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Campaign flier causes alarm in Hancock

January 23, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

HANCOCK - Some Hancock residents said Saturday a campaign flier distributed around town is wrong, while other residents don't know what to believe.

The flier distributed to many Hancock homes on Friday - just three days before Monday's town election - is full of misinformation about the town's finances, Town Manager Lou Close said.

According to the flier, each property owner would have to pay $70,000 to pay off the town's debt. That amounts to a debt of $51 million.

Close said the town's debt is only $1.9 million, of which $1.8 million is for a major water project. That debt will be paid off by ratepayers, not through taxes, he said.

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The flier supports the slate of mayoral challenger Roland Lanehart Sr. and Town Council candidates Robert Forshaw and Billy Mills.

"I wouldn't vote for (Lanehart) to feed my dog," said town resident Craig Stanley, 38.

"There's people in this town that belong in office and there's people that don't," Stanley said.

Stanley called the flier a "joke," but said he still doesn't believe his vote will make a difference in Monday's election for a mayor and two council members.

Margaret Hoeckel, 43, said the flier was "sad," but so was the fact that many residents aren't paying attention to what elected officials are doing with taxpayers' money.

Jason Carroll, 18, said the flier was full of "stupid rumors," but he still wasn't satisfied with the performance of the incumbents.

Zach Burnett, 23, also disapproved of the flier.

"If anything, it encouraged me to vote the other way," Burnett said.

The flier was signed by Ernest Fink, who was mayor from 1987 to 1989, and Gerald Shaw, a former councilman.

A woman at Fink's residence Saturday said Fink would not comment on the matter.

Shaw said the flier "might have been misleading." He said it's been six years since he was on the council.

When asked what evidence he had to support the financial claims in the flier, Shaw said, "Who said I had evidence?"

Standing in the parking lot of his business, Shaw Motors, Shaw refused to comment further until Tuesday, the day after the election.

Town resident Harry Taylor Sr., 70, said he didn't know what to believe about the town's finances.

His wife, Ruth, said she campaigned for Fink's mayoral race and couldn't believe that Fink or Shaw would sign something that is inaccurate.

Lanehart and Forshaw could not be reached Saturday for comment.

In a telephone interview, Mills said he gave Fink and Shaw permission to distribute the flier, but said he could not "answer" whether Fink and Shaw had checked their numbers.

When asked if he was concerned about voters getting misinformation three days before the election, Mills said, "I can't answer nothing right now."

The flier also claimed it costs $530 a day to operate the public safety/police department.

Police Chief Donald Gossage said that was the budget in fiscal year 1997-1998, but the department ended the year with a $15,529 surplus.

Some challengers have been campaigning to replace the Hancock Police Department with Washington County Sheriff's deputies to save money.

A Dec. 2, 1998, letter that Gossage received from Sheriff Charles F. Mades states it would cost the town $258,440 the first year alone for four deputies, not including the cost of a secretary or office supplies.

That breaks down to $708 a day.

Gossage said it costs less than $500 a day to run the Hancock Police Department.

Close said he had gotten several phone calls by Saturday afternoon from people asking whether the information in the flier was true.

"I'm trying to correct erroneous mistakes," Close said.

Mayor Dan Murphy said distributing the flier at the last minute was probably a good political move for his challenger, but said the information is false.

Murphy said he was "disappointed" the candidates were spreading misinformation.

Roy "Randy" Pittman, who is running for a council seat, called the political maneuver "sad."

"In my opinion, they only embarrassed themselves," said Pittman, who owns Pittman's Liquor Store.

Pittman, 55, said he was continuing his door-to-door campaign this weekend, but he can't recanvas the entire town in one day to let residents know the flier is false.

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