Pat Murphy– Vista, CA… In the last few weeks I’ve seen several Facebook postings where the Vista authors were complaining that the campaign signs they placed around the community have disappeared and been replaced by signs touting the opposing candidate. The complaints are coming from volunteers for three different candidates in several races. I know these people and they are reliable sources. Everywhere I’ve previously lived this kind of underhanded activity, the stealing of opponent’s signs, has been considered foul play and in some communities can even be punishable by law.
I don’t know how a candidate can protect themselves from this sophomoric behavior. It is almost like a he said, she said situation. How would one prove that their sign had been absconded by a nefarious competitor? Maybe the volunteers should photograph the signage they plant for their favorite candidate. Selfies would work. This would record not only the location but also the witnesses. Such documentation would prove the signs were there before hand but there would still be the burden of proving who actually took the signs. However, in some cases, like Vista’s Historic Downtown area, there are security cameras that can catch the miscreants in action. If this happens the Vista Sheriff can be contacted and a criminal complaint can be made for malicious mischief or trespassing if it took place on private property.
Signage is one thing but this election year allegations of campaign law violations by candidates or their campaign committees have been brought forward and reported to the Registrar of Voters Office. These complaints aren’t just about bad sportsmanship, these complaints are referring to criminal misdemeanor violations under Government Code Section 84506.5, Vista’s Municipal Code Chapter 2.34 and FPPC Regulation 18225.7 (FPPC is the Fair Political Practices Commission). This is a bit more serious than nipping signage.
Campaign finance violations, misrepresentation of campaign contributors, misrepresentation and falsely claiming endorsements have been alleged against several candidates including Council Member John Franklin, Council Member Joe Green and Corinna Contreras. Green is running for Mayor and Contreras and Franklin are running for positions on the City Council.
Both Green and Contreras have allegedly received campaign help with fliers and mailers paid for by “Safe Vista –Safe Access-Safe Community YES on measure Z sponsored by Barry Walker, prospective licensee” but the mailers and fliers did not state exactly who paid for them. All allegations were brought to the attention of the City Attorney for Vista.
The City Attorney for Vista is Darold Pieper and he has held that position for over 13 years. I called him to ask about the allegations against Green and Contreras. Pieper confirmed that he recently sent a “NOTICE TO CEASE AND DESIST” to these candidates. The letters state the reasons and cite the Municipal Codes, the State Government Codes, and the FPPC Regulations that he deemed applicable. Both candidates were requested to contact the City Attorney’s office as soon as possible.
I asked Mr. Pieper several questions about these allegations. I wanted to know what would happen if the allegations were found to be true. Would there be fines or would there be a slap on the wrist. Pieper gave me a solid and sincere reply. He pointed out that these were misdemeanor violations. He also said that depending on the response from the candidates there could be no further action or it could result in fines being assessed. Then I asked him if during his almost 14 year tenure in the City Attorney’s office, “had he ever had to send out letters to candidates during an election process”. “No” was his answer, “Never before”, he added. Note: To date only Council Member Joe Green has contacted Pieper to deny any wrong doing.
Council Member Franklin, a first term office holder, is seeking to regain his seat on the City Council. He didn’t get a letter from the City Attorney but a complaint was filed with the Voter Registrar’s office because of a statement in his voter pamphlet biography. In the biography that I assume was provided by his election committee, Franklin states that he has the support of the Vista Board of Education. I spoke with Board President, Rich Alderson who had filed the complaint against Franklin. He adamantly asserts that it against board policy for the Board to endorse any candidate for public office.
So, what’s happening in Vista? Did people get sloppy and make mistakes? Or has politics in Vista gotten down and dirty? Either way it’s ugly.