By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A candidate for the Forestville School Board apologized Monday and blamed her “naiveté” for an election controversy after she asked a district employee to forward a political e-mail via a school district account.
Gaylynne Sword said she asked Forestville Academy secretary Fran Oliver to forward to all district employees an e-mail invitation to a candidate “meet and greet” event last Saturday.
The e-mail reads “Everyone’s Invited!,” lists the time and location of the event, and ends with “Gaylynne Sword and Mat Barnes are looking forward to the opportunity to answer your questions, hear your concerns, and share our vision for our school.”
The e-mail, sent Oct. 6, concludes with e-mail addresses for both Sword and fellow candidate Mat Barnes, as well as a telephone number used for their joint campaign.
Oliver’s professional e-mail signature that indicates she is secretary for Forestville School and Forestville Academy, as well as her school phone number, was also included.
“As far as the e-mail goes, that was a mistake made — generated out of pure laziness on my part, just not understanding that it would have been an issue,” Sword said. “The original e-mail was from me and Fran forwarded it upon my request.”
But recipients were left confused and angered in some cases.
“I just looked at it and I saw it and I thought it was a school thing and then I saw it was advertising these guys and thinking ‘Hey, that is kind of unfair, just advertising those guys through the school computer,’” said Helen Herron, mother of two children at the school.
Oliver acknowledged sending the e-mail Monday but directed further questions to Superintendent Bob Borbe.
Borbe called the e-mail “a mistake” and said a follow-up e-mail was issued the same day, telling recipients to disregard the original message.
He would not give specifics about what, if any, discipline Oliver received.
“All I can say is that it was dealt with appropriately,” he said.
Borbe also called a meeting Monday, inviting all five candidates for the three available seats to discuss the matter. In addition to Sword and Barnes, candidates Max Broome, Mary Ellen Palmer and incumbent Ron Abler are running.
“It was tense for awhile, but I think it ended on a positive note,” he said of the meeting.
“The board policy is very clear on what is acceptable as far as political activities, using school time, using school e-mail, school resources,” he said.
The controversy over the e-mail was exacerbated by an automated phone call, also issued by the Sword/Barnes campaign, that went to approximately 1,000 area residents the same day the e-mail was sent.
Sent by One Call Now of Ohio, parents and some district staff complained that the call sounded like it was issued by the school.
Sword said so-called robo-calls are used all the time and the pair had no intention of deceiving anyone.
“It was our voices, we introduced ourselves right off,” she said.
One Call Now confirmed Monday that no school or district resources or account information was used to send the call. Forestville District did not issue any phone messages at all last week, said Corie Schweser, senior account manager with One Call Now.
“We absolutely did not send a message from their account for any candidate,” she said. “The calls are going to have the same look and feel from One Call Now.”
Barnes said One Call Now offered the best deal at about $350 for 1,000 calls. Barnes said he generated the phone list from a combination of the schools’ parent directory, registered voters and local Forestville prefixes.
“It happens to be the same system that the schools here use and that some of the soccer teams use to get the word out,” he said. “We didn’t think there would be any problem with it.”
While some in Forestville expressed anger about the e-mail and phone calls, candidates Broome and Abler called the ruckus much ado about nothing.
“Unfortunately, I think more is going to be made of it than should be,” Broome said. “It’s already basically been dealt with.”
Abler, a 27-year veteran on the board, said the e-mail was inappropriate but said he didn’t expect it to alter the outcome of the election.
“I don’t think it altered the race. I do think we are on fair footing,” he said. “I’m not too concerned about it.”