Candia resident about sign fracas: This is like living in some ... cartoon
CANDIA - The state Attorney General's Office said it does not have jurisdiction over the removal of political signs in town, referring the issue to local police - who have passed it on to state police.
"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 report indicates that in addition to Selectman Fred Kelley, Selectman Amanda Soares - the subject of the signs - and selectman candidate Carlton Robie removed an "uncertain number" of the signs put up by Eric Shifflett.
Soares, Shifflett and Kelley were all at Monday night's selectmen's meeting.
Soares confirmed that she had heard from state police, but did not issue an apology to Shifflett, who had said he would consider the matter resolved if Soares apologized. When pressed by members of the public arguing that she could "settle this right now," Soares responded, "That's fine. I have nothing to say."
Several Candia residents demanded the two sitting selectmen involved resign, accusing them of "deceiving the town," breaking their oaths of office, bringing shame and embarrassment on the town, and proving untrustworthy as representatives of the people.
"It's frosting my butt phenomenally to see this town disintegrating into something that I think is a very unethical and a hugely embarrassing situation," said Rudy Cartier. "I really like this town, but right now I'm looking around like 'Oh my god, I'd hate to tell anybody I'm from Candia ...This is like living in some sort of cartoon."
The investigation began when Soares filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office Feb. 22, saying the signs violated election law by failing to identify their author and sponsor. The signs featured the heading "Amanda Says ..." and included quotes allegedly made by Soares during a discussion of employee raises. Soares is up for re-election today.
A YouTube video posted by Shifflett on Feb. 23 showed Selectman 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 people 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 on 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 remain missing.
"If we don't give people incentive to stop the bad behavior, it's never going to stop," resident Sharon DeWitt said at Monday night's meeting.
Judith Szot argued that "there are two wrongs here," referring to Shifflett's entering Kelley's vehicle to film the signs, and demanded Shifflett apologize. Shifflett apologized to Kelley, who accepted the apology.
Selectmen Chairman Joe Duarte said he did not want to make a decision Monday night that might influence today's election, in which he and Soares are running. But he said if he is re-elected, he intends to pursue the issue.
"This is a disease," he said. "This is an underlying problem. What the community is feeling, I've been feeling for a while."
He read an unsigned letter he had received in the mail calling him an "embarrassment and a disgrace" and telling him to "go back where you came from with the rest of those (expletive for people from Massachusetts)."
"I apologize for this community going through the shame, the embarrassment," Duarte said. "People have been humiliated. We've had employees talked to like they don't know what they're doing. We have bullying. There's a lot of things that's been going on here that's improper, and sooner or later somebody's going to have to come in and stop ... It should've been done a long time ago ... I apologize for being the chairman here while all of this is going on."
Kelley said he would not comment, in part due to the guidance of legal counsel.