December 14, 2004
The Maricopa County Elections Office is reviewing a complaint that accuses employees of the Maricopa Community College District of illegally using public resources to promote a bond measure.
In October, a Tribune inquiry found executive and midlevel employees had used the district’s e-mail system to solicit support for a nearly $1 billion bond measure. The findings were based on a review of more than 1,000 e-mails.
Rep. Linda Gray, RGlendale, called for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to begin a criminal investigation.
Gray’s complaint was recently transferred to the elections office, said Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office. Election officials are in the process of reviewing it, which may include consultation with the county attorney’s office, he said.
Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the elections office, declined Monday to say if a formal investigation had begun. The person who could talk about it wasn’t available, she said.
Gray said she was pleased someone is looking into the complaint.
The bond measure passed by an overwhelming margin Nov. 2.
The money will pay for additional space at 10 colleges, land for new campuses, modern technology, remodeling projects, and equipment and infrastructure repair.
State law says it is illegal for a community college district to use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings and other resources to influence the outcome of an election.
But the statute also makes it clear that employees’ right to freedom of speech can’t be diminished.
Employees are allowed to distribute information about the bond during work hours as long they don’t encourage people to vote for or against it, and they can campaign for the bond in their off-time.
District officials said they had made a genuine effort to advise all employees of the law, and while a few employees may have sent out questionable e-mails, most didn’t.
The district had an obligation to get information on the bond to the public, the officials said, and those efforts were kept separate from the bond campaign, which was run by a political committee.