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Unsigned political letter under investigation

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April. p, 2007, 11:38 a.m.)

The county ordinance is clear.

"Political-related materials shall not be distributed during working time."

So how did an unsigned letter urging parents of Lakeland School children to vote 'no' on the county board downsizing question go home with students last week?

That is still under investigation, said County Administrator David Bretl.

"Right now, we'll be looking at it from outside the school," Bretl said, noting that he and members of the human resources department were investigating.

Who distributed the letter, where it was copied and how it got into the school are all being investigated, Bretl said.

If an ordinance was violated, there could be a range of disciplinary action taken against an employee or employees, Bretl said.

"At this point I'm not going to form an opinion as to whether something was appropriate or inappropriate," Bretl said. "We do need to look at it and investigate what happened."

After hearing of the letter's distribution, former county supervisor Betty Felten, a proponent of a smaller board, asked the county what literature students took home recently.

The materials included the unsigned letter, apparently written by a parent, and a memo from Tracy Moate, director of special education, according to Bretl. Moate's memo took no stance about the downsizing referendum and was proper, Bretl said.

A stack of "Vote No" cards, created by supervisors against a board downsizing, were found at the school, Bretl said. It is unclear if those cards were sent home with children.

Felten was upset with the campaign material being at the school.

"I think this is not real kosher," she said. "I think the county board supervisors used their position for a benefit by even having fliers at the school. Secondly, that letter from a parent is not signed. There is no disclaimer on it. Can I walk into the school and say send anything home?"

It is unclear how the letter or the fliers got into the school.

Moate could not be reached for comment.

There is no state law that says campaign literature can't be handed out at a school, said George Dunst, attorney for the State Elections Board. However, doing so must give the other side of a political issue a chance to pass out its literature in the same manner, Dunst said.

State election laws might have been violated if the cost to produce the letter was more than $25. Anyone producing campaign materials for more than $25 must register with a municipal clerk, Dunst said.

Walworth County Assistant District Attorney Dennis Krueger, who handles election law, hadn't received enough information to determine if a state law was broken.

He said the situation didn't appear to be serious and was more of a personnel policy issue that should be dealt with by the county.

"My only concern is were they required to register and did they register," Krueger said of the letter-writer.

Bretl said the investigation could lead to a review of county ordinances to determine if they are adequate to "protect the county's interests."



Related county ordinances

Sec. 15-630. In general.

County property or equipment shall only be used for official county purposes. Personal use is prohibited, except as otherwise provided herein.


Sec. 15-631. No solicitation; no distribution.

(a) ... solicitation, peddling, canvassing, or otherwise distributing items or information to employees for any purpose not associated with or related to county business during work time or in employee work areas is prohibited.


Sec. 15-802. Ethical standards for employees.

(a) Employees shall avoid conflicts between their personal interests and their responsibilities as public employees. Employees shall not engage in, any on the job conduct that is disloyal, disruptive, competitive, or damaging to the county. Employees shall not engage in any off duty conduct that significantly diminishes the public level of trust and confidence in the employee's position with the county.


Sec. 15-804. Political activity.

(a) Employees other than elected officers shall not engage in political activity during working time or in any county workplace. Elected officers shall not engage in political activity in any county workplace. Political-related materials shall not be distributed during working time. Except as expressly provided in this chapter, county equipment, property, or services may not be used for the conduct or support of political-related activities.


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