Signs of the Kitsap County commissioner campaignNovember 4th, 2011 by Steven Gardner
On Aug. 29 Kitsap County commissioner candidate Chris Tibbs sent a letter to Doug Ellis, interim executive director at the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, and to Sam Reed, secretary of state, about a call made to a vendor of his.
Tibbs, a Republican, said that Dennis Peterson, owner of Kitsap Sign Co., told him Linda Gabriel, campaign manager for Rob Gelder, a Democrat running for the seat he was appointed to earlier this year, called Peterson’s business identifying herself as Tibbs’ campaign manager and asking to see paid invoices.
Gabriel has since said of Peterson’s contention, “If he told him that, he either was mistaken or not telling the truth, but I never said that to him.” Peterson himself has since said he thought that is what she said, but he may have not heard it correctly.
Tibbs’ letter was not an official complaint and he asked what Gabriel would be entitled to. Phil Stutzman from the PDC responded saying that Gabriel was entitled to see what she was asking to see. As for the misrepresentation, “The PDC has no authority to require a person to properly identify who they are when contacting a commercial advertiser, although we hope a person would properly identify him or her self.”
Gabriel had planned to have campaign volunteers go look at the invoices, she said, because Tibbs had not yet posted them with the commission, and there seemed to be far too many signs out there for the receipts that had been recorded. Tibbs has been, in his words, “aggressive” in getting lots of signs out there. She would have been entitled to go look. Vendors are required to show the paperwork they create when it involves campaigns for public office.
Gabriel didn’t send someone, because the receipts were then posted on the PDC site before that was necessary.
That vendors are required to show that info was news to Peterson, because he had never been asked. That’s not surprising, because normally the records are readily available online before it gets to going to vendors. In this case they were not, according to Gabriel.
Personally, I think either Peterson misheard Gabriel, or Gabriel misspoke without realizing it. She said it would be stupid for her, someone who was readily identified as the campaign manager for one candidate, to try to sneak one by a vendor by claiming to be the campaign manager for someone else. I agree. That would be stupid. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone from a campaign might try to pull a fast one, but not something so easy to disprove and not for something she was entitled to see anyway.
What further makes me think it was an honest mistake by someone is that Peterson, when I talked to him on the phone, didn’t know who Gelder was. He knew Tibbs, since he’d printed the signs for him. I don’t think Peterson was lying. I think he thought Gabriel said something she did not.
One thing Gabriel and Peterson agree on was that neither liked how they were being treated on that phone call between each other.
A lot of what burns campaign workers at election time is what happens to their signs. Every year, since 2004 anyway, we reporters are asked to look into what campaign workers allege is vandalism to campaign signs. In 2004 there was clear targeting of many George Bush signs. Some of John Kerry’s signs were abused, but it did seem that Bush signs were trashed in far greater numbers.
Since that election I have heard complaints every year, mostly from Republicans. James Olsen on Bainbridge Island has consistently created a list of the destruction to his signs on Bainbridge Island.
On Monday I spoke with Jim Sommerhauser, who until this year could be seen every election planting campaign signs for the Democratic Party. Sommerhauser said a campaign can count on losing about half of its signs during a campaign. The vast majority of those losses, he said, are caused by what he described as “kids” going after an easy target. He said most of it is not really aimed at a candidate for reasons other than availability, but sometimes kids respond to their parents’ open opinions about candidates by acting out in ways an adult would not. About 10 percent of the vandalism, he said, is intentional.
Another cause is when candidates don’t know the rules about where signs can go. State right of way is off limits. County right of way is fine for the smaller signs in most of the county, as long as they’re not put on mowed areas or have the wire holders. On Bainbridge Island the property owner next to the county right of way must be notified. In Bremerton and Port Orchard signs are not allowed on public right of way, period. All this is according to a rule sheet Sommerhauser hands out to other Democrats.
Sommerhauser, on that same sheet, advises how to place signs to reduce vandalism, but also makes the case to not overdo them. He says candidates should not try to “outsign” opponents, and that a sign in someone’s yard carries endorsement value a sign along a random point in the road does not.
Tibbs has tried to outsign Gelder, and for the most part he’s done it. You see one Tibbs sign, you might see six. There is also good evidence to support that Tibbs signs are being pulled and dumped on the ground in greater numbers than anyone else’s. The picture above comes from Tibbs’ Facebook site. The site isn’t dedicated to sign vandalism, it’s for his campaign, but he did post some pictures.
Law enforcement has not generally placed a high priority on policing this stuff when they hear about it. It’s not that they don’t respond to calls, but I haven’t heard of too many people being caught. I’d like to see someone vandalizing a sign just so I could get to the motive.
Sometimes the vandals are doing it in public enough that another citizen will notice. Here is an audio recording of a woman’s call to 911 when she saw someone dumping signs.
Tibbs provided the audio here and showed me the police report. That report shows several signs on the ground. They all belong to Tibbs. Other signs, for Bremerton City Council candidate Faye Flemister are left standing. The two theories are that his signs are being targeted either because he is a Republican, or because there are so many of his signs out there, way more than anyone else. I’m guessing some of you have an opinion about that.