SOUTH KINGSTOWN — When South Kingstown Town Council candidate Joe Viele first found a note typed on plain white paper attached to his campaign sign claiming the sign was in a town right-of-way, Viele moved the campaign sign.
But Viele, an independent, later discovered the note was not posted by a town official, but by an unknown person who has placed the notices on several candidates’ signs. Some candidates said while they didn’t get the note, they have had signs stolen.
“The notice said something to the effect of, ‘This sign is in a public right-of-way, this sign needs to be moved out of the public right-of-way, or it will be removed,’” Viele said. “I took that notice off, and even though I didn’t think it was in a right-of-way, I moved the sign back a little bit.”
Viele went to the building official’s office for guidance about where to place his signs, and was told it was not a town notice.
“I wouldn’t leave a notice on the sign,” Town Building Official Jeff O’Hara said. “If I [saw] an illegally posted sign, I wouldn’t leave a notice on it; I would pick it up. We have confiscated maybe one or two signs that we’ve gotten a complaint [about].”
The town’s sign ordinance forbids signs on town or state property, O’Hara said. If the town confiscates signs, they are placed in the garage next to Town Hall on High Street, he said, and candidates can pick them up there. Viele also was told signs should be placed approximately 25 feet away from the center of the road on private property.
O’Hara said the police have been notified of the issue with the typed notes and alleged missing signs. If signs are in public areas, any individual can remove them, O’Hara said. But candidates receiving the note have insisted their signs were placed on private property.
“I don’t put them up anywhere that I don’t have permission,” said Carol Hagan McEntee, a Democrat incumbent. “They either approve it or I don’t put it up. I don’t just stick it on somebody’s lot or the side of the road.”
Hagan McEntee said she had about 15 signs missing, and two signs placed on Saugatucket Road and Cherry Lane had the notice attached to them.
“Both of [mine] were within the property line of the owner,” she said. “The one on Saugatucket Road, the homeowner told me the sign was posted on it and then the sign was gone. She did call the police. Every election there’s signs missing – that’s nothing new – but this note is new.”
“It’s become quite a job replacing the ones that have been stolen,” said unendorsed Democrat Rachel Clough. “My dad’s have been stolen a few times, and he created his own little sign saying his sign has been stolen. I had [the note] issue on one sign, and I responded with my own note, saying ‘this sign is on private property and removing it would be stealing.’”
“I think there’s just some person out there who sort-of thinks of himself as a ‘vigilante,’ or a sign policy enforcer,” said independent candidate Abel Collins. “It doesn’t appear to me how he chooses which signs that he puts those messages on.”
Collins received the notice on signs placed on Tuckertown and Curtis Corner roads. He has had several signs go missing as well.
Democratic Candidate Bryant Da Cruz said he has had four or five signs disappear, and one had the notice posted on it. Republican candidate Roland Benjamin said he’s put about 20 signs up and has had just one disappear.
Republican candidates James Haldeman, Sean O’Donnell and Robert Trager have not posted signs yet. Haldeman said he does not plan to use yard signs this year, because in his previous campaigns for House District 35, he’s had them stolen and it became expensive.
“I don’t think anybody understands how expensive they are,” said incumbent Democrat Margaret “Meg” Healy. “I’m not going to accuse anyone of stealing them, but signs have gone missing.”
“I have had four stolen,” said independent incumbent James O’Neill. “And mine are expensive. Yes, it really hurts me because it is expensive. I always get permission; I do not put my signs on town property.”
O’Neill said he did not receive any notes on the signs, but was aware that others have.
“It’s a very poor way of showing you dislike a candidate; you can vote for others in November,” O’Neill said. “Who is this self-appointed vigilante? Please come forward and stop the cowardly route.”