Editorials

Statesman Editorial: West Ada trustee’s misuse of email account should cause repercussions

There is no legitimate reason to commandeer taxpayer-funded resources or communication lines to back a political candidate — or, for that matter, most any other cause that directs public assets to nonpublic initiatives.

Yes, it happens. And there are murky moments when official resources — both human and equipment — are unavoidably and temporarily expended. When an official staffer of an elected official is asked about political matters, the staffer is obliged to recognize such questions but redirect the questioner to the candidate or campaign.

It is different and indefensible when an elected official uses an official taxpayer-funded email account to try to sway voters. But that appears to be what happened the day before elections in the West Ada School District trustee race last month.

Using West Ada email, Carol Sayles — an elected West Ada trustee and a teacher — endorsed Julie Madsen, a physician who ended up defeating opponent Anne Ritter, who was seeking her fifth term as a trustee. Since more than 900 votes were cast in this race (Madsen won 522 to 385 ), and Sayles is known to have sent out less than 50 emails, it’s no big deal, right?

Wrong.

At best this is a misuse of public assets regarding the emails. At worst it is extremely bad form and might violate a district policy, which could have repercussions. We think it should.

Not only did Sayles’ campaigning for Madsen spill over to the West Ada email account, but she also violated the privacy of a West Ada employee by detailing the circumstances of the employee’s departure. That is another act we feel deserves repercussions.

Though the school district and its attorneys are investigating their options, we question whether Sayles understands the magnitude of her lapse of judgment. She told the Statesman’s Bill Roberts that, in hindsight, she should have emailed from her home account, “like Hillary” Clinton.

Ah, no. Clinton is being criticized for using her private account to conduct State Department business and thus avoiding transparency. Sayles has done just the opposite.

It is our hope that she and anybody else who confuses public and political business sorts it out and corrects the behavior. The public demands it.

Many levels of government, especially Congress, have strong policies prohibiting the use of public assets in pursuit of politics. Many have been driven from office for violations. Government bodies without such a policy should study them.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com

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