Elections commission finds school superintendent guilty, but does not impose fine

by Jeff Saunders | Reporter Published:

Nordonia Hills -- The Ohio Elections Commission ruled Jan. 17 that School Superintendent Joe Clark violated state law when he asked district employees to donate to a potential levy campaign, but decided not to impose a penalty.

"There was a violation, but [there was] good cause not to impose a fine or further prosecution," said Commission Executive Director Philip Richter.

"The election commission's ruling confirms that this was really nothing more than a frivolous complaint," Clark said Jan. 25. "Akin to somebody running a red light in the middle of the night on a deserted highway, my mistake was technically wrong but caused no harm.

"The fact that I admitted my mistake, retracted it, and apologized for it a full month before the complaint was filed attests to it being frivolous," he added.

The ruling settled a complaint filed with the commission Dec. 5 by John Brachna, chairman of the Citizens for Strong Nordonia Hills Schools, a PAC that campaigned against the Nov. 6 levy. The complaint alleged Clark misused his position as superintendent by asking employees to donate to a political group.

"It's a sad day for our school district because nobody wins, including our children," Brachna said. "We need Dr. Clark to do what we pay him to do, lead our district's educational efforts."

Clark admitted he was wrong in sending a Nov. 9 email to district employees soliciting donations for a political action committee that traditionally supports school issues.

In his Nov. 14 follow up, also emailed to district employees, Clark wrote, "I made a mistake."

"I learned at the conference I attended the past few days that I am not supposed to do that in my position as superintendent," he wrote. "I offer my deepest apologies for this mistake and ask you kindly to disregard my request. My goal always is to do the right things, and to do things right, and I slipped up with this one. Again, please accept my apologies."

"It was nice that he sent the second email apologizing, but it doesn't eliminate the seriousness of the original offense," Brachna said Jan. 23. "As the leader of our district … Dr. Clark should be held to a higher standard."

In the Nov. 9 email, Clark wrote that the attempt to pass Issue 65, the 3-mill levy, "drained the funds of the Friends of Nordonia Schools," the PAC that campaigned for the levy. He said additional funding may therefore be needed for another campaign "a possibly as soon as November 2013."

"Will you please consider a donation to the Friends through payroll deduction?" Clark wrote. "If a sizable portion of our staff donated $3 per pay, we will be prepared to run another campaign in a year without having to worry about doing massive fund raising efforts. With an organized opposition group now formed, your support is needed now more than ever. I know times are tough for everybody, and I understand if you are not able to do this at this time."

Richter said the fact that Clark sent employees a Nov. 14 email retracting and apologizing for the initial email after he learned his request had been improper was a factor in the commission's decision.

He said Clark's cooperation with the commission, including his response to the complaint and his appearance at the commission's review, were also taken into account.

"From our perspective, the matter is resolved," he said.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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