senator Schwab’s opponent is destroying the integrity of the election process.&uot;

Benda, an attorney at Peterson, Savelkoul, Schlichting & Davies, Ltd., brought the case to County Attorney’s Office, claiming the sign violates the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Law.

The statute prohibits false political and campaign materials to be used, and corporate contribution to a campaign. It also requires a disclaimer to be included in campaign literature, unless it is paid by an individual resources with less than $300 expense, and distributed by 14 days before the election.

County Attorney Craig Nelson sent a letter to Prinzing asking to remove the sign by October 23, the 14 days deadline. But, Prinzing answered by placing two more signs at his business property on Front Street and residence on Lakeview Blvd.

Prinzing’s campaign against Schwab started in October

of last year when the letters on his sign opposing the school referendum, which was placed on a trailer parked at the Northbridge Mall parking lot, were removed by Schwab and the mall manager. According to Nelson, they believed that Prinzing had no permission, authority, or right to have the sign on the mall property. The letters were returned to Prinzing shortly.

Schwab said she helped the mall manager remove the letters because the mall did not want people to think the sign reflected the opinion of tenants or management. She explained that she went to the mall to ask about the sign when she and the manager decided it did not belong there. Schwab denies that she committed any crime.

Prinzing brought a complaint to the city police, demanding charges against Schwab. But, authorities did not regard the action as deserving of any criminal charge.

Though Nelson thinks the signs may not be false in the sense intended by the statute governing political campaigns, they may constitute campaign materials. And, exhibiting them after Oct.23 without a disclaimer would be a violation of law. He is also investigating whether the signs and trucks carrying them belong to corporations Prinzing operates, as well as whether payment for the electricity for the illumination is by the individual.

Prinzing said through an employee, &uot;I have no comment. You are 11 months late.&uot;