Judge rules school district violated campaign law

6:47 PM, Dec 27, 2013   |    comments
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CASTLE ROCK - Before Julie Keim was a school board candidate in Douglas County, she was an auditor who audited school districts. More than two weeks before election night, she filed a complaint outlining six allegations against the school district.

"I saw something going on and I felt I needed to pursue it," Keim, former school board candidate and complainant, said. "I decided that my stubborn personality was gonna come out and just not let them continue to intimidate me and others."

After hearing testimony on several issues ranging from failure to comply with open records requests, questionable Facebook postings, website listings, and the distribution of fliers on school grounds, Administrative Law Judge Hollyce Farrell issued a ruling on December 24th.

The Douglas County School District paid $15,000 to have an independent report put together by a group called the American Enterprise Institute. The report entitles "The Hess Report" delivered a positive assessment of the district supporting current direction of the conservative school board. The judge ruled that the district violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act when it emailed that report to all the parents in the district because the report was biased.

"The ALJ finds that the District spent public funds to influence the outcome of the Board election when it commissioned and paid $15,000 for the Hess Report," as stated in the ruling.

"I felt every positive that finally the district was going to be held accountable for something they had done," Keim said.

Keim and the other candidates she supported (Barbara Chase, Ronda Scholting, and Bill Hodges) all lost their respective elections by margins of between 4,000 and 7,000 votes.

Keim believes the release of the Hess Report was a factor.

"Knowing better, I wonder how many people were persuaded by a report like that," Keim said.

Another report called "The Bennett Report" was also investigated. The judge ruled there was no violation of law in that instance because the $30,000 paid to former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett for a similar endorsement of the school district was paid for by the Douglas County Educational Foundation.

Douglas County School Board President Kevin Larsen issued a statement in response.

"The Administrative Law Judge ruled in the District's favor on five allegations under the campaign finance act, finding that there was absolutely no basis for those complaints. Because the Judge's rejection of those allegations was so emphatic, the district intends to ask for an award in its litigation costs," Larsen said in a statement.

Keim says she filed the other allegations just to show a pattern a behavior.

"I knew the other complaints weren't necessarily provable or significant," Keim said. "Honestly, the whole basis was really about the Hess and Bennett Reports."

Larsen's statement points out the district has a firm disagreement on the violation of law cited by the judge.

"In the lone claim in which the Administrative Law Judge found a violation, the district respectfully disagrees and will immediately appeal. The Judge seems to have concluded that it is a violation of law anytime the district disseminates positive news involving its education policy agenda if there are also candidates for school board who support that agenda. The district does not agree with that interpretation of law," Larsen said in a statement.

Keim says she is ready for the appeal.

"I mean they've been found to be in violation of the Colorado Constitution and the Fair Campaign Practices Act," Keim said. "A judge heard two days of testimony from us and from the district's witnesses and this is the result she came up with. How much more clear can that be?"

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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