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N4T Investigators: Sign Standoff

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ORO VALLEY (KVOA) - A sign standoff happened in an Oro Valley neighborhood after the homeowners association told homeowners to remove their yard signs. While the controversy has been settled, questions remain. The N4T Investigators asked them.

"We amended the sign to include the names of the candidates we were voting for even though that kind of felt wrong to me," Karen McElwee, a sign owner said.

It didn't just feel wrong, her husband said it was wrong.

"They gave us the explanation that under the state definition of a political sign this did not qualify," Terence McElwee, a sign owner said. "They did not say why it didn't qualify." 

Four homeowners in the same neighborhood put up similar signs.  

The HOA, Associa Arizona sent them a letter which said to remove the signs or risk being fined. 

The homeowners added the slogan...  "Biden Harris 2020".  

In an email obtained by the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the HOA's attorney told the board in-part, "...The BLM sign with Biden/Harris added definitely fits the definition. It is also my opinion that the board has the legal authority to find the BLM sign without the Biden/Harris addition to be a violation..." 

"Why not just take the sign down and put up the traditional Biden/Harris sign, so you can have it up and you can abide by the rules?" News 4 Tucson's Alexis Berdine asked.

"This is about what we believe, strongly... and to see it all put succinctly on this tiny little sign," Terence McElwee said. "That's the amazing thing about it." 

The law states in-part a " 'Political sign' means a sign that attempts to influence the outcome of an election." An HOA cannot prohibit the display of a political sign earlier than 71 days before an election or 3 days after.  

Colleen Wampler said she filed a complaint with the HOA about her neighbors' signs on July 25th.

 "I understood that they were political from what they were saying," Wampler said. 

She said she was concerned that the signs were up prior to 71 days before election day.

 "Any sign whether it's political or not at that point was against, a violation of our governing documents, Wampler said.

The N4T Investigators reached out to Associa Arizona twice, asking to set up an interview to hear their side of the story. They did not respond to the interview request. However, the N4T Investigators did get ahold of the HOA's attorney, Jonathan Olcott.

"Arizona law gives examples of political signs, but it doesn't say a candidate's name is necessary. So, why did these signs need to be changed?" News 4 Tucson's Berdine asked the attorney over a phone call.

Olcott said state law clearly defines political signs and as such, before "Bidden/Harris" was added, the signs didn't meet that definition.  

"They list democrat political positions," Berdine said. "How can you look at that and not see an attempt to influence someone's political opinions? 

He referred back to the law, which he said didn't protect the orignal signs.  

"This sign is like a swiss army knife," Bill Bowers, a sign owner said. "It represents all the candidates in every partisan race from the state assembly all the way to the president." 

Terence Mcelwee said that at first, he appealed against the HOA decision but later dropped it. He said they didn't want any more conflict, especially during a heated election. So, they'll keep "Bidden/Harris 2020" on their sign and the HOA will keep it up. 

McElwee, an attorney and the HOA's attorney both interpreted the state's law differently. The N4T Investigators will continue to get to the bottom of this difference of interpretation.

Arizona's laws regarding flag displays, political signs, caution signs, for sale, rent or lease signs, and political activities can be found here.

 If you have a story you'd like for us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.  

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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