Election Board clears away most of school referendum complaint
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent August 28, 2012 4:08PM
Updated: September 30, 2012 6:17AM
Lake County Election Board officials will decide next month if the last remaining complaint against the Friends of Lake Central Schools has any merit.
On Tuesday the board dismissed all of the complaints presented by plaintiffs Joe Hero and Richard Hucker for lack of merit except for one regarding whether the political action committee properly reported in-kind contributions of school personnel used on school time.
Members will decide in September whether the matter even falls under their jurisdiction or if it should be pursued by the plaintiffs with other bodies such as the Department of Local Government Finance. As part of the motion to defer, members want the PAC leadership to attend the hearing.
Hero accused the PAC leadership of conversion and theft by using school employees on school time and taxpayers’ dollars to conduct work on behalf of the Friends of Lake Central Schools effort to get a referendum seeking funding for a new elementary school and extensive renovation of the high school approved by the voters.
He accused board members of failing to do their sworn duty if they did not find reason to refer the matter to the Lake County prosecutor’s office for investigation even if the matter is out of their jurisdiction.
“You have an obligation to report it to the prosecutor to determine theft … or ghost payrolling,” Hero said.
Kevin Smith, board chairman, disagreed.
“It’s almost putting the cart before the horse. If we don’t have jurisdiction, we don’t have that remedy available to us,” Smith said.
Jeffrey Gunning, assistant board attorney, also took exception to Hero’s position.
Gunning said the board’s responsibilities on the matter are limited to whether there is a deficiency in the PAC reporting of if it received the in-kind contribution.
That has yet to be seen. School employees are permitted by law to donate their time to supporting a PAC. If the school corporation authorized the work on school time, it should have filed a report documenting the donation. If it did not report making the donation, the PAC may not be responsible for reporting it.
In other news officials unanimously moved to close the matter regarding former Lowell town councilman David Gard and whether he willfully violated the Campaign Finance Act by failing to report certain donations.
Gunning said a lack of factual data exists to infer whether Gard knowingly did not report funds received. Without the factual basis, the board does not have enough information to forward the claim to the Lake County prosecutor’s office, he said.