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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City Council President Ben Stuckart calls email about removing campaign signs ‘a joke’

City Council President Ben Stuckart speaks during a press event announcing his candidacy for mayor of Spokane on Friday April 13, 2018, at McKinley School. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane City Council President said Tuesday he was joking when he suggested in an email this summer that a “midnight mission” might be needed to remove an illegally placed campaign sign on the South Hill.

“I made a joke with an old friend, but I followed proper protocol and I followed the law,” Stuckart said.

The exchange using his city email account in June with a South Hill resident, who Stuckart identified as a high school friend, was posted to the Facebook page of the Spokane County GOP earlier this month, apparently released as part of a public records request from the city.

In the initial email, a constituent asks Stuckart about a “stadium-sized” sign for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that had been placed on city-owned property at 25th Avenue and Garfield Road, and who they should contact about removing it.

The city’s laws regarding signs prevent the posting of any sign by a noncity employee on city property. State law makes the removal or vandalism of a political campaign sign a misdemeanor, but only if the sign was “lawfully placed” to begin with.

Robin Ball, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, pumped the brakes on some in the party who called for discipline for Stuckart based on the email exchange. Still, she called the exchange “slimy” and suggested the Spokane City Council should look into the matter.

“It shows a level of integrity that we should not have in city management, at any level,” Ball said. “I think they need to be held to a much higher standard.”

Records show Stuckart emailed Spokane Streets Director Gary Kaesemeyer about the sign before his response suggesting a “midnight mission” to the constituent. The sign was removed before the end of the day.

Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she also received a complaint about the sign and directed it to the parks department. She said Stuckart’s email had been taken out of context.

Both the McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown campaigns reported a higher-than-usual amount of sign theft and vandalism during this fall’s race for Eastern Washington’s seat in Congress. Stuckart was a candidate for the seat before dropping out and later inserting himself into next year’s race for mayor.

Ball said she didn’t have enough information to comment on whether Stuckart’s statement was a joke, but noted that sign theft had been a big deal for both campaigns this fall.

“I think that it also is very telling about what social media and that kind of electronic communication can do,” Ball said. “I just don’t think that people think through what they say online.”

Stuckart said the calls for discipline were politically motivated ahead of the mayoral contest.

“I think they’re going to call for my head for everything they possibly can over the next year,” Stuckart said.