Monday, August 19, 2013

No ice cream for you

School board candidate Phil Hemingway, who has been particularly outspoken against the closure of Hoover School, was scheduled to have a “listening post” at Hoover tomorrow — but apparently someone complained about his use of public property for a campaign event. The district consulted with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and today told Hemingway that he could use the building only if he paid rent for it, at the rate charged to for-profit businesses. Hemingway, who’s known for running a self-funded campaign on a shoestring, would have to pay between $100 and $200 for his one-and-a-half-hour listening post.

Under the City’s policy, political candidates can use public library meeting rooms free of charge. But the school district’s policy has no such provision, and treats political candidates the same as for-profit groups.

And, though apparently no one asked, the district went out of its way to say that “unless all candidates have been explicitly invited, it is not appropriate to be at staff meetings or ice cream socials (unless of course you are wearing your parent hat).” The annual Hoover ice cream social is tonight.

In response, Hemingway has moved his scheduled listening post — to the sidewalk in front of Hoover. No word on whether ice cream will be served.

Rules are rules, but some rules are better than others. There’s no reason the district shouldn’t have a policy that makes it free, instead of expensive, for candidates to schedule listening posts at school buildings.

UPDATE: Notice that the district does have a low-cost rental category for “political appearances” – but the superintendent informed Hemingway that his listening post does not fall under that category. If a candidate listening post isn’t a “political appearance,” what is? It’s almost as if the district doesn’t want to make it easy for people to talk about school issues in settings where it can’t manage and control the discussion. (See posts here, here, here, here, and here.)


Anonymous said...

Chris, since the Great Hoover Debacle of 2013, this has become my favorite blog on the entire Internet, period. Keep up the excellent work, my friend.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks!

By the way, the district has now told all the candidates of its interpretation of the regulation about political events in the school buildings. Several other candidates also had events planned for back-to-school night at different schools. I'm told the district has instructed the candidates that putting fliers on car windows at such events is also a no-no.

I would sure like to know how it is Constitutional for a government entity to prohibit political candidates from putting fliers on people's cars in the parking lot of a school social event, at a time when school is not in session and so neither students nor staff could possibly be disturbed.

Maybe the district will start giving "Stellar Job" tickets to the really well-behaved candidates.

Chris said...

Update: The district has now conceded that it is "permissible for candidates to place pamphlets on people’s cars while they are parked in school parking lots."

Candidates: Make sure to check with the superintendent's office first before engaging in any questionable "free speech" activities!

Chris said...

Here’s the Gazette on the controversy.

One point that could be clearer in the coverage: The statute is phrased in terms of the state and its subdivisions not being permitted to “expend or permit the expenditure of public moneys for political purposes . . . .” In other words, if anyone violated the rule, it was the school district for allowing the events to occur, not the candidates for holding the events.

Chris said...

Sorry, the link to the statute didn't work. Here's another.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call putting a pamphlet on my car permissable. I call it littering and poor use of resources! We should take those, shred tem, and turn them into compost!

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for commenting! Legality aside, a lot of people would probably agree about leaflets and flyers being unwelcome. But it's hard for candidates in low-profile elections to generate any awareness of their candidacies, and public awareness of different candidates does actually help the process. I'd put it in a different category from a purely commercial advertisement.