Growing call for Hamilton Co. candidate accused stealing signs to leave race

A day after Jeff Hern was charged with stealing his opponent's signs, some voters and candidates think he should leave the race. (WISH Photo)

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) – After a Hamilton County candidate was charged with stealing signs, there are growing calls for him to drop out of the race.

As early voters walked into the Hamilton County government building Friday, the hour long line wasn’t the only thing on their minds.

“It’s not a fair way to campaign,” voter Andrea Mamril said. “You’re stealing from someone to better yourself, basically.”

“I would say if it was a mischief, he’s probably sorry that he got caught,” voter Nina Huntsinger said. “He probably can serve.”

On Thursday, prosecutors charged Jeff Hern with criminal mischief. This comes after his opponent, Rick McKinney, had five signs go missing days before the April primary.

In documents released Thursday, deputies said Hern’s phone was found at one site, and was pinged at all the other spots where signs vanished. Hern told deputies he lost his phone.

Hern won the primary, and now runs against six others.

One of those, Libertarian Duane Brenton sent us a statement, “In America, we are innocent until proven guilty; I support due process.”

However, I think public servants should avoid the appearance of impropriety. If Mr.Hern did in fact steal these signs, he has revealed his true nature, win at all cost even by breaking the law.  If he will do that to a fellow republican, is willing to violate the 1st amendment rights of others, how he is going to treat his fellow citizens and neighbors as a councilman? Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion all the “bad” press regarding this issue has only helped his campaign.

He’s not alone. “I’ve not seen anything like this before,” democratic county council candidate Bob Williams said. “It’s the county council, and whatever happened was really unnecessary.”

Williams would like to see the judicial process play out. As it does, he’s not sure Hern should keep running.

“If he wanted to take a bow and just leave two remaining republican candidates for council, against the three democrats that are on the ballot,” Williams said. “I’m good with that.”

As far as Hern’s party, the county GOP chairperson wouldn’t go on camera, however, with less than two weeks before the election, and people already voting, she questions the timing of the prosecutor’s decision.

“I think the timing is crucial because I think people going in should be fully informed as much as possible,” voter Susan Homberg said.

“We reached out to Hern for a comment Thursday, and Friday, and have not heard back. If convicted, he faces a year behind bars.

McKinney is out of town but sent 24-Hour News a statement:

On Thursday October 27, Jeff Hern was formally charged with a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief for the theft of my campaign signs. After reviewing the evidence, including cell phone tower records, Special Prosecutor Brent Eaton filed the charge accusing Hern of stealing multiple campaign signs in April during the Hamilton County Republican primary race.

I am grateful that the special prosecutor has recognized the serious issues at stake here: this was not a simple prank or childish behavior. . An elected official’s behavior during the campaign tells us a lot about his behavior in office. If Jeff Hern stole campaign signs when he thought no one was looking, what would he do overseeing finances for our entire county?

Hern’s response to the incident has been very troublesome. After initially failing to comment, he has been denying his guilt despite the evidence.

In my over 20 years of public service, I have disagreed strongly and debated vigorously with various opponents. We’ve had serious differences, but we’ve always respected each other and upheld a sense of fairness, not to mention the law. This situation is different, and I am saddened that it has come this far.

In April when the signs were stolen, I called on all public officials to reject these tactics and the candidates who used them, yet no one has done so. These charges are a cloud hanging over the Hamilton County GOP.

To clear the air, I call on Jeff Hern to resign the day after the election, and I hope the rest of the County GOP will agree. The principles of honesty and fair play are too important to be disrespected. The citizens of Hamilton County deserve much better from their elected officials.