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“To have it end up in a dump, that was a disrespectable thing to Michael’s family, his fans, and to me,” Effron said.

The plot thickened last week when the memorial, bearing a likeness of Landon with his lion-like 1970s hairdo, was delivered to the office of The Retrospect, a weekly newspaper.

In the paper, Maley was quoted as saying he had no plans for the plaque and that it could remain as part of a collection of local memorabilia in the paper’s office.

Maley said that’s not accurate. The paper’s publisher, Brett Ainsworth, said Wednesday that the mayor has changed his story since he interviewed Maley last week. “I think it’s political embarrassment for him,” said the publisher.

Ainsworth said a municipal employee picked up the plaque from the newspaper office on Wednesday. The publisher said he implored the borough worker to take good care of it.

Now, Maley said, police are investigating how the plaque got from the town’s possession to the newspaper’s. A resident _ and frequent critic of the mayor _ says he found it on his porch and took it to Ainsworth.

And he’s been fielding dozens of emails from distraught Landon fans in distant places like Sweden and Wisconsin. “That’s the fun,” he said. “And by fun, I mean that sarcastically.”

Effron said she was concerned back in 1997 about the way that the plaque was being displayed, when she watched her son, then a preschooler. “I said, `He could trip and split his head open,’” she recalled.

She said that when she was first told that the plaque was moved, it was deeply upsetting because she didn’t know if it would be replaced.

But now she believes the mayor when he says it will return.

“He will definitely do something,” she said, “because he has all this pressure.”

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