Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells confirmed Friday that the expected controversy about his role in the theft of a sign factored into his decision to drop out of the upcoming municipal election.
Wells admitted that in June 2013, he and his wife were caught on surveillance video taking a protest sign from a disgruntled homeowner’s property at Regal Ridge near Osoyoos.
The homeowner, Oliver Betz, said the story of the theft of his signs had been spreading by word of mouth through the community.
“In the weeks preceding the mayor’s withdrawal of his candidacy, I heard anecdotally from a few people in Osoyoos that the mayor was getting very anxious about the number of people aware of the thefts, and the impact on his campaign,” wrote Betz in an email to the Western News, adding he decided to make the story public now in case Wells should decide to return to politics.
“I think the matter of why the mayor trespassed onto my property and stole legal signs (which were meant to protect his constituents) continues to be a matter of public interest,” wrote Betz. “I believe that the citizens of Osoyoos and the RDOS (as he is a director), are entitled to know what motivated the theft of the signs. In case Mr. Wells returns to politics, I believe citizens also have a right to know the true character and history of the individual they are voting for.”
Betz, involved in a dispute over a lack of utility services at Regal Ridge development, had painted a protest message on his driveway. After that was painted over one night, he put up new protest signs and installed a surveillance camera to watch over them.
“The trespassing and theft of signs were captured on video from a surveillance camera,” wrote Betz. The matter was handed over to the RCMP and a six-month investigation followed, according to Betz, which he said ended in Wells, his wife and a third person involved being sent directly to probation.
Wells confirmed the story.
“About a year and a half ago, the incident did happen. There was charges laid. It went through the police, legal and judicial process. I met my conditions and sent the letter of apology,” said Wells.
“The fact Mr. Betz doesn’t want to accept it, that’s now on his side of the plate.”
Wells, who didn’t say what compelled him to take the signs but called it an act of “stupidity,” said the case went through a “very rigorous” police investigation, and RCMP and Crown eventually put it into “a diversion process.”
“I didn’t even have a lawyer,” he said.
In his apology letter, which Betz released, Wells writes that his “actions were committed without any thought as to what you have been through in dealing with the physical deficiencies in your property purchase,” and that Betz’ difficulties were exacerbated by his “callous disregard for your rights and freedoms.”
It was only a week ago that Wells made headlines when he dropped out of the Osoyoos mayoral race within hours of the nomination deadline but earlier tipped off Coun. Sue McKortoff, who then decided to seek the top job.
Wells now admits the pending release of information related to the sign incident was a factor in his decision to drop out.