In the weeks leading up to the Charlo School District Election, Superintendent Steve Love emailed staff with words of support for the two incumbents.
Both Tracy Olsen and Adrian Roylance kept their board seats in this year's hotly-contested vote. Steve Love wrote approvingly of them in an April 18 email to district staff.
Local resident Randy Doty and parent Amie Tryon both gave the Missoulian copies of this message. By the time Love sent it out, Doty and another parent, Cari Rosenbaum, had put up large signs around Charlo denouncing the current school board.
Love did not single them out by name in the email, but called those who put up the signs “unhappy people who can’t get things figured out in their own lives or in their own families. Dysfunctional would be a compliment to these citizens and they have to blame somebody.”
“That isn’t to say we can’t all come together and combat this negative attitude with some networking,” he wrote, urging the staff to “tell your friends and family about the people you support as trustees. Imagine how our school board members feel. The signs are really attacking them."
"Adrian Roylance and Tracy Olsen are running for School Board again," he continued. "The ballots should be going out again and I feel that the two of them are doing a good job as board members. They do not have an agenda. There is a third seat open and I will leave it up to you as far as who to support.”
The message was sent from his school district email account and time-stamped 10:39 a.m. on Thursday, April 18. Classes were not in session that day, but Love said he was in the office.
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Montana law states that “a public officer or public employee may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, or funds to solicit support for or opposition to any political committee, the nomination or election of any person to public office, or the passage of a ballot issue.” Some exceptions exist for school districts’ board of trustee meetings and bond and levy ballot issues, but not board elections.
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan declined to comment on the email, citing the possibility of a complaint in the near future. But Love defended the message.
“The reason for that email to my staff was to voice my support for them after all the propaganda that had gone out against us the week before,” he said, “and we have several new staff members who had asked about, ‘Well, who’s on the board?’… So I was letting the new staff members know, ‘This is who’s currently on the board.’
“I meant every word in that email,” he said. “I stand behind that email. it is dysfunctional to set up signs and send out flyers with baseless accusations.”
But Cari Rosenbaum called the email “completely unprofessional,” and maintained her critique of Charlo Schools’ special-ed programs that drove her to put up the signs.
Rosenbaum said she was hopeful that the challengers in the race had drawn enough votes to convince the board members to change course. Love, for his part, said that “voters obviously felt like I was doing a good job, and the voters obviously felt that the trustees were doing a good job, because they re-elected them.”