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Major property manager changes policy, asks council candidates to remove campaign signs

A business that manages numerous properties in Woodbury is no longer allowing any campaign signs to avoid further headaches that have resulted from recent events regarding local City Council races.

Wellington Management, which owns 18 buildings including the Valley Creek Mall, City Centre Shoppes and Valley Creek Commons, have received complaints from City Council challenger Bill Braun, alleging that the business is purposely supporting the two incumbents by removing his signs and leaving theirs.

But the property manager says the business enforces a policy that limits campaign signs to only two candidates, on a first-come, first-serve basis, and that Braun neither sought nor received permission to put up campaign signs at any of the properties.

“Wellington tries really hard to be supportive of events and local elections,” senior property manager Kathy Bayliss said. “It wasn’t meant to sway the results in any way. We’ve done this for many, many years. I’ve never ever had anybody complain.”

Wellington first decided to disallow campaign signs for partisan elections when tenants made the request, Bayliss said.

Later in 2010, when 16 candidates ran for two seats on the Woodbury City Council and six ran for mayor, she said it became challenging to allow all candidates to post numerous campaign signs. And that’s when the policy for nonpartisan elections also changed to reduce the number down to two.

“It just gets so junky looking,” Bayliss said. “It gets cluttered, it’s unattractive and we do get complaints from our customers and our tenants.”

This year, incumbents Christopher Burns and Julie Ohs received permission first and placed their signs at numerous Wellington properties, she said, adding that Braun did not.

But Braun said he spoke with Valley Creek Mall managers who allowed him to place signs there. He claims his signs were removed by Wellington as a “targeted attack” and that he continuously replaced signs that he initially thought were stolen.

“It’s been targeted specifically at lawn signs where the Burns and the Ohs signs are left untouched,” he said. “It’s a targeted attack against our campaign.”

Braun filed a complaint with the Washington County Attorney’s office, citing a state statute that prohibits corporations from contributing to major political parties, organizations or individuals.

However, Assistant County Attorney George Kuprian said corporations have been getting around that since a 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission hatched the creation of super PACS, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals.

“They have a free speech right under the First Amendment to support whoever they want,” he said. “If you can donate money, you can certainly put up signs.”

All three candidates were asked to remove their signs from all Wellington properties by Tuesday, which they did, although not all were happy about it.

“Frustrated, disgusted and embarrassed,”  Ohs said, describing how she feels about the situation.

Burns said he’s disappointed that those who follow the rules are being punished because of others who didn’t.

“I think that the residents of Woodbury are best served when the election of candidates is based on issues and what’s important to voters and not ancillary distractions about things like this,” he said. “I think this is simply an unnecessary distraction as our voters seek to educate themselves about the candidates and the issues.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.
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