Measure S supporters claim improper use of Nevada County resources in opposition campaign

Keri Brenner, The Union

Measure S supporters are in the process of filing a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission against Nevada County officials, alleging improper use of county resources to oppose the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“A group of Nevada County government officials — including several members of the board of supervisors, the county sheriff, the county counsel and the county clerk-recorder — are using public funds to oppose Measure S,” says the complaint, which was expected to be filed Wednesday with the FPPC.

Measure S is a revised medical marijuana cultivation initiative that, if approved by voters, would replace the current county-endorsed medical marijuana cultivation ordinance 2349.

Jay Wierenga, communications director for FPPC, said late Wednesday he had just received the complaint and that it is under review.

Patricia Smith, head of the “Yes on S” campaign committee Citizens for Fair Laws and leader of Americans for Safe Access-Nevada County, said she and her team were in the process of filing the complaint Wednesday.

According to a draft copy of the FPPC complaint, the “Yes on S” group is alleging that the Nevada County officials showed “flagrant disregard of Government Code Section 54964 and well-established case law that a public agency may not expend any public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure.”

The complaint alleges the county officials violated that code section by allowing use of the county website, letterhead, election mailings and county meeting rooms to oppose Measure S. The complaint requests the FPPC “investigate and enjoin such activity.”

Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green said Tuesday she had not yet seen a copy of the complaint. However, she said any use of the county website, letterhead, mailings or county buildings in relation to Measure S was for “educational and informational purposes” as permitted by law. Barratt-Green has maintained throughout the election cycle that the county has the official duty to inform the public and has complied with that obligation through offering information and education to voters.

According to the complaint, Measure S supporters allege the violations of improper use of county resources include:

— “Use of the county’s official website to host the board members individual and collective opposition statements to Measure S.” The complaint offers links to pages from Nevada County Supervisors Nate Beason (District 1) and Ed Scofield (District 2).

— “Use of the county letterhead to disseminate the board of supervisors’ argument against Measure S.”

— Use of the Rood Center, the county’s public building, to hold a “one-sided presentation of the opposition arguments against Measure S” on Sept. 23.

— Use by Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal of his county office for a Fox 40 television interview opposing Measure S.

— Mass mailings of the county’s sample ballots and vote-by-mail ballots “to sway the vote by incorporating language that is prejudicial against Measure S,” says the complaint, which incorporates the Oct. 3 ruling by Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling in which he says the ballot label on Measure S “missed the mark” by not being impartial as required by law.

The “Yes on S” complaint to the FPPC is the second in the current campaign on that issue.

Earlier this month, Measure S opponent Don Bessee filed a complaint with the FPPC alleging campaign finance reporting violations by Measure S supporters, including missing campaign finance statements and a lack of accountability as to where the Measure S campaign funds are coming from.

The Nevada County Elections Office, in response to questions by Bessee, also mailed out letters to Measure S campaign contribution committees asking them to complete their documentation.

Elise Strickler, senior clerk-recorder assistant in the elections office and the FPPC specialist, could not be reached for comment as to whether additional campaign finance statements had been filed.

“We’re never going to find out who is funding this campaign,” Bessee said Tuesday.

Bessee on Tuesday also voiced objections at the public county board of supervisors meeting about alleged “deceptive” ads used by Measure S regarding a 5-year-old girl suffering from as many as 300 seizures a day who was helped by medical marijuana. In particular, he said the girl was not a California resident and that her improvement took, according to an earlier letter from her family, “a year of trial and error” ­­­— longer than the “seizures stopped on Day One with medical cannabis oil” as reported in the ads, Bessee said.

Smith, who also appeared at the board meeting Tuesday, said the ads were accurate in that most, if not all, of the girl’s treatment was in California, and that her family rented an apartment in Nevada County while she was receiving treatment, qualifying them as temporary residents.

In addition, Smith said the physician who treated the girl in Nevada County found that medical marijuana offered her relief from seizures “in one day,” starting from the time when the Nevada County physician began seeing her.