- Smith Reelection Campaign Summons Police after Seeing Homeowner’s Handiwork
- City Official Apologizes for Unlawful Sign Slipup
- Victim Sees No Difference between Smith, Ockomon
- Two-Thirds of Mayor’s Salary Illegally Diverted from City Utilities
Political Sign ‘A Slap in the Face’
When Robert Walser came home from work to find a politician’s super-sized sign in his yard, “it felt like a slap in the face,” he told the Madison County ALERT.
Someone from Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith’s reelection campaign had erected a sign measuring 8 feet wide by 4 feet tall in Walser’s yard without permission. Walser pointed to his weathered “No Trespassing” sign in plain view and visible to anyone entering his property. He said he placed the sign there last year to discourage gang members from loitering while he is away from home.
As for the Kevin Smith political sign, “I feel embarrassed and humiliated by it. It’s the size of a small billboard,“ Walser said, who now opposes the embattled, non-consecutive two-term Anderson mayor seeking a third term.
Four years ago, Walser supported Smith, but now sees no difference between Smith and former Mayor Kris Ockomon. He said that both mayors sought higher taxes and utility rates during their terms, while the level of public services has remained stagnant or worsened.
He also showed the ALERT photographs of a botched repair job by the water department that left his yard visibly damaged. Calls for the city to repair the damage went unanswered.
“After they destroyed my yard, Mayor Smith has the nerve to send me a photocopied letter saying my yard looks so nice. I had to spend money to fix what they did,” he said.
With the Smith sign on display along the busy stretch of Madison Avenue, a passing motorist slowed to make an obscene gesture to us while conducting this interview with the ALERT. “My neighbors must think I’ve lost my mind for having that sign in my yard,” he said.
“My neighbors must think I’ve lost my mind for having that (Smith) sign in my yard.”
— Robert Walser, Anderson resident
“They trespassed onto my property and defamed my character. I want to send a message of my own,” Walser said. He enlisted the help of a friend who gave him the idea to affix removable red tape to the sign illegally placed in his yard.
“A big red ‘X’ and the words ‘Never Again’ come to mind. Red tape is perfect,” the friend said. “It doesn’t permanently damage the sign, but it expresses dissatisfaction with Mayor Smith’s failure in keeping his campaign promises.“
Police Summoned, City Official Offers Apology for Sign
After moving the sign safely away from the street, they began crafting Walser’s distinctive message. However, with the sign gone from its original roadside placement, its temporary absence quickly caught the attention of the Smith campaign.
Within 20 minutes of the sign being moved to the side of the house, a member of the Smith campaign entered the property, as observed by the Madison County ALERT, and confronted Walser and his friend about the sign. Walser repeatedly told the Smith staffer to leave and notified him of a second criminal trespass violation by the Smith campaign.
“He was arrogant and acted like he didn’t have to abide by my wishes for him to leave, but I’m the property owner,” Walser said.
Anderson police arrived 10 minutes later accompanied by the Smith campaign staffer. While Walser was being questioned by police, the Smith campaign staffer reentered Walser’s property without permission and seized the unfinished sign from a walkway between the home and the garage. The man then placed the sign into in his vehicle illegally parked facing oncoming traffic in the northbound lane of Madison Avenue.
The next to arrive on the scene was City of Anderson Board of Public Safety Chairman Bruce Dunham. The police officer, the Smith campaign staffer, and Dunham approached the homeowner standing in his driveway. Dunham admitted that he had erected the sign unlawfully while the homeowner was at work.
The discussion quickly escalated into an argument as Walser also accused Dunham of trespassing. Dunham apologized but Walser seemed unsatisfied with the words.
“(T)he Smith campaign used the Anderson Police Department firsthand as their own personal militia.”
WALSER: “You people have trespassed repeatedly on my property!”
DUNHAM: “Look, I said I’m sorry!”
WALSER: “Bruce (Dunham), your apology is not accepted!”
Walser then forcefully turned his back to the men. Dunham suddenly stepped toward Walser from behind as if to position himself physically to restrain Walser.
Walser turned abruptly and shouted at Dunham: “Step back, Bruce! Don’t you come near me, and don’t you or your family ever set foot on my property again!”
The tension ended without incident, and the trio returned to their vehicles facing the wrong way, holding up traffic, along Madison Avenue.
“You just saw how the Smith campaign used the Anderson Police Department firsthand as their own personal militia,” Walser said.
Since 2012, Bruce Dunham has served part-time on the Board of Public Safety at Mayor Kevin Smith’s leisure. In 2014, he received compensation from the city totaling $17,386.08, exceeding that received by Anderson city council members by $3,938.10.
As cited in a 2014 Indiana State Board of Accounts audit, two-thirds of the city council and mayor’s salaries is being diverted from Anderson City Utilities, in violation of state law, IC 8-1.5-3-11. It is not known how much of Dunham’s salary is derived from customer utility payments for electric, water and sewage services.
Last year, Dunham lost a bid to become Madison County sheriff, losing to Scott Mellinger by a 3,576-vote margin.
Starting over in Anderson
Robert Walser and his wife, Tracey, moved to Anderson during the term of Mayor Kris Ockomon and quickly became unhappy with the mayor’s support for a county option income tax, the trash fee, and higher water rates. “Four years ago, things were going downhill, so I said ‘Let’s support Kevin Smith,’” he said.
Initially, they thought the city seemed to be getting better, but over time, the push for higher taxes and utilities continued. They now accuse Smith of cronyism, hiring campaign workers for city jobs, and ignoring the needs of the community.
“As a mayor of a community like this, you’ve got to look out for the people. That’s your job. The people hired you to do a job. Kevin Smith is only looking out for his own self interests,” he said.
Adding to their frustrations was when the water department dug up his yard to repair a meter and left the job unfinished. In recent weeks, the water department has made local news headlines with reports of ruptured gas lines while attempting water line repairs.
“The water company came out and destroyed my yard,” Robert said. He alerted the mayor who then passed the problem to Board of Public Works Chairman Peter Heuer. “I never heard anything from anybody about it. Is this the way we’re going to treat our citizens?”
Adding insult to injury, they received a mass-produced thank-you card from the mayor’s office for maintaining a beautiful yard.
“How would you feel about receiving something that was stamped and not handwritten? We need to care about our citizens to take the time to actually say ‘thank you’ personally,” he said.
When asked about the city’s efforts to battle unemployment, Robert disagrees with the mayor’s overseas trips.
“All it’s going to create is $10 an hour jobs. I can go to McDonald’s and make $10 an hour,” he said. “You can’t work at McDonald’s just to eat at Taco Bell.”
Every year, Robert and Tracey give back to the community by sharing produce from their backyard community garden, giving away fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers to their west side neighbors. They look forward to growing food again this year. “I just want to do my garden, give my stuff away, and give free flowers,” Tracey said.
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