Just My Opinion….by Tamara Pettit

   More controversy has erupted  in the Hancock County School system.  Board candidate Christina Fair sent a campaign letter asking for school employees’ votes and outlining her qualifications through the employees’ work e-mails.  Fair’s access to the work e-mail addresses of Board employees and use of those e-mail addresses for political purposes was a first to my knowledge,  and crossed a line that previously had not been crossed. 

   Was the solicitation legal?  Fair said she had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Superintendent Dawn Petrovich requesting the e-mail address list.  According to Fair, the Superintendent checked with the Board’s legal counsel and was told there was no law prohibiting the release of the addresses.  Fair said she told the Superintendent it would be a one-time mailing.

    A check with the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, confirmed that there is no provision in the State code that prohibits either the release of the e-mail addresses to a political candidate or the use of the e-mail addresses for a campaign solicitation.

    Is it a problem for the Ethics Commission?   Fair is not yet an elected Board member nor is she a county or state employee so she is not yet subject to the Ethics Commission.  

    If giving out e-mail addresses which are  processed through a state-funded e-mail system to political candidates or even a multitude of businesses or fund-raising groups is permitted, however, why has it never been done before?  I would assume the School System had a policy prohibiting the release of internal e-mail addresses .   By filing a Freedom of Information Act request,  Fair may have effectively by-passed any school policy.

     Did the school administration err on the decision to comply to the Freedom of Information request?  I don’t think so.  They had no choice and took the appropriate action of checking with legal  counsel prior to doing so.

    Is the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act to provide political candidates with a mailing list?  No, it’s not.   The Freedom of Information Act provides transparency  on governmental actions for  media and citizens.   I doubt very much if it was written to provide a marketing tool for political candidates or others.

  Did Fair make the right decision in sending the solicitation?  Absolutely not.  School employees’ reaction to her solicitation through their work e-mail has not been positive and I think she showed a lack of judgement in obtaining and using those e-mail addresses. 

    And now more than ever,  Hancock County needs Board members who exercise good judgement.