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Campaign sign misdeeds alleged in tense sheriff's race

The race for Niagara County sheriff is getting more intense, with allegations of misbehavior regarding campaign signs going back-and-forth last week.

Chief Deputy Sheriff James R. Voutour, the Democratic candidate, alleged Friday that about 200 of his campaign signs have been stolen in Niagara Falls, the stomping ground of his Republican opponent, Niagara Falls Chief of Detectives Ernest C. Palmer.

That came after Voutour and acting Sheriff Samuel J. Muscarella, who supports Voutour, acknowledged that there is an internal investigation of a deputy who allegedly called in sick and then spent the day posting Voutour campaign signs in Niagara Falls.

Voutour denied reports that the deputy has been suspended, and the county payroll and human resources offices both said they have no record of a suspension.

"It's an ongoing investigation; that's what the undersheriff said to me," Voutour said. "If it is one of my supporters, they need to be disciplined, and I don't condone it. It's kind of a test of what I'll be like as sheriff. The bottom line is, if they screw up, they have to face the music."

The Buffalo News also has received reports of Niagara Falls officers' carrying Palmer campaign signs.

Palmer said, "As long as they're doing it on their own time, there's no problem. We specifically prohibit political activity on public time. That's a basic tenet of public employment."

"I've had over 200 campaign signs stolen in the City of Niagara Falls, and we know who's doing it," Voutour said.

Palmer said, "There's absolutely no truth, if he's trying to insinuate that we had something to do with it.

"I know the city has collected several signs that were illegally placed in the city right of way. Our campaign filed a complaint with the city. [Voutour] should be checking with the [Department of Public Works]. They wouldn't throw them out. They would be holding them for him."

Parks and Public Works Commissioner David Kinney could not be reached Friday to confirm that.

But the GOP candidate took a verbal poke at the episode of the deputy calling in sick to post Voutour signs. "It's a scary thought that someone on the public clock would be doing that," Palmer said.

The sheriff's office is by no means fully supporting Voutour.

"I work very closely with people who support my opponent; I work with them every day," Voutour said. "You have to put the politics aside and do your job as police officers."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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