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District uses ruling as ammo in ballot clash
A state Supreme Court opinion seems to say sending material on Amendment 1 was okay.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008
LAND O'LAKES - Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino's administrative team went on the offensive Wednesday against allegations that they had violated election laws with their informational campaign on Amendment 1.
They pulled out a 1991 Florida Supreme Court ruling -People Against Tax Revenue Mismanagement vs. County of Leon - to bolster their claim that it's acceptable for government to advocate on issues of public interest. It's the same case the district used to support its campaign for the Penny for Pasco.
To say a government must remain neutral during an election "is tantamount to saying that government officials may never use their offices to express an opinion about the best interests of the community simply because the matter is open to debate. A rule to that effect would render government feckless," the court wrote. "One duty of a democratic government is to lead the people to make informed choices through fair persuasion."
Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose, who sent the district's presentation on the property tax amendment to principals and asked them to present it to employees, said the content was permitted under the court's opinion.
"We have not gone nearly as far as the Florida Supreme Court said we could," DuBose said.
Moreover, Fiorentino continued to assert that she never sent an e-mail to employees about the amendment.
Greg Armstrong, president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors, which filed the complaint against Fiorentino, said lawyers had advised his group that the use of school district e-mail and materials to persuade employees to vote, in any way, violated Florida statutes chapter 104.31.
That law states that no employee of the state, a county or a municipality may "use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or a nomination of office or coercing or influencing another person's vote or affecting the result thereof."
"Whether the superintendent personally sent it out or not...they're responsible for their staff," Armstrong said.
He was not familiar with the Supreme Court ruling, and said the Florida Elections Commission will decide who's right.
But from his position, "This is using school system resources, school system time, school system money for a political issue. I've just got to believe it flies in the face of (Florida law)."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.