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Oak Harbor tells Dudley to take down campaign signs
Oak Harbor mayoral hopeful Scott Dudley broke the law when he allowed about 200 political signs to be posted in locations throughout the city.
At the urging of one of the city’s most prominent law firms, Oak Harbor building official and enforcement officer David Anderson contacted Dudley this week and informed him that his signs must come down as they are in violation of the city’s municipal code.
Dudley, who is also a sitting city councilman, was out of town on city business. In a telephone interview Wednesday, he claimed he didn’t know his signs had run afoul of city law and promised to have them all down by the beginning of next week.
“I was definitely not aware and apologize for any confusion it may have caused,” Dudley said.
According to Anderson, city code specifically limits the posting of campaign signs to a two-month window directly before an election. Depending on the race, the clock begins ticking exactly 60 days before overseas primary or general election ballots are mailed.
In this case it’s the latter, as Dudley and incumbent Jim Slowik are the only two battling it out for the mayor’s seat. With overseas general election ballots set to go out Oct. 9, that makes Aug. 10 the soonest either candidate can post election signs, Anderson said.
Dudley has had signs up for at least three months. They began showing up in locations around town shortly after he publicly announced his candidacy on March 1. Along with being posted well outside the allowed 60-day window, at least two of the signs were in public rights of ways — one on NE Regatta Drive and another on NW Crosby Avenue.
Campaign signs are not allowed to be posted on public property. While they are permitted on private land, it has to be done so in accordance with city laws, Anderson said. And, if a supporter doesn’t follow the rules, it’s the candidate who is held liable.
“If somebody has put his sign up prior to the 60 days, Mr. Dudley would be responsible for that,” he said.
Anderson’s action followed on the heels of a letter dated June 20 from the Law Offices of Skinner and Saar in Oak Harbor. It complained of the sign violations and firm-founder Christon Skinner requested Anderson carry out his duty as a city enforcement officer.
“If, for some reason, you are unable or unwilling to act on my complaint within the next three days, please advise me immediately so I can explore my options,” he wrote.
In a followup interview, Skinner said he sent the letter for several reasons. Not only had several people grumbled to him about the signs, but he heard that city enforcement in this area of the law was complaint driven.
He also said it appeared to him that Dudley was either “grossly flaunting” the rules or he was just unaware of the city’s campaign sign laws; either way it’s cause for concern.
Skinner acknowledged he is throwing his support behind Slowik in the upcoming election. He is also serving as treasurer for the campaign to elect Tara Hizon, who is in a three-way race for city council position 1, and is on the committee to re-elect city council incumbent Rick Almberg.
Dudley said he didn’t begrudge Skinner for his letter. In fact, he said he was “glad he was able to point it out.” City and state campaign laws can be extensive and Dudley admitted that he didn’t know them all by heart, though he also said he believes it’s the candidates responsibility to know them.
“I can tell you this, it will never happen again,” Dudley said.
He also criticized the city, saying that it would have been helpful if local government had some process for alerting electoral candidates of the rules before the start of election season. When asked whether he believed it was the city’s responsibility to devote time and resources to educating those seeking political office, he said, “no.”
“But I do think we (the city) can communicate better,” Dudley said.
However, this isn’t the first time he has run into trouble with sign-related campaign laws. Earlier this month, he was dinged by Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider for leaning his signs up against the election’s office in Coupeville while filing for office.
Crider initially claimed it was a violation of state law, that campaign signs were not allowed within 100 yards of the election’s office. She later revised her claim, saying that they are not allowed to be near the building unattended because it may give an appearance of government endorsement.