BECAUSE FACTS STILL MATTER

Fact Check: Christina Strawbridge's 

(DISMISSED) Ethics Violation Complaint

Below is a copy of the letter of complaint submitted by Christina Strawbridge to the City Clerk on Friday, October 21, 2022. Christina Strawbridge’s letter appears in black text. Rebuttal and corrections submitted by the Terry Scott campaign appear in red text. Supportive documents and images can be found by clicking the links embedded in the text, and at the end of this fact check statement.

 

For the last week, a multitude of emails (FALSE #1: Five emails from City Clerk totaling of 584 words, two emails from Attorney Ben Stock totaling of 89 words does not constitute a “multitude”.) have been sent by Terry Scott and his representative Volunteer Coordinator (FALSE #2 Email was sent and signed by the coordinator, not Terry Scott) to the City Clerk and City Attorney about the size of campaign signs and their locations. (The inquiry was regarding signs in residential zones only, not all jumbo signs, only four of which belonged to Christina Strawbridge referencing County Code 5405.3 included in the candidate campaign packet) Remember the election is in less than 3 weeks. Terry Scott has a problem with my campaign sign size of 4x8 which is allowed a total of 32 square ft. (FALSE #3 The issue was jumbo signs in residential zones as per Code 5405.3. The campaign didn’t have a “problem” with Ms. Strawbridge’s signs. The campaign took issue with a possible code violation by candidates. A list of (15) signs placed in residential areas was provided regarding signs from three separate candidates, only (4) of which addressed the Strawbridge campaign. In addition, (2) Strawbridge signs were reported for a separate BMC violation.) Interestingly, in my past 4 campaigns 2011, 2016, 2018, 2020, my signs were always sized 4x4 while my opponents usually chose the larger 4x8 size. 

 

This election cycle I decided to go larger because of all the comments of how bad my 2020 signs were received. I happen to have a long name and it's somewhat problematic to fit it on a smaller sign. (The sign size wasn't the issue; it was their placement in residential zones.)

 

Much City staff time has gone into the complaints (FALSE #4: A small amount of time was spent in an email exchange over a week, all within the scope of both the City Clerk and the City Attorney's job description.) from the Terry Scott committee. There have also been complaints about the large signs on private property. (It was the same complaint. While researching residential zones, it was discovered that two Strawbridge campaign signs were placed in unauthorized public areas) The City has no jurisdiction on private property. (FALSE #5: In some respects, the City does dictate sign usage on private property. For example the 60-day campaign sign rule. Subsections A and C of 28-66-070(2) of the same code in question, code 5405.3. Our inquiry addressed subsection B of 28-66-070(2) See below image.)

 

2 of my signs at Military-Southampton at Graceway (Gateway) Church and 7th and West Manor were called out (lawfully reported) by the Terry Scott campaign (Correct. Two Strawbridge signs were in violation of the municipal code) claiming they were on City property not private property. (We were correct. They were indeed on public property; a violation of the city sign code) There has been a recent change in the sign ordinance on City property. (Of which all candidates were made aware of) Of course we had asked both property owners for permission. (It was not their property, therefore they could not give permission) In 2018 many campaigns used the site on West Manor without permission from the owner and for the recent DA race the site by the church was used without permission. (The Southampton/Military site was removed from the approved list. Any sign placed on church property would have been a direct violation of strict SEC regulation prohibiting political campaign signs on tax exempt property.) We always ask and in fact met with the City Clerk and staff about where the new rules would apply. (A list of ten authorized locations were provided to all candidates along with corresponding maps. Christina Strawbridge was fully aware that she placed signs in unauthorized locations.)

 

On Monday, October 17, I was notified that 2 of my signs were on City property and would need to be moved less than 2 feet from where we had placed them. (Correct. Because they were placed in unauthorized locations and not on private property.) I objected saying that the property owners claimed it was their property. (The property owners were incorrect. The signs were not on their property, per the GIS property line map. Which is why Ms. Strawbridge was ordered to move them.) The City responded with the County GIS and stated they were on City property. (Exactly. Both Strawbridge signs were in violation.) After again speaking to the property owners and asking if we could hang the sign on their fence Gateway Church, we moved them and attached them to the fence as was recommended by staff. (A request and action made by Christina Strawbridge placing the pastor and Gateway Church in direct violation of their SEC status) 

 

Today, Thursday, October 20, I received a call from the Pastor of Graceway Church (Gateway; see Footnote #1) saying he had received 2 anonymous calls by a woman (FALSE #6: there were two calls, one by the campaign; see footnote 1) threatening that his church would be reported to the Secretary of State in violation of their non profit 501 C3 status for allowing me to put my sign on church property. (Correct. By placing a campaign sign on the church fence, Christina Strawbridge alone jeopardized Gateways SEC status. Per City Clerk Lisa Wolfe’s email instruction, the Scott campaign volunteer was told to contact the church directly regarding the SEC violation) I certainly do not want to cause any problem for the pastor who has only been there 4 months or the church and  jeopardize their non-profit status, so I immediately removed the sign. (Then Ms. Strawbridge should not have placed a political campaign sign on church property thus violating their SEC registration. See below images.)

 

I called Mr. Scott and asked him directly if he knew about the sign at the church and the threat of reporting the church to the Secretary of State. (At the time of Christina's call (10/20/22 at 4:34pm), Terry Scott was unaware of any calls made to the Church, nor of the sign being removed from the church fence.) He denied knowing anything about the sign issue. Nothing! (Terry Scott denied knowing about calls to the church or the sign being removed, because he was not aware that the campaign had followed Lisa Wolf’s instruction and called the church. He was advised later the same afternoon at approximately 5:45pm, after he spoke with Ms. Strawbridge. Terry Scott was not being dishonest.)

 

Upon a Public Record Request, I have in my possession the email thread that Terry Scott and his Volunteer Coordinator (Emails were sent from the campaign team email address signed by a private citizen coordinator, not Terry Scott, regarding Code 5405.3, and two verified sign violations against Christina Strawbridge) sent the City Clerk showing that he was involved with these complaints from the beginning. (FALSE #7: Terry Scott directed the coordinator to pursue what the campaign believed was a violation of code 5405.3. The coordinator handled all correspondence with the city and the church.) In the email thread, Terry Scott's campaign has demanded that the City enforce the removal of all my large signs and replace them with the smaller 3x4 (i.e. 12 square feet). (FALSE #8: The request was that candidates replace their jumbo signs in a few residential neighborhood locations only, and only FOUR for Christina Strawbridge. See Footnote #2.) Again, less than 3 weeks before the election. 

 

I am submitting a violation of the Voluntary Code of Ethics by Terry Scott and his Volunteer Coordinator. (Terry Scott is the only person on the Scott campaign team subject to the Voluntary Code. He has not violated the Voluntary Code in any way, nor did any member of his team on his behalf.)

 

This kind of harassment activity is not acceptable or ethical. (FALSE #9: Reporting what they believed to be a potential sign violation to the City Clerk is not harassment, nor is it unethical; particularly when that complaint resulted in two legitimate sign violations committed by Christina Strawbridge. Placing a courtesy call to a church advising them that a political campaign sign placed on their fence was prohibited by the SEC and requesting they contact the candidate for removal is not a violation of the voluntary code, nor is it harassment, nor is it a threat, nor is it unethical; particularly when the call was placed by the volunteer at the expressed written direction of the Benicia City Clerk.)

CHRISTINA STRAWBRIDGE PUBLISHED THIS LETTER ONLINE AND IN PRINT IN AN ORGANIZED SMEAR CAMPAIGN ON

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2022, PRIOR TO ANY REVIEW OR DECISION MADE BY THE CITY ATTORNEY.

THE CITY ATTORNEY DISMISSED CHRISTINA STRAWBRIDGE'S COMPLAINT

"We have concluded that the complaint could not be tied to any of the items listed on the Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices." 

- Lisa Wolfe, Benicia City Clerk

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

FOOTNOTES & SUPPORTING IMAGES

 

  1. Gateway Church Sign Location: Once the sign on the fence was determined to be on church property,  the violation of SEC regulations was identified by a volunteer with prior knowledge of the rule. This rule clearly states that tax exempt organizations, including churches, are prohibited from displaying political campaign signs. This development was discussed amongst a group of people, therefore if additional calls were made to the church, the campaign team was not aware of it. The City Clerk stated they do not enforce SEC violations, and the City Clerk instructed the volunteer to contact the church directly about the sign. (see below) The coordinator followed Lisa Wolfe’s instruction and made a single courtesy call leaving a very polite, 15 second message on the church voicemail notifying them of the violation and politely asked that they contact the candidate to collect it; a routine course of action for SEC violations made by any tax exempt organization. No threats were made, aside from asking the church to abide by the regulations they agreed to per their tax exempt status. The decision was not personal or vindictive. The campaign simply wanted candidates running for office to play by the rules. With six total campaigns between them (2007, 2011, 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022), the Strawbridge's should know by now that placing campaign signs on church property is strictly prohibited and unlawful. Christina Strawbridge’s actions threatened the SEC status of the church, not the Terry Scott campaign for wanting her to play by the rules. It is the candidates ultimate responsibility to determine what parcels of private property are allowed within the law, and where the property lines are before placing a sign at any location not on the authorized list of sign locations provided by the city.

 

  1. The request sent by the Scott campaign team referenced jumbo signs in residential zones only but evolved into clarifying a county code. Not all large signs as Christina Strawbridge falsely stated in her online statements. Only FOUR, of her large signs were relevant to County Code 5405.3 included in the candidate campaign packet. A list of the sign locations in question was provided to the city and included a total of (4) Strawbridge signs, (10) Largaespada signs and (1) Birdseye sign. Two additional Strawbridge signs were reported for violating the city municipal code by being placed on unauthorized public property. . Below is a code document included in the candidate campaign packet restricting sign size. This page is the source of the confusion. There was no accompanying city ordinance that refuted or appeared to override this clear regulation regarding sign size limitations in residential zones. Early in the campaign, Terry Scott purchased 3’x4’ signs based on this misleading information unbeknownst to the volunteer who joined the team at a later date. Other candidates knew to ignore the instruction in the packet. The volunteer was made aware of code 5405.3 after several complaints were posted by various residents on Nextdoor (see below complaints for full transparency) just prior to the first email being sent to the City Clerk. After revisiting the campaign packet, it was then discovered that candidates were given this same code document giving the appearance that signs in residential zones needed to be 12 square feet or smaller. After discussing the matter with advisors well versed in municipal codes, the campaign filed a notice with the city clerk, citing that three out of the five candidates appeared to have violated Code 5405.3, 28-66-070(2) subsection B.  Interestingly enough, both subsections A and C of the same county code 28-66-070(2) are enforced by the City, so the campaign believed that subsection B also applied. After a short series of emails that took over 6 days, it was determined that subsection B would not be enforced inside city limits. The Scott campaign withdrew the request for enforcement, in writing, documented in the last email. During the exchange, the city attorney acknowledged the gap in the Benicia Municipal Code, and the confusion created of including the county code without corresponding documents from the city, and stated that the city council would be reviewing the codes and making clarifications for the future.

 
 
Strawbridge Ethics Complaint Letter
Solano County Code 5405.3
County Code 5405.3, another version.
Benicia Municipal Code 18.16.140
The Large Signs in Question
Gateway Church Property Line Ends Inside Fenceline
West Manor Private Property Line
City Clerk Instructs to Call Gateway Church
Strawbridge Complaint: DISMISSED