Mailer sparks controversy in Foresthill utility district race
Candidate Tamra West recently filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office alleging election fraud in the Foresthill Public Utility District election.
West believes candidates Dianne Foster, Joe Anderson and Robert “Nolan” Vroege have broken Election Code 18304 by using the Foresthill Public Utility Board’s logo on their campaign mailer as well as paraphrasing the board’s mission statement on their flyers.
Election code 18304 states, “any person who uses or allows to be used any reproduction or facsimile of the seal of the county or the seal of a local government agency in any campaign literature or mass mailing, as defined in Section 82041.5 of the Government Code, with intent to deceive the voters, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
According to the code, evidence of intent to deceive is derived from the reproduction of the seal leaving a false impression that the document was authorized by a public official.
In an election, candidates cannot use logos from any government agency, including the Foresthill Public Utility District, because voters might think the government agency endorses the candidate, according to the elections code.
After each complaint is received the Secretary of State’s office thoroughly reviews them, and decides if there is sufficient evidence to open a case. Once a case is open, if there is enough evidence found, they turn the information over to law enforcement.
Shannon Velayan, press secretary for the Secretary of State’s office, said each case is treated confidentially to protect the integrity of the investigation or non-investigation. For this reason she could not provide the status of the complaint.
Dianne Foster, Joe Anderson and Robert “Nolan” Vroege are running for the board as a slate. As a slate candidates campaign together, but voters still vote on candidates individually.
Tamra West is running for the Board of Directors with Sherry Wicks, Linda Cholcher and Helen Rogers West as a separate slate in the Nov. 6 election.
According to the Foresthill Public Utility District’s website the Foresthill PUD is a special district that was formed to operate the public water system. The district serves approximately 13,000 acres in the unincorporated community of Foresthill located in Placer County.
This election is heating up because all five board seats are available.
“Usually, it’s staggered,” West said.
West doesn’t believe this has happened since 1950 when the Foresthill Public Utility District was first created.
There are two- and four-year terms available and eight candidates running for the chance to fill those seats.
“You are going to lose a lot of experience,” West said.
“My biggest concern is we will lose a lot of working experience with the water industry,” she added.
Robert “Nolan” Vroege, running on the opposing slate, believes the big issue is honesty.
“The current board uses the Brown Act to have closed door meetings, and the truth needs to be out there,” he said.
West said she filed for fraud on Oct. 8, “Because they sent out a mailer with the Foresthill PUD logo and per the election code, you are not supposed to do it.”
West has not heard from the other candidates the complaint refers to and believes it is probably too late for them to do anything that will have an effect on the election, but she still wants them to address the public.
“They need to send out another mailer saying they were wrong because it looks like the district was endorsing them and the district cannot endorse,” she said.
Vroege, one of the candidates accused of voter fraud, was unaware a case of fraud had been filed against them.
“I just want to serve the people and get the truth out. Everyone in our group feels that way, they are running a scare tactic campaign, trying to frighten people to vote for them,” Vroege said.
The other group is using “water is life” on all of their campaign signs, which is an infringement on the Water is Life organization, Vroege said.
Sherry Wicks, one of the candidates running for the board as a slate with West said, “words are one thing, using a physical logo is something else, they are just trying to justify what they did.”
The other slate put out a document to make it look like the public utility district sent it out, so using the water is life, is not making it look like it came from that organization, she added.
According to the WATERis
LIFE website they are a not-for-profit corporation that provides water to underdeveloped communities by helping them to obtain clean water through wells, filtration and cleansing.
Attempts to contact the corporation were made via the website, but no response has been received.
Wicks said she would have taken action against the code violation herself if West did not.
“I wrote a letter to the Foresthill PUD, I also received complaints about the flyer going out by the three candidates. It’s detrimental to my candidacy. I want the PUD to take a position and do something public that says, we do not support this,” Wicks said.
“I understand that mistakes are made, but when you blatantly use the board’s logo, that’s not an ‘oops,’ that speaks to me as their interpretation that they can do anything they want,” she added.
Dianne Foster, one of the candidates accused of election fraud, doesn’t believe it’s fraud at all.
“We just used a symbol, that’s not copyrighted by the way,” Foster said.
According to Foster, West’s slate used a picture of a lake on their campaign flyer, taken directly from the Foresthill Public Utility District’s website.
“Tamra West and Sherry Wicks used the picture on the PUD website for there flyer six weeks ago,” said Foster.
Wicks acknowledged that the two pictures are the same, but claims she was unaware the picture on their campaign flyer was the same picture on the Foresthill Public Utility District’s website and says they did get permission.
“That photo belongs to Neil Cochran. He took the photo and he gave us permission to use it,” Wicks said.
Foster was in disbelief West filed a complaint against them.
“I just couldn’t believe it because she’s already done it. It’s hypocrisy, they put out a flyer six weeks before we did,” Foster said.
“Filing this fraud charge is simply an attempt of character assassination against me, Joe Anderson and Nolan Vroege,” Foster said.
“This dirty politics effort on the part of Tamra West and her slate has been going on far too long in our community and needs to stop,” she added.
The candidates did not ask for permission to use the logo, said George Shaw, general manager of the Foresthill Public Utility District.
The Foresthill Public Utility District sent a letter to the accused candidates, demanding they cease and desist sending out campaign information using the district’s seal.
“They are not allowed to use any logos, we are not allowed to endorse any candidate or election,” Shaw said.
When asked how the district would inform the public, Shaw deferred to the board.
“We will possibly come out with a statement. We will see what the board wants me to do. A news release is the only thing we could do. Everything we do is public record,” he said.
Candidates drop out of election, but will still appear on ballot
Candidates Rose Perez and Hans Rasmussen have dropped out of the race for the Foresthill Pubic Utility District Board of Directors, according to Tamra West, current election candidate.
Perez has confirmed and Rasmussen has been contacted, with no response.
According to the Placer County Elections Office, candidates may decide to stop campaigning, but at this point in the election they will still be on the ballot and can still be elected.
~ Megan Moore