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State to review complaint about principal's political endorsements

NEWTON — A complaint filed with the state after Memorial Elementary School interim principal Deborah Bulkley endorsed candidates for school board and encouraged voters to support other warrant articles in a weekly school newsletter will likely be addressed after the election.

Assistant Attorney General Brian Buonamano, who deals with issues related to election law, said he has not yet had a chance to review the complaint that Rockingham County Commissioner Kevin St. James said he filed over the weekend after learning about the principal’s endorsement.

Bulkley’s message to parents, which was included in the newsletter emailed to parents Friday and posted on the school’s website, raised concerns about the legality of such an endorsement by a public employee through the newsletter.

School Superintendent Brian Blake issued a statement retracting the principal’s message, saying that under state law school district employees are not allowed to endorse candidates for public office or encourage voters to vote in a certain way. Blake apologized for the incident and said steps would be taken to “ensure that it does not happen again.”

State law prohibits public employees from electioneering while performing official duties and using government property or equipment, including phones, fax machines, vehicles and computers.

“The electioneering statute relative to public employees talks about while in the performance of their official duties and also using municipally owned property to electioneer. The question is frequently: are those two elements present?,” Buonamano said.

Under the law, violators could face a misdemeanor charge, but Buonamano stressed that the circumstances in each case may be different and may or may not lead to penalties.

In some cases, he said, a person may be unaware of the law and not realize the mistake.

Buonamano said the complaint would be addressed after the election.

“It frequently will be something that we do in the aftermath if there is a cause for action by this office,” he said.


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