Charlo School Superintendent Steve Love violated election laws during the school district’s recent election, Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices found this week.
On April 18, amid a bitter school district election, Love emailed school district staff, calling critics of the school district “dysfunctional” and saying that the two incumbents, Tracy Olsen and Adrian Roylance, were “doing a good job as board members.”
Both Olsen and Roylance won re-election, but the fallout continues. Randy Doty, a Charlo resident and vocal critic of the district’s leadership, filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices last month. He alleged that Love’s use of work time and district email account to send this and other messages broke the state’s election laws.
Commissioner Jeff Mangan found that Love’s April 18 email indeed violated a statute that, in most cases, prohibits public employees from electioneering on the job. “Mr. Love, a public employee, solicited support for the election of two persons to public office while on the job as Superintendent." In addition, he wrote, "the activity was not properly incidental to his duties as superintendent and was not a lawful expression of a personal political view.”
Last month, Love pointed out to the Missoulian that, after voicing approval of Roylance’s and Olsen’s performance, he had written, "there is a third seat open and I will leave it up to you as far as who you support.” He said that the email’s purpose was to show support for the school staff and inform them about who was currently on the school board.
Mangan, citing that article in his decision, found this explanation lacking.
“If Mr. Love meant for his message to only to (sic) answer questions from staff about who comprised the current school board ... the response would have named all school board members, not just Trustees Roylance and Olsen, and would have had no reason to mention the upcoming election.” He also noted that Love “neglected to name any of the four other candidates besides Roylance and Olsen.”
“The language ... leaves (the email) susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than it's being meant to solicit support for two specific candidates, Trustees Roylance and Olsen, to the Charlo school board.”
Mangan found that two other messages Doty included in his complaint did not break the law. Doty has been a staunch critic of the school board and administration. During the election, he and parent Cari Rosenbaum denounced them in mailings and large signs around Charlo. Before voting ended, Mangan told the Missoulian that Doty's flyers did not include a required “paid for by” message (no official action has been taken on that issue).
Mangan referred the matter to the Lake County Attorney’s Office for civil prosecution. Under state law, if the county attorney’s office either waives its right to prosecute, or fails to prosecute within 30 days, the matter will return to the Commissioner of Political Practices for possible prosecution. In either case, Love could face a fine up to $500. Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher declined to comment.
Superintendent Love and district attorney Megan Morris did not reply to a request for comment.