A simple misunderstanding?

Marie Havenga • Sep 12, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Ferrysburg mayoral candidate Regina Sjoberg is pressing charges against a suspect who has allegedly stolen her political signs.

The sign heist appears to have connections to Spring Lake Township Clerk Carolyn Boersma, who called the situation “a simple misunderstanding.”

The suspect was caught by use of trail cams mounted at the corner of Dogwood and Lake Hills drives, where three signs have been taken within the past week and a half. The property is in Spring Lake Township and owned by Sjoberg supporter Sandy Tuggle's in-laws.

Sjoberg said she didn't recognize the male suspect in the trail cam photos. She said she also does not know Carolyn Boersma or her husband, Tim.

Local political activist Brandon Hall posted on his blog that Carolyn and Tim Boersma were involved in the sign heist. Hall claimed that the prosecutor's office is considering criminal charges — but as of Monday, Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz said “it has not been submitted to us. I have nothing on it yet.”

Spring Lake Township Supervisor John Nash said he doesn't think prosecuting the Boersmas is the answer.

“I don't think Carolyn has any straw in the election over there,” Nash said. “I don't think she cares either way. I don't think she did it with any malice. From what she said, she thought it (the sign) was in the township. Our rules say if you're going to put up a campaign sign in the township, don't put it up more than a month before the election.

“I think if you were to ask Carolyn, she'd tell you it's not something she'd do again,” he added.

Nash said he doesn't believe the township clerk meant any harm, nor was she trying to influence the Ferrysburg election.

“To think she did it to be a thief or to help Rebecca (mayoral candidate Hopp), there's no basis for those statements,” he said.

Nash said he doesn't know if the township will reprimand its clerk.

“We'll see what happens,” he said. “I don't think personally that it's a township issue. I think it's a Carolyn/Regina issue. Like I told them both, I don't want to develop animosity between the City of Ferrysburg and Spring Lake Township. I don't see who wins with that one.

“What I would hope is Carolyn admits it's something she wouldn't do again and Regina says, 'I'm happy and I hope you don't,' and it's all over,” Nash continued. “But if somebody wants to go low, they can probably go pretty low.”

Township Supervisor Gordon Gallagher said he is researching the incident, but would not immediately comment on it.

Boersma sent the following email to the Tribune: “This is just a simple misunderstanding. Neither Tim nor I are in the habit of stealing political signs. I hope to have the issue explained and resolved very soon. But, until then, I really can't say any more.”

Sjoberg said she had checked with Gallagher and was assured the signs were placed legally.

Sjoberg said she filed charges on Thursday.

“We called Sunday night (Sept. 3) with the complaint,” the Ferrysburg councilwoman said. “(Ottawa County) Deputy Soto-Lopez traced them down by Tuesday. He did an amazing job.”

Sjoberg said she did not appreciate Hall's blog post.

“I don't know how this man came to any conclusions,” she said. “I don't know him. I haven't spoken to him. I don't have a high opinion of him. I don't even know how he would have gotten this information. The only thing on my Facebook page was that the sign thief had been caught.”

Sjoberg said she blocked Hall from her page as soon as she learned he had been looking at it.

“This garbage Brandon Hall said that these people are Hopp supporters — how does he know?” she said. “It's most distressing that he's interfered with this.”

Hall's blog includes a photo of Boersma with former Township Trustee Rick Homan. Sjoberg said anyone looking at the photo and reading the blog would think Homan is the sign thief suspect. She said she mentioned to Sgt. Jason Kik of the Sheriff’s Office that the man in Hall's photo is not the same man in the trail cam photographs.

Homan said he is upset that Hall used his photo.

“When you try to maintain an image and reputation that I've worked very hard for all my life, then you find somebody has indiscreetly used my photo in a very negative situation doesn't make me very happy,” he said.

Homan said he’s unsure if he will pursue legal action.

“I'd want to ask and seek some legal advice to see what somebody else says,” he said. “... Misery and corruption seems to follow (Hall). He needs some help.”

Homan stuck up for the Boersmas and suggested Sjoberg is pressing the issue out of “spite.”

“This whole thing is ridiculous,” Homan said. “It's something that was legitimately done for a reason. It was thought at the time that those signs were not on private land and they shouldn't have been there. Carolyn and her husband, I know their code of ethics. They would never (steal signs). Both of them have a reputation, job and career that could be at stake for something as tiny as this.”

Sjoberg said she is not aware of any “political snakes in the grass.”

“I'm not involved in Spring Lake Township politics and I wouldn't know Carolyn Boersma if I saw her,” Sjoberg said. “I think there were some major mistakes made. It's certainly not right to steal signs. It's a violation of my freedom of speech.”

Sjoberg said she's also experienced vandalism around her condominium unit. She believes someone mistook her neighbor’s car for hers.

“Two nice little ladies who live behind me had their car scratched up and beaten up,” Sjoberg said. “And someone tore up the grass in front of our unit. ... I called the police and took pictures of the tire marks. There are people that will do crazy things.”

Kik said sign theft is a misdemeanor larceny.

“The assistant prosecuting attorneys will review it as time permits,” the sergeant said. “It has to get processed through headquarters. There are no charges pending yet. I can't give any suspect information yet. We can't release names until there’s an arraignment.”

Kik said the same suspect is responsible for taking four signs from the Dogwood/Lake Hills intersection.

“Deputy Soto identified him based on good, old-fashioned police work,” Kik said. “We had photographs of the larceny from two of the thefts. We have photographs of the person and the vehicle. The deputy was able to locate the vehicle and make contact.”

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