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Couple fights city with more political signs

The marquee at the McPheeters family strip mall on U.S. 19 burns hot at night. It reads: "Vote Kirk, Farley and Kostelnick for Crystal River City Council."

"I never would have done this," Renee McPheeters said of the illuminated sign, "if they hadn't made me angry."

"They" are the Crystal River city officials who removed campaign signs for Susan Kirk, Jim Farley and John Kostelnick that had been posted in front of the strip mall.

The city said the signs were on the right of way, which is not allowed. Mrs. McPheeters said the signs were properly placed on what unquestionably was her land.

The strip mall is home to JMJ Oriental Food Mart, a beauty shop, a title company, as well as to to Mrs. McPheeters and her husband, Rodger, who live in one of the units.

Their untraditional choice of abodes raised eyebrows earlier this year when critics said the McPheeterses moved there in an effort to block Crystal River's effort to annex land south of the city limits. Although they opposed the annexation plan, the couple denied the accusation that they were trying to be spoilers; they said the move was a personal decision.

Antiannexation forces said that, since the McPheeterses lived within the annexation zone, the city had to hold a vote on annexation. The McPheeterses would have been the only eligible voters because they were the only residents.

The city thought differently and moved ahead. The annexation plan now is being challenged in court on a number of grounds.

On Tuesday, the McPheeterses posted three political signs on grassy areas in front of the strip mall.

The signs support two candidates, Kostelnick and Farley, who are trying to unseat incumbents; and one that supports incumbent member Kirk.

"All three have been against the annexation," Mrs. McPheeters said.

The McPheeterses said they carefully placed the three signs inside their property line boundaries, using a utility pole as a marker separating public right of way from their land.

That same day, a tenant at the strip mall saw a tall man with gray hair driving a blue car take the signs away.

The McPheeterses called the police, who determined a city code enforcement officer had taken the signs. The city contended that the signs were on the right of way and not on the private property, the McPheeterses said.

When Kirk discovered that her sign was taken, she said she called City Hall to announce that she would come by the next morning to retrieve it. Usually, Kirk said, signs taken by the city are placed in an area behind City Hall so candidates can get them.

But when she showed up Wednesday, Kirk said, city officials told her that her sign, along with the two others, had been destroyed.

"I was told they were thrown away," she said. "I'm a little frustrated, but campaigns tend to do that with people."

Kirk said City Manager Susan Boyer told her the signs were not properly placed and that the city could destroy them, according to city code.

"She insisted they were thrown away in error," Kirk said.

Boyer could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Adding to her frustration, Kirk said, was the discovery that 24 of her signs were stolen or vandalized sometime Thursday evening or Friday morning. She has filed a police report, and some of the signs were recovered on a county dirt road. Most remain missing, she said.

Rodger McPheeters spoke to Boyer on Friday. He said Boyer explained that the family could put signs outside their strip mall as long as they stayed inside utility poles on their property. McPheeters told Boyer that's where they were.

In response, the couple is using their marquee as a political sign championing their candidates. They also posted three more yard signs similar to the ones taken down. And they've added another supporting Citrus County sheriff candidate Hank Hemrick.

"I told my husband that we should get a couple of pairs of binoculars," Mrs. McPheeters said, "and watch the sign all night to see if someone comes."

Rodger McPheeters did just that. He was napping Friday afternoon.

"He's exhausted," his wife said.

Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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