LAS VEGAS — Clark County School District officials were publicly taken to task last week for using parents’ email addresses — obtained through parent/trustee email communications — for politicking.
Joe Spencer, parent of a CCSD third grader, confronted trustees and Superintendent Dwight Jones during last week’s school board meeting, after he received campaign electioneering emails from CCSD staffers and a third party.
Two emails sent by school district staff, on behalf of Trustees Deanna Wright and Erin Cranor, advocated the passage of Question 2 — the district’s ballot initiative seeking higher property taxes. Another email from a third party solicited campaign support for Wright, who’s in a heated race to retain her trustee seat.
“I had some communications with Trustee Wright via email,” said Spencer, “and suddenly I’m getting [these messages].”
Spencer had contacted Wright, his school board representative, about the issue of mandatory uniforms at his daughter’s school.
“So, now, political emails are coming to me that I didn’t sign up for ... [and] which I didn’t ask anybody to put me on any list for,” said Spencer.
What was more disturbing, he told the board — as well as what led him to lodge an Election Integrity Violation Report with the Secretary of State — was receiving an email from what appeared to be Wright’s campaign or her friends.
In an interview yesterday, Wright acknowledged that Spencer did contact her in late August, introducing himself as a new parent to CCSD and seeking to discuss district uniform policies. She says she also told him she would contact him “when things slowed down between my campaign and family and trustee stuff.”
However, says Spencer, “The fact is” that Wright took nearly a month to reply to his email, and only after he followed up through Facebook. Wright’s posting there says she “would be happy to visit with [him] about the SSA [uniform] policy,” but that she had “a packed weekend” and would “call soon.” However, she never called.
Wright also told Nevada Journal she typically takes a parent’s email address when she is contacted and gives it to staff for the databank. Initially, says Wright, she asked parents first. Over the years, after never being told no, she stopped asking.
“This is the only time, ever,” says Wright, “that I’ve heard of a parent not wanting to get the newsletter and the information that we [CCSD] send out.”
Kevinn Donovan, the opposing candidate seeking Wright’s seat, says he is aware of the complaint, but does not know the specifics. As a parent with four children in the system, he said, trust is key in a parent-trustee relationship, or any other trustee relationship. “A sense of privacy is critical to that trust,” said Donovan.
The mass campaign email received by Spencer was sent from a Yahoo! email account. It begins, “Friends,” … the “campaign vibe is heating up” and “Deanna [Wright] is in a tough fight to win re-election.”
The email urged supporters to join canvassing efforts to “encourage and educate people on the importance of this race and Deanna’s accomplishments.”
“I have a great concern as to why not only is my email address being published on a list for whatever political activities and discussions you want to have,” Spencer told board members and district staff, “but it went outside of the school district.
“And that’s just to me,” continued Spencer. “That is just way over the line; that she [Wright] took my email address … and divulged it outside of the school district.”
As is typical for this school board, no one on the dais responded to Spencer. Wright, however, was absent.
Next, school board President Linda Young told the audience that the board values the public and, thus, provides three opportunities for input.
“For those of you that sign up for any of our non-consent or consent agenda items,” said Young, “it is the intent of this board, the people sitting up here, that we are very interested in hearing your comments. We are very interested in hearing your thoughts. We have three spots on this agenda for you to speak.”
What Young failed to mention, however, is that it is by the trustees’ choice that they do not respond to the public at board meetings. The board, in the fall of 2009, pointedly attempted to amend its policy-governance rules to end two-way dialogue with board constituents.
This occurred six months after the board moved to a line-item public speaking format, which allows the public to comment on each agenda item as discussed by trustees. The board — including, at the time, current-trustees Young, Edwards, Garvey and Wright — proposed policy changes to prohibit certain types of speech altogether and restrict trustee responses to public speakers whose comments were “to an item on that meeting's agenda."
After public criticism, the board did not adopt those changes. Instead, on Jan. 14, 2010, it removed from board policy trustees’ authority to respond to the public and deleted all written references suggesting trustees might respond to public speakers.
Since January 2010, the former standing-agenda items that referenced the trustees’ option of responding to public comments have all been removed from the agenda format. Frequently, today, one will hear trustees and the superintendent tell the audience they cannot respond to public speakers.
The board currently is in the process of adopting another policy change that would impose new barriers upon public discourse at board meetings.
If the amendment passes on Nov. 8, trustees — even though they are independently elected representatives — will be required to ask and receive permission from the board president to recognize a public speaker for additional time. The proposed policy will also leave to the discretion of the board president the amount of additional time a speaker may receive, “for, at most, an additional 2 minutes.”
Extension of time, states the proposed board policy, should be “requested and granted with restraint.” (Emphasis added.)
No trustee expressed concern regarding the amendment when it was unanimously passed for the first time, Oct. 11 — even though trustees acknowledged that “you can’t do extended comments in three minutes.”
When Nevada Journal inquired how this proposed amendment would “enhance transparency and community engagement in the government process,” district Chief Communication Officer Amanda Fulkerson informed Nevada Journal that she had forwarded the questions to board President Young. Fulkerson repeated that, “the District and Superintendent supports an atmosphere where public opinion is valued and shared and we appreciate every member of our community who is actively involved in education issues.”
Young, however, did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment.
Spencer is not surprised by the board’s non-responsiveness. “After all,” he says, “Wright never followed up on my initial email concern and it’s been two months.”
Wright did, however, email Spencer over the weekend.
“Once you email a public official your email is now public record,” Wright wrote. “Anyone can make a public records request and gain access to all of Trustee Cranor, myself or any other Trustees’ emails.
“Usually when parents contact us it is because they want to be kept informed and get information on meetings and other district happenings.”
Wright notes that she receives many campaign emails for which she didn’t sign up.
“Somewhere along the line, I looked at something or asked for information or wrote a letter through email, and my email got on those lists.
“You know what,” she said, “if I don’t like it, there’s a place at the bottom that says, ‘unsubscribe.’ It is the way of the world. That’s all I’m going to say.”
CCSD, however, does not offer an unsubscribe option on its email notifications.