Pasco School District bond election still under investigation

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldAugust 2, 2013 

It will be months before the state finishes investigating allegations the Pasco School District improperly used public resources during the February election for a $46.8 million bond, state officials said.

The state's Public Disclosure Commission said in June that an answer to the complaint filed by district resident Roger Lenk would be ready in 45 days, or early August. That deadline is required under a specific state law governing certain kinds of complaints.

But Lori Anderson, the commission's spokeswoman, said her agency determined the investigation isn't subject to the 45-day deadline and likely will be handled through the commission's hearing process rather than the courts.

Superintendent Saundra Hill has said the district complies with state laws and guidelines regarding elections and that the district would cooperate with any state review or recommendation. District spokeswoman Leslee Caul said the district had no further comment on the investigation at this time.

Lenk said he hasn't received any new information about his complaint since late June.

"I'm not concerned whether it's a 45-day thing or not, I want public officials held accountable," he told the Herald.

Lenk filed his 220-page complaint against the district and Pasco Citizens For Better Schools, a schools committee that promotes bonds and levies for the district, in mid-June. Lenk lives in the unincorporated doughnut hole surrounded by Pasco and has immersed himself in civic issues, including fighting Pasco's annexation of parts of the doughnut hole.

He alleged Hill used district resources to promote the bond. He also claimed the district had a "hand-in-glove" relationship with the schools committee.

By law, public employees cannot campaign for a bond or a levy while they are on duty and public facilities and resources cannot be used. District officials are allowed to provide information about how the district would be affected if a bond passes or fails.

Anderson said confusion about the nature of Lenk's complaint partially stemmed from his sending it to both the commission and the Washington Attorney General's Office. Lenk's complaint asked for the bond election to be invalidated, something only a judge can do, and for penalties to be assessed against the officials he's accused of wrongdoing, which the commission typically handles under campaign finance law.

The investigation is also taking more time because of the commission's other duties, including fielding questions as Tuesday's state primary elections near.

Anderson said if the commission finds evidence of wrongdoing, those involved could face charges in a hearing process, which could lead to penalties.

"We have a pretty big penalty authority now," Anderson said.

Lenk said he thinks it's unrealistic the bond election would be invalidated. However, he said he would be happy if all that results from his complaint is that penalties against Hill and others require them to pay personally, rather than through district funds.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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