A slate of three Fort Oglethorpe City Council candidates has come under attack in a sneaky way.
An anonymous mailer sent to voters looks like it comes from incumbent Earl Gray and challengers Paula Stinnett and Craig Crawford -- but instead makes them look bad.
For example, it says Stinnett is "more educated than 99 percent of the city's population. Let's put some intelligence in our city government."
"Some of you may have received the preposterous mailing," Stinnett wrote in an Oct. 20 post on her Facebook page. "It was not sent from us nor an authorized representative. The fraudulent mailing has my name misspelled [Stinnet -- leaving off the last t]."
The candidates, their supporters and other officials cited in the mailer are crying foul. They've responded by distributing campaign signs that say "Mail-outs lie. Know the truth before you vote!" There's talk of a reward to find out who's responsible.
But the head of what formerly was known as the Georgia Ethics Commission says mailers involving city council candidates don't have to identify who paid for them.
"The only time you have to put that information out there is if it's for a ballot referendum," said Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. "There's nothing in our statute that says you have to identify who paid for it. You're not required to say 'paid for' at the state level."
Elsewhere, it's different.
A crudely-made fake flier sent in 2010 to discredit a city council candidate in San Jose, Calif., by linking her to the communist regime in North Vietnam -- which was offensive to many Vietnamese-Americans -- was traced to Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa through DNA evidence he left by licking the stamp on a flier. Shirakawa was charged with felony impersonation.
Opposed to firings
The three candidates targeted in the phony Fort Oglethorpe flier are united by their opposition to the City Council's controversial decision on March 22 to force the resignation of City Manager Ron Goulart followed by the abrupt firing of Police Chief David Eubanks and Public Works Director Jeff Long.
Goulart thinks that campaign material should state who paid for it.
"Otherwise, it could be total chaos," he said.
Under "changes we need to make," the phony Fort Oglethorpe flier lists making Goulart the city attorney and the city judge.
"First of all, whoever did it didn't realize they are two different offices -- one judicial, one executive," said Goulart, who said he immediately let the current office holders know he has no interest in their jobs.
Naming former city councilman Judd Burkhart the new city manager was another change proposed in the phony flier.
"I have never seen anything like this before in my life," said Burkhart, who thinks the flyer could make the Nov. 5 election confusing based on the signs he sees in people's yards while walking his dog.
"Some of the yards have got everybody's signs in it, like they don't understand who's running against who," Burkhart said. "That flier didn't help any."
Jack Goodlet, who since 1992 has owned and operated the Park Place Restaurant in Fort Oglethorpe just outside the Chickamauga Battlefield, said he would contribute $100 to a reward to identify the culprit behind the fake flier that claims Councilman Gray wants to do away with the city fire department and consolidate with the county's fire department.
"Earl Gray is one of the main ones responsible for keeping our fire department," Goodlet said.
Goodlet serves on a state-appointed committee that's been reviewing Fort Oglethorpe's city charter and will recommend changes, among which will be an ethics code and the creation of a city ethics committee.
"That kind of stuff will be eliminated," he said of the phony flier, if the ethics changes are made to the city charter.
High voter turnout
Incumbent Ward 5 Councilman Clay Kissner, who's opposed by Stinnett, said the phony mailer "just don't smell right to me."
"I don't know if the candidates done it, themselves," Kissner said. "But I think somebody in their campaign group sent it out."
Goulart dismissed Kissner's theory.
"I'm not surprised that he would say something like that" said Goulart, who predicts that the slate targeted by the mailer will win easily on Nov. 5.
In all, seven candidates are vying for three seats. In Ward 2, Gray is being challenged by Arlene Walker. In Ward 3, incumbent Louis Hamm faces Crawford and Scott Chastain.
Early voting turnout has been high, city Election Superintendent Orma Luckey said. At 3 p.m. Monday, 442 people had cast ballots.
"That's the most that ever voted early," Luckey said.
A total of 555 people voted in March, Luckey said, when Kissner won the election to temporarily fill the seat left empty when Councilman Eddie Stinnett, Paula's father, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The previous election, which included the race for mayor, two council seats and the question of Sunday alcohol sales, had 1,106 voters.
"I think we're going to go way past that 1,106 [on Nov. 5], the way it's trending on us with the early voting," Luckey said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.