At least one mailer making the rounds over the last week appears to use the Town of Bel Air’s official seal in violation of the town’s charter, which in Bel Air is what passes for massive campaign scandal.
The flyer uses the seal and town letterhead as part of a notice from the town’s “Department of Fiscal Responsibility.” It goes on to outline a series of campaign pledges by town commissioner candidates Greg Adolph and Ricky Davis, who are challenging incumbents David Carey and Robert Preston in tomorrow’s election.
When The Dagger first got a copy of the Adolph/Davis mailer, we contacted the town to find out whether it was kosher. To be clear: we did this of our own accord as a news-gathering organization. Since it’s news. Kinda.
Attempts to contact the “Department of Fiscal Responsibility” were unsuccessful, as it is fictional.
The initial word from town employees was that the flyer didn’t violate town election law. But in response to The Dagger’s request for more info, the town sought an opinion from its attorney, Charles Keenan, who said use of the seal does appear to violate town code, and a similar provision of state municipal law.
Town Code, Chapter 1, Article 1, subsection 6(b) reads, “The Coat of Arms and Seal may be used for stamping official papers of the Town, as an insignia on motor vehicles of the Town and on uniforms worn by personnel of the Town and for other similar municipal purposes.”
“If you think of the town seal as equivalent to a corporate seal, and let’s say BP used Exxon’s seal, that’s something Exxon would complain about,” Keenan told The Dagger.
Carey said he did not publish campaign materials using the town seal, and that he felt that it wasn’t use of the seal alone that was wrong, but the misrepresentation of the flyer as an official town document.
“I don’t think the seal is the big deal, that’s like running for president and putting the American flag on your flyer,” Carey said. “The thing is the town letterhead. That’s the exact town letterhead, some font, same print, same color, the problem isn’t the seal. The problem is that they’ve sent something out that looks like it comes from the town.”
Carey said Keenan had been instructed to contact Adolph and Davis to tell them informally to “cease and desist” use of the flyer, though there’s less than 24 hours left before voting results are announced.
Carey connected the flyer to rival town commissioner Terry Hanley, who has supported Adolph and Davis’ campaign.
“I think it’ll create its own backlash,” he said. “They’ve done a number of dishonest things, whether it’s Terry or the other two, but this one is stupid and isn’t going to help them.”
Contacted late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, Hanley said Adolph and Davis created their flyer only after Preston issued a mailer which also used the town seal, a week before they sent out their own.
“I think it needs to be a lot clearer what candidates can and can’t do,” he said. “There was a Preston mailer using the seal a week before they [Adolph and Davis] did theirs. If the sitting [town commissioner] chairman can do it, why can’t they?”
Hanley also denounced Carey’s claim of dishonest campaigning, and said it was Carey supporters who on Friday removed Adolph/Davis materials from English Country Manor and replaced them with their own materials.
In the future, Keenan said the town’s commissioners could decide to give candidates express permission to use the seal for campaign materials.
“No one has brought this up before, so it’s not as if someone has done a great wrong,” Keenan said. “It hadn’t been thought through.”
Here is the document causing all the fuss: