NORTH SMITHFIELD – A resident’s removal of a lawn sign from a friend’s property this week has created controversy in North Smithfield, and drawn condemnation from the candidate’s supporters.
Michael Clifford removed a sign supporting Town Council candidate John Beauregard from 535 Smithfield Road, a property owned by Mary Beth Dolohanty. According to Clifford, the tenant put up the sign without permission of the owner, who lives in Newport.
Now, Beauregard has filed a complaint, and North Smithfield police are investigating the issue.
Resident Anthony Soly said he was driving by and witnessed Clifford removing the sign on Saturday, Oct. 16, and in social media posts and communication with NRI NOW, he is condemning the act. According to Soly, Clifford, who is known as a political watchdog and a critic of Beauregard, is suppressing the renter’s ability to support a candidate.
“I am publicly asking all candidates running for office in North Smithfield to denounce Mr. Clifford and his actions on suppressing voters’ free speech by getting involved in what should be a landlord tenant matter on private land in which he has no financial or deeded interest in,” Soly said.
Beauregard says that Soly called him to tell him about the issue, and that his phone has been ringing since with feedback from other supporters.
“We had permission from the tenant,” Beauregard said. “This is someone who’s been there for 14 years.”
The candidate said it is not yet clear what action police will take on the issue.
“I looked it up myself, and it does seem it is a crime,” Beauregard said.
Clifford disagrees, and notes he was called in to give a statement on the sign removal.
“When I arrived at the property on the 1(7)th I saw John Beauregard’s sign on the lawn,” Clifford said. “I was certain Mary Beth would not have allowed his sign on her property so I attempted to reach her by phone. She did not respond.”
“I wanted to find out if any of the tenants saw who put the sign up so I went to the doors of all three apartments, but no tenants answered,” he noted.
According to Clifford, he placed the sign behind the building after eventually speaking with Dolohanty.
Beauregard says that when he found his sign, it was damaged after having been folded in half. The tenant who authorized it, he noted, is a friend of his wife’s.
“She was adamant that she had absolute right to put it up,” Beauregard said.
“He shouldn’t have gotten involved,” he added of Clifford. “Technically, it’s my property.”
Clifford denies damaging the sign.
“The sign was in perfect condition when I left,” Clifford said. “I did not damage his sign in any way.”
Clifford said he’s apologized to the owner for causing a controversy. He said that he believes the issue is just a distraction from more relevant political matters, such as those raised in his recent letter to the editor.
“I knew before I sent in my letter to the editor that I would be subjected to a frivolous but vicious attack for writing it,” Clifford said. “I removed a sign from a North Smithfield property owned by a friend of 30 plus years who lives in Newport and told me to take it down.”
“I strongly suggest that voters read my letter in order to see this attack for what it is, a distraction from the real issues,” he said.
Clifford’s full statement on the issue can be found here.
Editor’s note: The above article has been edited from its original version to add comments provided by Clifford.