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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "History lessons escaped Bennett" writes FWJG [Updated]

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has a long editorial in Sunday's paper, recalling the plight of a former Superintendent of Public Instruction:

The year was 1985 and Republicans ruled the Statehouse. They held the governor’s office, as well as majorities in both the House and Senate. Republican Harold Negley had been superintendent of public instruction since 1973.

But Negley’s tight hold on the office was revealed to have as much to do with political machinations as with public support for his school policies. A grand jury investigation of ghost employment charges in the Indiana Department of Education resulted in the indictment of a top education adviser to Gov. Robert Orr and an education department auditor. Paul Krohne, the assistant to Orr, was indicted on two counts of ghost employment and one of conspiracy to commit ghost employment. The indictment alleged that as Negley’s deputy superintendent, Krohne assigned department employees to work during state time on the superintendent’s re-election campaign.

Negley resigned and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, ghost employment and official misconduct charges. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. Marion County Prosecutor Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican, handled the prosecution.

The editorial continues:
The checks and balances that revealed wrongdoing in Negley’s administration now appear to have failed Hoosiers in Bennett’s administration. It required another important check – the ballot box – to remove Bennett and reveal that campaign work was almost certainly being done with state resources by the superintendent and other top members of his staff.

Bennett’s defenders have worked furiously to spin the story to their advantage. They seized on a legislative review of the Christel House grade-change episode, claiming it vindicated the former superintendent. They charged that his successor, Glenda Ritz, leaked the emails to Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco. A former Bennett aide-turned-lobbyist, Cam Savage, even questioned the reporter’s work.

“Is this distinguished journalism or just the by-product of old-school political leaking?” Savage wrote in a column for the Howey Political Report, suggesting that misconduct is somehow excused if it is uncovered by a whistleblower.

But then came another round of emails – this one detailing political activities done on taxpayer time and with state resources. The latest disclosures reveal efforts eerily similar to the history lesson Bennett and his staff ignored.

The editorial continues with examples of Bennett administration political activities on taxpayer time, with state resources.

Which caused me to search for, and locate, this story from the Dec. 3, 2012 issue of Education News - some quotes:

Of all the outcomes from this November’s elections, none proved to be a bigger shock to education reform advocates than the defeat of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Bennett lost his bid for re-election to Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz, a Washington Township library science media specialist.

This week, while speaking at the meeting of the Foundation for Excellence in Education – a group focused on education reform founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush – Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels claimed that the surprise loss was achieved through dirty politics by the unions opposed to Bennett’s reform ideas.

During his speech, Daniels accused teachers of using public resources for campaigning, including sending out emails during work hours and talking about the election and about Bennett during parent-teacher conferences.

[Updated at 3:15 PM] See also this NWI Times editorial from Doug Ross, editorial page editor, headed "Feds should launch Bennett investigation." Some quotes:
The latest allegations against former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett — that state computers and possibly staff were used for his campaign fundraising — sound like something that might have happened in Lake County.

In fact, that's what Lake County Surveyor George Van Til is accused of doing. U.S. Attorney David Capp said in announcing the indictment last May that Van Til paid an employee $100 to swap out a hard drive on a county computer to cover his tracks.

Van Til, a Democrat, pleaded not guilty in Hammond federal court to six counts of wire fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice. We'll have to wait for the verdict after Van Til's trial to see whether he is guilty as charged.

We'll have to wait months, presumably, to see whether Bennett, a Republican, or any of his staff will face charges of campaigning on the state's time and using the state's equipment.

But the examination of emails — which are public records — by the Associated Press found evidence that Bennett's staff had access to a detailed, coveted database of top GOP donors on the Department of Education's computer server. * * *

Bennett's actions should be investigated as thoroughly as if he were a Democrat in Lake County. * * *

If he and his staff are exonerated, fine. But if prosecution is warranted, don't assume that Lake County is the only place where this can happen.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 22, 2013 12:58 PM
Posted to Indiana Government