Jackson County Official Accused of Stealing Campaign Signs

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Marianna- Jackson County Commissioner, Kenneth Stephens was picking up fewer campaign signs Thursday than he had originally put out.

"I had purchased over 400 signs for the campaign" Stephens said, "I have less than 200 left."

Stephens told us he hadn't located all of the missing signs, but said he did find 16 of them. "I was told that Mr. [John] Alter and one of his employees had been picking up signs."

Alter is the incoming Jackson County Chamber of Commerce President. He is slated to be sworn into the position in January. Last week, Stephens accompanied a sheriff's deputy to Alter's home where they discovered the 16 signs.

"I spoke to his employee and he told me he had some signs in the barn and took me around to get them. Mine wasn't there, mine had been thrown in a hole or a pit in the back of the property" Stephens explained. After the discovery, he filed theft charges against Alter.

"I've had a thousand dollars worth of signs go missing this time- and I'm not accusing Mr. Alter of all that. I'm just saying, where do we stop? When do we quit letting it get by" Stephens asked.

But Alter told us Thursday, he had a perfectly good reason for picking up the campaign signs.

"I was just doing what I thought was my civic duty to beautify the area I live in" Alter said. "It just didn't occur to me that I was taking any private property."

In fact, Alter claimed he had received an email asking him to help with the clean up effort after the election on November 7.

"That was probably part of the request from the Jackson County Republican executive committee. In fact, it said- to the effect of, 'let's go out and make things neat'" Alter said of the email.

We relayed Alter's explanation to Stephens who told us, "Well, he needs to clean up his own 'trash', so to speak. Leave my signs alone. They belong to me."

News Channel 7 stopped by Alter's home Thursday afternoon where we saw another stack of signs- eight of them Stephens'. Alter told us he had found them on his property that morning.

"I didn't go get them this morning" Alter explained, "they were down under some brush and I hadn't dug down when Kenny was here."

Stephens was surprised to learn we had discovered more of his signs at Alter's residence.

"Now you say he's got more" Stephens asked us. "I've had other signs go missing around the Bascom area regularly, which I know he's a regular in the Bascom area himself. So, he very well may have been taking them the whole time throughout the whole campaign."

Alter told us he planned on returning the newly discovered signs to Stephens. We asked the commissioner if Alter had tried to contact him, "I haven't heard anything from Mr. Alter" Stephens replied.

As of Thursday, the case was still under investigation. Alter said he planned to seek the guidance of an attorney.

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