AG passes Candia sign case back to police, finds more officials were involved
"Although the removal of the signs may have violated other state statues, the attorney general is not empowered by (state law) to pursue this matter as a violation of (election law), because the statute expressly refers to the removal of political advertising," the report reads.
The letter does contain a revelation, however, confirming speculation in Candia that the parties involved in the removal of the signs went beyond what was initially reported.
It had been previously reported that Selectman Fred Kelley was seen taking the signs. The report indicates, however, that not only Kelley, but Selectman Amanda Soares, who the signs were about, and selectman candidate Carlton Robie removed an "uncertain number" of the signs as well.
Candia police observed Soares in front of the Candia House of Pizza carrying one of the signs in question. When contacted by police and asked if she owned the sign, Soares said, "No, it's illegal and the Attorney General's Office wanted it."
The AG's report disputes that statement. "Ms. Soares did file a complaint that morning; however, nobody from this office instructed her to take the sign and bring it to the Attorney General's Office."
The report refers the case back to police for further investigation. Candia Police handed the case over to N.H. State Police Troop A due to concerns that the local department might have a conflict of interest.
The investigation began when Amanda Soares filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office Feb. 22 saying the signs placed in town by Eric Shifflett violated election law by failing to identify their author and sponsor.
The signs featured the heading "Amanda Says..." and included quotes reportedly by Soares during a discussion of employee raises which drew some criticism in Candia. Soares is up for election Tuesday.
A YouTube video posted by Shifflett on Feb. 23 showed Selectman Fred Kelley attempting to remove one of the signs and refusing to return signs already in his possession. Shifflett filed his own complaint with the Attorney General's Office under RSA 664:17, which states that the only persons allowed to remove political advertising are the owners of the sign, the owners of the property, state, city, or town maintenance, and law enforcement personnel when the signs are placed on or affixed to public property.
He also accused Kelley of stealing his property. Kelley has since returned several of Shifflett's signs, though more than 20 of the original 30 signs remain missing.
In a previous opinion on the disclosure issue, the Attorney General's Office found that Shifflett's signs did not meet the legal definition of political advertising, though they were still subject to some disclosure requirements. The office issued a cease and desist order against signs lacking these disclosures but informed Shifflett that he was welcome to put them up should he properly label them, which he has since done.