Wake County school board candidate Jim Martin is challenging Superintendent Tony Tata's decision to shut down Enloe High School's Key Club website.
The Key Club had put on its website links for members to volunteer for the campaigns of Martin and fellow school board candidate Susan Evans. Tata said today that the club's website, which has a link on the high school's website, was inappropriate so he had it shut down and had the Human Resources Department investigate the club's two advisers for potentially violating board policy on electioneering.
In this press release today, Martin argued that Enloe's Key Club should be allowed to post those volunteer opportunities because Key Club International is independent of the school system. He also says that the Key Club website's, while accessible from the school website, is hosted by a service not affiliated to the district.
Martin points to this September memo from school board attorney Ann Majestic that says non-school groups such as PTAs would not be covered by the same school board policy banning candidates or their campaigns from distributing their material on campus. Here's an August memo on electioneering sent to principals.
"If a PTA or PTSA (whose websites are also linked to school websites) is a private entity that can support candidates, it is hard to argue that a chapter of an international Key Club cannot do the same," Martin says in the press release.
But in an interview tonight, Majestic said the Key Club is different because it's a school-sponsored club with students. She said schools are allowed to restrict actions that put them in a position of not being neutral in a political matter.
"It puts the school in the seeming position of not being neutral in a extremely partisan matter," Majestic said of the Key Club's actions.
The Key Club had sponsored a link for volunteers to hang up door hangers for Martin. The contact for that link is Enloe student Dhruv Jain, who's been active in the diversity fight.
"My campaign’s engagement with the Key Club began when a Key Club member approached our campaign enquiring whether they as students could participate in democracy, engaging in an election that will have a direct impact on their future," Martin said in the press release. "On two occasions a few members of the Key Club have voluntarily canvassed with my campaign. One member has attended several of our volunteer meetings."
As for Evans, the Key Club included a link for students to work s phonebank for her campaign. Evans said today she was unaware that the link was on the club's website and that they had not encouraged that.
Evans said some Key Club members did come to a phonebanking event and make calls for her campaign. She said they were apparently able to earn service hours for this.
In addition to defending the Key Club's actions, Martin fired back at his District 5 opponent, Cynthia Matson, who had filed the complaint that led to the investigation.
Martin complains in the news release that Matson distributed campaign material on campus at Meet the Teacher Night and at other events.
Majestic said it appeared that Matson had violated board policy. But she said that as a layperson it's understandable that Matson may not have known about board policy on the issue.
Majestic said recent directive to principals have clarified to them that they can't let candidates distribute material at schools unless it's on Election Day and they're a polling site.
As part of his press release, Martin included this file with a list of e-mail exchanges between him and school district staff complaining about Matson's actions.
One e-mail includes a pointed response from Tata in which he denies Martin's charge they're doing nothing. Tata also tells Martin to not directly contact principals or school staff on these matters, as they work for him.
I've posted the link for the file with Martin's e-mails with school administrators detailing his complaints about Matson.
Click here for the article in Saturday's paper.
Here's Matson's press release today responding to Martin's charges about her campaigning on school property:
The difference between Cynthia Matson’s campaign authorization and Jim Martin’s misuse of school resources
Immediately after announcing my candidacy for the District 5 seat on the Wake County School Board, at my request, a campaign volunteer contacted Michael Evans, Communications Officer for WCPSS to receive permission to visit schools in my District. After numerous calls back and forth, permission was granted. I began what I referred to as my “School Tour” to learn first hand about the needs of the schools in District 5. I received warm welcomes and appreciation from school personnel for reaching out and caring enough to visit the schools I would represent once elected.
I then attended the Leadership Institute, an event for school board candidates sponsored by WakeEd Partnership in conjunction with WCPSS. At the end of the event, we (Jim Martin and myself) both received guidelines on allowable and non allowable campaign activities as defined by WCPSS. Based on the information received, I discontinued my “School Tours” immediately. I also personally conversed with Superintendent Tata to let him know that I had previously sought and received permission from Michael Evans to visit schools. He told me and I quote that “I wasn’t in trouble” and that was the end of it.
Fast forward to the present week when I received word from a volunteer that his step son discovered a campaign solicitation for my opponent on Enloe’s Key Club website.
Jim Martin publicly states that he finds nothing inappropriate about using the Key Club’s site to solicit volunteers. I disagree and so does the WCPSS which immediately shut down the link to the site. “Tata said today that the club's website, which has a link on the high school’s website, was inappropriate so he had it shut down and had the Human Resources Department investigate the club's two advisers for potentially violating board policy on electioneering”.
Jim Martin is defending his actions even though it is clear that his solicitations violated WCPSS’s policy. In my opinion, Jim Martin knew he was crossing the line but did it anyway to benefit his campaign. Now, he is trying to back talk his way out of the controversy. What kind of a message does this send to our children and is this really someone we want representing our community as a public official? What will his excuse be after he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar a second time? Well, they were Vienna Fingers and Vienna is in Switzerland, a neutral country so, it must be ok?
I have run a clean campaign on the issues while enduring the disappearance of my yard signs and banners on a daily basis. Now my opponent is knowingly using prohibited school resources and attempting to justify his actions when clearly, they violate policy. Wake county residents deserve better. For ethical, experienced leadership, vote for Cynthia Matson on October 11th. You’ll be glad you did.