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Signs of the Kitsap County commissioner campaign

November 4th, 2011 by Steven Gardner

Tristan Baurick is writing a story on the changed political sign culture on Bainbridge Island. I’ve got a sign story of my own to tell.

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.

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11 Responses to “Signs of the Kitsap County commissioner campaign”

  1. Stone Says:

    I think your guess about what actually happened with the phone call is probably right. It also makes sense that a campaign pro would look down her nose at an opponent or an opponent’s vender who aren’t as familiar with public disclosure rules as she is. Isn’t she special?

    The sign vandalism problem demonstrates the lack of respect people have for the election process, and that’s a shame. If people don’t like D’s they should vote for R’s, and vice versa. They shouldn’t resort to vandalism… but they do.

  2. Susan Cruver Says:

    Another cause for downed signs is shallow placement. With our rocky soils, it takes real effort to pound them in far enough so that a strong wind doesn’t blow them over. I’ve learned this the hard way observing signs I’ve placed and investigating when they are no longer upright. Sometimes it is obvious that they have blown over and sometimes it seems likely they have been vandalized, based on the condition of the wood and the sign’s distance from the hole. Sign destruction is not necessarily partisan, either, as some people vehemently hate all campaign signs. Many people do not understand the law for most of the county and remove signs from the right of way adjacent to their property.

  3. Linda Gabriel Says:

    1. No Tibbs campaign receipts or invoices are on the PDC website. What showed up was both corrected and new C4 reports, showing expenditures that looked more realistic. His new treasurer has corrected a number of his reports. Candidates do not post receipts or invoices – just accurate (one hopes) reports.
    2. I wasn’t asking Mr. Peterson to see the invoices. I just wanted to be told over the phone how many signs of what sizes had been purchased. I was told that it was none of my business. Even when I tried to explain the law, Mr. Peterson interrupted me to tell me that he was not going to share the information with anyone but Mr. Tibbs.
    3. When I was a very young woman, I went out for a Sunday afternoon with the son of a friend of my mother. (I know.) It was October of 1960. He decided to run over campaign signs that were in the roadside right of way. I told him the date was over and to take me back home. His explanation was that he “hated political signs.” I think there are people today with the same attitude.

  4. clearday Says:

    The report was filed with the PDC on Aug 29th. Why has it taken so long to publish this accounting which is clearly a fabrication and misrepresentation of the facts. Mr. Tibbs has run 3 other campaigns and should already be knowledgeable about signage and the proper report filing with the PDC. What I have noticed is that wherever there is a Gelder sign Tibbs has flanked it on one or both sides with his own. He then makes post to facebook to call attention to his action. There is a protocol to signage and placement. Mr. Tibbs placement and actions show a real lack of maturity.
    Steve I for one would like to know the details for the Board of Realtors endorsement of Chris Tibbs over Robert Gelder. Could you follow up on what criteria they use for favoring one candidate over another. Did Abby Burlingame advise the group of Chris Tibbs bankruptcy. After all she works on his campaign as the scheduler as well as for the Board of Realtors. She should have timed the release of his bankruptcy sooner so he could have put a better spin on the information. At the very least the Boards credibility might smell better.

  5. Steven Gardner Says:

    @Linda, thanks for the clarification on what the PDC will show you. You are correct.

    @clearday, as for the Realtor endorsement, we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about endorsements. We barely report them, unless there is something unusual. I didn’t hear of anything unusual in this one.
    On your first question, we did hear about this a long time ago. When I first heard about it I was eager to pursue, because what I was told substantially different than what eventually appeared here. It sounded worse than it was. What made it worth reporting at all was the letter to the PDC, which turns it from a rumor to something with an official document.
    I didn’t know about that letter until recently. It was not considered an actual complaint. Those can be discovered on the PDC website. A letter like this cannot, though it is also a public document.

    Steven Gardner
    Kitsap Caucus

  6. Colleen Smidt Says:

    @Linda, I do NOT support Mr. Tibbs for a variety of reasons. I have publically called him on the carpet for his poor preparation, acceptance of poor advice from his party handlers and the way in which he and his supporters dealt with the disclosure to the public of his bankruptcy.

    That said, I find your behavior with Mr. Peterson to be questionable as well. Having dealt with Mr. Peterson through another candidate I supported in the 2010 election, I found him to be a solid straight up vendor. I applaud him for not openly blabbing, at any drop of the hat opportunity presented, detailed information about his customers without their permission. I would be and have been disgusted with any vendor I worked with if they disclosed information about me or my purchases without my permission.

    It may have been your right to see what you were asking for, but your sloppy attempt at an expeditious circumvention of the election reporting system/process does not make your behavior any more acceptable than Mr. Tibbs. It simply further deteriorates and undermines any semblance of courtesy and professionalism remaining in the election process and makes it harder for any future candidates who want to run regardless of party.

  7. Linda Gabriel Says:

    To Colleen,

    In all my personal/private dealings with vendors, I would prefer that my personal/private purchases be kept private, too. I would really not like the rest of the world to know how many fish tacos I’ve consumed in the past month, for instance, or how much I paid for my newest jacket.

    Running for office is, however, a public act, not a private one.

    Fortunately for the citizens of Washington State, our laws require significant information to be available to the public regarding campaigns for public office. Our taxes pay for elected officials, so we have decided that we want more information available, not less. The public could always decide to go back to the way it was when all campaign expenses and donations were kept secret, but I don’t think that will happen.

    The public can count on campaigns keeping each other honest by checking on PDC reports and other data. That is just one reason that it is good for incumbents to have opposition for reelection.

    Please note that I never committed a “circumvention of the election reporting system/process.” I phoned the vendor and left my name and telephone number for him to call me with the information. When he did not call me, I phoned again, ten days later, saying my name. Even though I was not required to provide my name, I did so. Note that the law requires that he provide the information, either orally over the phone, or visually in person, whether the citizen is known or unknown by the vendor. Mr. Peterson apparently did not know the law, and was not interested in learning about it from me.

    Most people who know me would say that I am very open and honest, probably to a fault at times. Either Mr. Peterson totally misunderstood what I said, or he and Mr. Tibbs confused the facts.

    The real story here is that Mr. Tibbs PDC reporting had failed to reflect the true cost of his signs, but was corrected not very long after I spoke with Mr. Peterson. The system worked just the way the citizens have chosen.

  8. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Linda, I do appreciate your response back to me. However, I simply can not agree. Engaging in “rights” allowed under the law do not in any way establish that doing so is in fact the right thing to do or the right approach to take given the situation at hand.

    Yes, the citizens have chosen a system of transparency, checks and balances when it comes to the election process. How that system is massaged, manipulated, and applied within the certain parameters of its various legal rules speaks more about the character of the decision maker using it for their specific purpose rather than a flawed system. The current process can be both a weapon to inflict pain and destruction or a tool to improve, enlighten and inspire.

    In this situation the choice to use it as a weapon was clear and yes citizens can view this entire situation themselves and decide if that was the best use of it or not when it comes to a direct reflection upon the candidates were pitted to be on either the giving or the receiving end.

  9. Linda Gabriel Says:

    Colleen,
    You say, “In this situation the choice to use it as a weapon was clear”

    I do not think of opposition research as being a “weapon.” I do not think that reporting violations to the PDC is a weapon, either. And, lastly, any campaign manager who did not research what other vendors are charging for any campaign materials would be remiss.

    What if Kitsap Signs was charging Mr. Tibbs and all candidates much less than what we were paying our vendor? I think I should know this for two reasons: The first reason would be, of course, that Kitsap Signs was possibly making a donation in kind of some of the cost, or that they were extending a loan of some of the cost, either of which should be reported. The second reason would be to be sure that we were not paying too much for the signs we would be buying.

    The fact that we took no action at all shows how little importance we gave this item. We did not go to the press with it. We did not file a complaint. We eventually saw that Mr. Tibbs new treasurer was filling out reports correctly, and did not think about it again until Steve Gardner telephoned me after receiving a copy of the emails from Mr. Tibbs.

    I think our opponent thought that this interchange would help his faltering campaign. I think that is why he gave the emails to Steve Gardner.

  10. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Like I said we are going to have to disagree. I did not defend Mr. Tibbs action in any way. He was also incorrect and the actions of his treasurer were also not correct.

    I can not call out campaign behavior that is going on in the Port Orchard Mayors race, which also happens to be occurring within the confines of the current law, but is being applied in multiple inappropriate ways and not call speak out about what I view as a much smaller infraction no matter how noble the intention behind it.

    The PDC is in place to police and govern this process. If you suspected a violation, you should have respected this governing body and its process and reported it immediately to the appropriate authority instead of engaging in a Nancy Drew moment.

    If you want to be a stickler for the strictest rules, processes and procedures that are in place to protect citizens and voters, then you have to be prepared to stick to ALL of the strictest proper rules, procedures and processes yourself.

  11. Linda Gabriel Says:

    “If you want to be a stickler for the strictest rules, processes and procedures that are in place to protect citizens and voters, then you have to be prepared to stick to ALL of the strictest proper rules, procedures and processes yourself.”

    I agree with this.

    There was no “Nancy Drew moment” in this case. Nor was there a “Sherlock Holmes moment.”

    I was open and transparent, even though it is not required by law.

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