Removal of sign stirs controversy in race for El Dorado County District 5 supervisor | TahoeDailyTribune.com

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.

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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."

NOVASEL’S LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Editor’s note: The Tribune received this letter from Sue Novasel earlier in the week. It declined to publish until it could conduct its own reporting.

In the past few days, you may have heard about an incident where I removed a political sign. My opponent has made it sound like I illegally removed one of his signs that was legally placed. This is not what occurred.

Driving down Pioneer Trail last week, I saw a sign illegally placed in the County Right-of-Way (ROW) and within a school zone, facing the school. The sign was not a political sign supporting my opponent, but rather a sign with a large red circle slashed through my name. It had no substantive content… it was designed to intimidate my family.

As a Supervisor, I am well aware that NO signs are allowed in the County ROW. Not political signs, not commercial signs, certainly not signs designed to intimidate people. County ordinance 130.16.090-110 states that signs in the ROW are trespassing and a public nuisance and that any such sign can be removed by county personnel. That is what I did. I removed it and took it directly to the Department of Transportation (DOT) road yard where, pursuant to our ordinance, the owner could reclaim it and place it on private property (if they have permission to do so).

Looking back, I should have called DOT and had someone else in the county remove this illegally placed sign. If it had been a legal political sign, I would have simply called DOT. It is certainly what I will do in the future. But it was the combination of the type of sign (no content, designed primarily to harass), placement in a school zone and the clear violation of our ordinance that caused me to remove it myself. I never intended to steal or damage the sign – nor did I. I took the sign directly to DOT – the same place that DOT would have taken it – and understand that the owner has now retrieved it.

We are a small community and can agree to disagree, but to intentionally place a negative and illegal sign for children to see is wrong on so many levels. It is a symbol of bullying and it is regrettable that this occurred. I was a school board member for over a decade prior to becoming your Supervisor. I care deeply for children’s well-being, the protection of tolerance, and to stop bullying whether is be a man, woman, boy or girl. I hope this message puts the exaggerated misinformation to rest and stops exposing our children to unnecessary negativity in what should be a place of safety and security.

Respectfully,

Sue Novasel

Supervisor, District V