JACKSONVILLE, IL. (ECWd) –
During Friday night’s football game at School District 117, the Gray Noll Campaign, which included Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll, and Assistant Morgan County State’s Attorney Chad Turner, “manned” the concession stand in Gray Noll campaign t-shirts. This, in our opinion, is electioneering on school property – had they not all been wearing the campaign’s t-shirts, it might have had the appearance of not being campaign related.
The School District allowed this to happen, however, School Superintendent Steve Ptacek issued an apology thru Facebook to the district residents stating that it would never happen again:
“I need to apologize for the political shirts that were worn at the football game tonight by the concession workers. I have received several communications voici…ng concerns about the political statement.
The school district is paid for by all tax payers and cannot take a political stance. This issue is not about support for either candidate, but about being a politically free entity.
The concession stand is run by the Crimson Pride group and made that choice without discussing the issue with JSD117.
Crimson Pride is a football booster organization that has done a tremendous job of helping our program, but we will have to meet to clearly define that they must operate as a non-political organization. We will be reinforcing that requirement with all organizations associated with the school district.”
Gray Noll apparently advertised this event as an opportunity to meet the candidate (see his facebook post here)
He later took to facebook to defend his actions as perfectly legal thru the use of deceptive words: “Sorry, one that supports my opponent. It is not illegal to volunteer at a game if you are running for office.” – which on its face appears to be fine, but he failed to mention it appeared to be a deliberate electioneering event for his campaign this time. With everyone wearing his campaign shirts, and the posting of the meet Gray Noll picture, we believe it constituted electioneering.
The Illinois Election Code prohibits using public funds for campaign purposes. Use of public property and use of electricity is use of public funds. Having a captive audience could be considered a “thing of value” as defined in the election code, 10 ILCS 5/9-1.12.
The Illinois Constitution prohibits the use of public funds, property, or credit for anything other than a public purpose. Campaigning for an office is not a public purpose, it is a private purpose, and as the Illinois Supreme Court decided in the former Mayor of Pekin, Illinois’ case, constitutional violations can be used as a predicate for felony charges of official misconduct.
The Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act explains what “Prohibited Political Activity” is and under Sections 1-5(12) defines campaigning for public office and 1-5(13), managing or working on a campaign, as a prohibited activity under certain circumstances. Section 5-15(a) states that employees (State’s Attorney) cannot purposely misappropriate state property or resources by engaging in any prohibited activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office. Section 5-50 prescribes the penalties for violations of Section 5-15. We know the sections in this paragraph apply to State Agencies and Employees, however, local governments are required to adopt their own ordinance or resolution “no less restrictive” than Sections 5-15 and Article 10 of the Act.
The School’s Football Booster Club was somewhat thrown under the bus in this situation, by placing the blame on them for allowing this to happen, however, School District 117 policy 8:90 requires all booster clubs to adhere to all Board Policies and administrative procedures, as a condition of being recognized by the district. District policy 2:105 explains prohibited political activity by their employees, which mirrors state law.
We are unsure of Morgan County Policy on this issue – their policies are not on their website.
Below is video from Morgan County Watchdogs of this alleged campaign event on school property:
Please consider a donation to the Edgar County Watchdogs.