Removal of sign stirs controversy in race for El Dorado County District 5 supervisor
The race to represent El Dorado County District 5 has turned in recent days from focusing on top-of-mind issues to a topic few would have predicted: the removal of a sign.
The removal of the “no on Novasel” sign, which simply has the name “Novasel” with a red circle and line through it, in a public right-of-way by District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel has dominated the conversation surrounding the race since the event took place on Oct. 10.
Novasel says she was removing an illegally placed sign that she finds offensive and is intended to “intimidate” her. The owner of the sign says the incident amounts to theft, a point the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office disagrees with. And Novasel’s opponent, Kenny Curtzwiler, says the situation is an indication of instability.
The matter in dispute occurred on Oct. 10. Novasel was driving down Pioneer Trail when she spotted the sign, which she points out was located across the street from Sierra House Elementary School in a public right-of-way. She pulled over and proceeded to remove the sign.
At that time a woman pulled over and started talking to Novasel.
The first-term supervisor says the woman didn’t identify herself or say that the sign belonged to her. Novasel put the sign in the back of her car and drove it to the El Dorado County Department of Transportation building.
Tim Coolbaugh, the owner of the sign, tells a different story. Coolbaugh’s wife was the woman who pulled over as Novasel removed the sign.
Coolbaugh told the Tribune his wife asked Novasel what she was doing. After Novasel said it was illegally placed in the public right-of-way, she asked if she could have the sign back, according to Coolbaugh, and Novasel refused.
The Coolbaughs called the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department and proceeded to file a report. Coolbaugh said the deputy left and eventually returned with sign.
Novasel says she took the sign to the transportation department, a detail the DA’s office affirms, and never had a deputy visit her at her house.
The Tribune obtained a copy of the incident report, but it is heavily redacted. El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini did not immediately return a voicemail Thursday evening.
“I was pretty adamant with the deputy that this is … highly illegal,” Coolbaugh said.
The DA’s office disagrees.
“It is our opinion that the person placing the sign was well-intentioned, but unaware that the sign was improperly placed in the public right-of-way,” states a Facebook post by the DA’s office. “Also, it appears that Supervisor Novasel was acting within the scope of the law to remove the improperly placed sign. Accordingly, we now consider this matter closed.”
Novasel says her decision to remove the sign had everything to do with its content. The sign makes no specific mention of her campaign or issues.
“If you look at the sign there’s no ‘vote against me for supervisor.’ … There’s nothing to indicate any politics, it just says ‘no Novasel,’” she said.
“To my mind it’s pretty obvious it’s a sign meant to bully and intimidate.”
Coolbaugh, a member of the group Tahoe Neighborhoods First, which he says created the signs, dismisses Novasel’s reasoning.
“Her story of ‘oh I felt bullied because of the sign’ is hogwash. Does she feel bullied by a ‘no jaywalking’ sign that has a red circle and a slash?”
Others, including Curtzwiler, have echoed similar sentiments following the publication of a letter by SouthTahoeNow.com. (Novasel sent a similar letter to the Tribune, which opted not to publish until it could conduct its own reporting.)
“That’s a stretch he said.”
Even if Novasel genuinely feels bullied by the sign, he added, she should have acted differently.
“It doesn’t matter,” Curtzwiler said. “This is politics. You have to have thick skin.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Novasel said she would have simply called the transportation department to remove the sign, rather than remove it herself.
“Did I do the right thing? I had every right to do it,” she said.
Asked if the issue is anything more than the removal of a sign placed in a public right-of-way, Curtzwiler, who has posted multiple times about the incident on his Facebook page, said the issue is an indication of irrational behavior.
“I think she’s lost it,” he said.
With Election Day less than three weeks away, the controversy has sucked up much of the oxygen in the race, a point that Novasel says is unfortunate.
It is distracting from major issues such as vacation home rentals, affordable housing and transportation, she said.
Coolbaugh, who opposes Novasel’s bid for reelection, views the sign issue in a much different light.
“I think she should withdraw (from the race). She’s shown she’s not trustworthy.”
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