Prominent campaign sign becomes controversy in Buckley mayoral race

Mayoral candidate says banner gave his opponent unfair advantage

A large campaign banner for Buckley mayoral candidate Beau Burkett became the object of controversy last month after it was displayed prominently — and apparently against city code — on city property during the Buckley Log Show.

The banner, tied 85 feet up between the top of the spar poles at the Log Show grounds and visible from Highway 410, read “Elect Beau Burkett Mayor.”

Though the Log Show leases the grounds long-term and constructed many of the buildings there, the property itself is still owned by the city, so city officials say the banner was against Buckley’s municipal code on political signage.

Per Buckley Municipal Code: “Signs … promoting or publicizing candidates for public office … may be displayed on private property with the consent of the property owner.”

“Our Buckley municipal code is very clear,” City Administrator Paul Weed said. “Political signs on public property are not an appropriate use.”

The sign stayed up both days — Sept. 18 and 19 — of the Log Show and was taken down the following Monday, Log Show President Jeff Fetter said. Fetter, who said he wasn’t initially aware that the law prohibited the banner, said it won’t happen again.

But Burkett’s challenger in the race, Richard O’Neill, has filed a complaint over the incident with the state Public Disclosure Committee (PDC), which regulates campaigns for office. He says the banner unfairly promoted his opponent, and that the Log Show and the city dragged their feet in removing it. O’Neill said he is also considering litigation against the city.

The PDC has just begun looking into the matter, Deputy Director Kim Bradford said.

“It’s still in a fact finding phase,” Bradford said. “It’s really just under review. We haven’t opened a formal investigation.”

“Powerful advertising”

The Buckley Log Show features feats of strength and skill as participants compete in speed climbing, block chopping, log sawing and other events, and regularly draws big crowds to the Log Show Grounds adjacent to Highway 410. Burkett said he has been a member of the Log Show’s organizing committee for five years.

The Log Show donates money to local food banks monthly, provides scholarships for seniors and gives to local timber workers when their families are in need, Burkett said.

O’Neill argues the banner incident harmed his campaign for mayor – and inadvertently made it look like Burkett was the city’s recommendation for the position.

“To have the largest city event of the year, that attracts thousands of people, to knowingly have a huge banner … really puts me at a disadvantage, because that’s some really powerful advertising that they got,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill was “rightfully” concerned, Weed said, and he said the city will be talking to the Log Show organizers about signage at their next event application, he said.

“I get it,” Weed said. “I understand where he’s [O’Neill] coming from. It’s not something we’re condoning.”

Burkett said he asked the committee if they’d put the banner up, and that he was surprised that the law around campaign signs prohibited doing so. That’s because, he said, the banner was affixed solely to Log Show property – the spar poles – and the Log Show has sole use of the property during, six weeks before the show, and for two weeks after, under their lease.

Fetter says the Log Show, at the time, also wasn’t aware of the code against signs like the Burkett banner, and going forward will “obviously” no longer allow them.

As for what happened this year: “Anybody who asked us to display their sign at the log show grounds, we would have given them the same opportunity,” Fetter said. “There wasn’t any preferential treatment or anything like that. Beau was the only one who asked. … Everything that we do goes right back to the community, so if another community member had wanted to hang something there, we would have said sure.”

Burkett concurred that any candidate could have asked the committee.

At that time they asked the Log Show to take the banner down, Weed said the city also asked their community service officer to do a sweep of any political signs found in the public right-of-way.

State law disallows those temporary signs on state highway property, but in order to investigate each campaign sign on the side of the road, you’d need to know exactly where the property line falls — and who owns the parcel next to the highway.

Fetter points out that many political campaign signs were, and are, visibly placed in the grass along Highway 410 despite the city’s sweep, so the Log Show was far from the only entity violating the rule. Burkett added that aside from the Log Show banner, all his signs have been on private property.

A reporter’s drive down SR 410 Monday morning counted around two dozen signs placed near the sidewalks. Most were for city council positions, but in the mayoral race, around two O’Neill signs appeared to stand on city grassways.

Though he’s not the only person putting up signs for his campaign, O’Neill said he puts his signs on private property, and always gets permission first.

“I know exactly what I told her”

The city wanted the banner down before the Log Show, but there’s a dispute over what timeline the Log Show agreed to.

O’Neill contacted the city about the banner days before the show, and on Wednesday, Sept. 15, the city emailed Fetter and requested “all political signs” be removed, according to city emails reviewed by the Courier-Herald.

Treva Percival, the city’s clerk and human resources administrator, said she also spoke with Fetter by phone that day. During that conversation, according to Percival, Fetter said the banner would be down by Saturday morning.

But “that’s not what I told her,” Fetter said.

“I told her we could take it down as soon as we could get to it, (and) we had a show we were putting together,” Fetter said. “I know exactly what I told her.”

The Log Show did agree to take the banner down, Fetter said, but a storm system Friday made it unsafe to try to do so the day before the show, and his team’s focus Saturday and Sunday was on putting on the event.

“It was up until after the show because we were concentrated on setting up the show,” Fetter said. “We had bigger fish to fry than to worry about the sign, and they said they knew we were putting on the show, and that as soon as we could get it down would be fine.”

Fetter said the incident is being made out to be a bigger deal than it was, and the Log Show is getting caught up in “a little propaganda” and small-town politics.

“I have nothing to gain from any of this nonsense, so why would I lie about it?” Fetter said later in the conversation. “If anybody says I told them I’d have it down before the show, it’s a flat-out lie.”

O’Neill said he found the overall response to the banner “totally unacceptable” and argues there were many opportunities to take it down.

“(The city) either didn’t do anything, or they conspired with my opponent and the log show to leave it up until after the log show was over,” O’Neill said. “(If) you can get it up, you can get it down.”

O’Neill’s statements, including his litigation contemplations, came around the same time Buckley administrators received the PDC’s request for information. Given that situation, Weed declined to comment further on the matter when reached Thursday.

“I also don’t think it’s very responsible of Mr. O’Neill to turn the city of Buckley in to the (PDC), possibly incurring a fine if the city is found to have not complied with the law,” Burkett said.

“If in the course of this charade,” the PDC determines that signs like the Log Show banner are not acceptable, Burkett said, then the city should clarify that in the language of all its lease agreements.

What happens next?

The sign situation aside, a private organization and event like the Log Show is allowed to show support for a political candidate or measure. The general tenor of the show, from signs on vehicles in the Log Show parade Saturday to posts on social media, included support for Burkett.

A Log Show Facebook page post from July 9 reads: “The Buckley Log Show is proud to support committee member Beau Burkett as he runs for Mayor of Buckley.” (Fetter said he doesn’t know who made that post but it wasn’t him.)

Fetter said he’s voting for Burkett, and said Burkett is a personal friend of the majority of the people on the committee.

As to whether the Log Show’s support amounted to an endorsement: “I guess that’s the way it would come across, but like I said, anybody could have asked (to hang their banner),” Fetter said. “It would have been voted on by our committee. Everything that we do is for the City of Buckley. Everything goes back to the community.”

The shows of support for Burkett raised concerns for O’Neill, even if they weren’t illegal.

“I’ve been to the Puyallup Fair, where they have a little booth for the Democratic party and the Republican party,” O’Neill said. “But I don’t see political signs strewn all through the fair, (nor) at the King County fair in Enumclaw. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

But Burkett said that seeking support for one’s campaign is part of the election process.

“Under the circumstances, and knowing the Log Show Committee would have considered a request to hang a sign and/or banner as I did, I would still ask the Log Show Committee for the same air space,” Burkett said.

This image of the banner supporting Beau Burkett for mayor comes from an official PDC filing made by Burkett’s challenger, Richard O’Neill.

This image of the banner supporting Beau Burkett for mayor comes from an official PDC filing made by Burkett’s challenger, Richard O’Neill.