The PDC received a complaint alleging that Dan Chaplik (the “Respondent”), the Superintendent of Sultan School District (the “District”), may have violated RCW 42.17A.555 by using public office or agency facilities (e.g. the school district’s Facebook page) to assist an election campaign for write-in candidate Heidi Dawson.
PDC staff reviewed the allegations and evidence; the applicable statutes and rules; and the response provided by the Respondent to determine whether they support a finding of one or more violations. Staff’s review found the following:
As the District’s superintendent, the Respondent is subject to .555, which prohibits elected officials and employees of public offices and agencies from directly or indirectly using or authorizing the use of public facilities to assist an election campaign. Activities that are “part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency” are exempted from this prohibition.
Following some comments made by School Board Director, Ed Husmann – who was also a candidate for re-election in the 2019 General Election – at an October 28, 2019 board meeting, the Respondent distributed a statement to District parents, students and community members on November 1, 2019 stating that “comments made by a Sultan School District Board Director…do not reflect the Sultan School District’s Mission, Vision, Goals and Guiding Beliefs for and about our students.” The school board member was not mentioned by name in the statement – which was distributed via the District’s Facebook page and website – nor did it contain any references to the upcoming election or any participating candidates.
Ed Husmann (the “Complainant”) stated his belief that the small community of Sultan would know to whom the Respondent referred, despite not being named in the statement, which he believes was politically motivated, “influenced voters,” and assisted the election campaign of his opponent, Heidi Dawson, who filed as a write-in candidate the same day the Respondent’s statement was released to the public.
The Respondent denied attempting to influence the General Election and said his November 1, 2019 statement was made in direct response to “intense negative press coverage and public reaction” following the Complainant’s October 28, 2019 comments. He also stated that communicating with the Sultan community regarding the District’s programs and policies and responding to press coverage were part of his job. The District and the Respondent routinely share information with parents, students and community members by posting messages via the District’s website and Facebook page.
The evidence provided fails to conclusively show how the Respondent’s statement, which did not mention candidates or the upcoming election, assisted an election campaign. Furthermore, absent any evidence to the contrary, the statement made by the Respondent appears to constitute normal & regular conduct for the District and would therefore be exempt from the prohibition on use of facilities set forth in .555.
Based on these findings, staff determined that, in this instance, no evidence supports a finding of a violation that warrants further investigation. The PDC dismissed this matter in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).Disposition: Case Closed with No Evidence of Violations (Resolved 01/16/2020)