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AG says Candia signs weren't political

CANDIA - The state Attorney General's Office has completed the first of two investigations related to the Candia political sign controversy inflamed by a YouTube video of a selectman removing signs he said lacked the proper sponsorship disclosures. The AG found the signs to be "nonpolitical," but still failing to meet disclosure requirements.

"The subject of the signs themselves don't meet the definition of political advertising, because they don't meet the definition of expressly advocating the success or defeat of the candidate in question," Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte said.

A second investigation on the taking of the signs by Selectman Fred Kelley is ongoing. The signs presented quotes from Selectman Amanda Soares taken from minutes of the selectmen's Nov. 1 and 19 meetings. At both, Soares spoke against a cost-of-living adjustment for town employees. The signs, next to Soares' own signs, did not identify their creator, Eric Shifflett.

The investigation began when Soares filed a complaint alleging disclosure violations with the AG's office on Feb. 22. The second investigation was opened after a Feb. 23 confrontation between Selectman Kelley and Shifflett was filmed and posted to YouTube.

Shifflett noticed many of his signs disappearing, and coming across Kelley, found a number of the missing signs in the back of the selectman's truck. Shifflett demanded to have them back, calling the taking "theft." Kelley refused and denied that it was stealing. Kelley has since returned six signs to Candia police after receiving a call from Sgt. Scott Gallagher. Shifflett is still missing more than 20 of his 30 signs.

Shifflett filed a complaint with Candia police that day. State law limits the job of removing political advertisements, even when illegal, to law enforcement and several other authorities, such as highway department employees.

A cease-and-desist order has been issued against Shifflett.

According to Shifflett, only one sign remained up when the order was issued. He said he had already prepared labels with the required information and has since placed them on both sides of his signs.

Many political signs in town, including Soares,' lacked necessary disclosures before the video was posted. Since then, many have been marked with statements identifying the financial agents of the advertisements.

For now, the taking of signs appears to have ceased.

"They appear to be staying," said Shifflett. "It looks like we've resolved that issue of them disappearing."

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