By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Controversy over campaign signs has sparked much dispute in the two most recent Sultan City Council meetings, first about the number of campaign signs throughout the city, and now over what the signs say.
At the Sept. 26 council meeting, two Sultan-area residents, Winn Maass and Frank Linth, complained about the number of campaign signs spread around the city; specifically, the signs placed on the islands in the center of the east section of Main Street, as well as other areas.
“Unfortunately our city has been somewhat blighted in a few areas by high-density campaign yard signs,” said Maass.
While Maass wasn’t asking for specific restrictions on the placement of signs, Linth was.
“There’s no reason that they can’t be placed on city property a minimum distance from another like sign,” said Linth.
At last Thursday’s meeting, a new issue was raised by Sultan resident Ray George. George alleged that someone has been stealing campaign signs.
The signs in question were not typical campaign signs.
While they are roughly the same size as a regular campaign yard sign, they don’t feature the name of an individual running for office. Instead, the signs have the words “Never Elected” printed on them, with a question mark and a large black arrow pointing downwards. The handmade signs have been placed in areas near incumbent council member Ken Marshall’s campaign signs so that the arrow points directly at the word “Re-Elect” on Marshall’s signs.
George stated that the signs were “not touching, not blocking Mr. Marshall’s signs.”
George went on to explain the meaning of the signs. He said that Marshall was appointed to city council in 2011, not elected by voters in an election process, and as such, should not be using the words “re-elect” on his campaign signs.
“There are a lot of people who object to the false and misleading statement on Mr. Marshall’s sign where he claims to be running for re-election,” said George.
“It’s a false, misleading statement. I think it shows low character,” he continued.
But the Public Disclosure Commission’s guide to political advertising suggests that Marshall’s use of the word “re-elect” is acceptable political terminology.
“Re-elect means that the candidate holds the office now and is seeking another term in the same office OR that the candidate was elected to the office in the past, but is not the incumbent, in which case the ad must clearly state that the candidate is not the incumbent.”
Marshall has not denied the fact that he was appointed to council in 2011. In his biographical brief for the May 28 issue of the Monroe Monitor, he stated on record that he was appointed.
Upon noticing that Marshall had one of the “Never Elected” signs with him at the meeting, George recited the RCW 29A.84.040 which states that removing or defacing lawfully-placed political advertising is a criminal act and punishable by both jail time and a fine.
Tempers flared and the meeting briefly became heated.
But does a handmade sign that says “Never Elected” qualify as lawful political advertising?
According to incumbent Councilmember Kay George, yes it does.
“Campaign signs are considered to be either for or against a candidate,” said George. “If somebody puts a sign up in opposition of me, I can’t take that down.”
Political yard signs are an area where the rules are a little less defined. The Public Disclosure Commission has careful guidelines as far as identification in political advertising, specifically sponsorship identification. Certain items, however, are exempt from the sponsor identification requirement, such as political yard signs.
“Certain political advertising is exempt from the disclaimer and disclosure requirements because of its size or form,” sate a recent PDC memo. “For example, political yard signs of a certain size, campaign buttons, balloons, pens, pencils, skywriting, inscriptions, and ‘other forms of advertising where identification is impractical’ as identified by the Commission in rule are exempt.”
The brouhaha didn’t surprise George.
“Sultan has always taken elections very seriously,” said George. “We have one of the highest voting rates in the county, if not the state.”