Election do's and don'ts for public officials
August 7, 2009
The following guidelines provide some general legal principles found in case and statutory law. School district, ESD and community college board members and administrators are encouraged to consult with the Oregon School Boards Association or their district’s attorney when specific questions arise. Please direct your questions to OSBA at 1-800-578-6722 or 503-588-2800.
Don’t use district resources
School districts, ESDs and community colleges cannot use public resources to advocate a position on a ballot measure.
Public resources mean money, staff time during working hours, vehicles or travel allowances, or facilities and equipment.
Examples: Employees cannot be used to do research or write speeches designed to advocate a position on a ballot measure. Employees cannot charge travel expenses to the district/community college for attending a meeting at which they advocate a campaign position. A board secretary cannot draft a board resolution that takes a position on a ballot measure before the board has officially taken action on the resolution. (Following a board action, the board secretary can format the resolution to comply with a standard format used for resolutions.)
Do provide information
Elected board members may use public resources to develop and distribute objective material on the effects of a ballot measure. Such material must be informational, providing the public with a fair presentation of all relevant facts and may not advocate a position.
Examples: Employees can be asked to do research and prepare impartial, factual information that fairly assesses the effects of a measure on the district/community college and the community. Boards and staff can use such information in meetings with individuals, organizations, the news media, legislators, civic leaders, special interest groups and others to explain objectively the measure’s impact. Measure proponents or opponents can also use the information gathered.
Do check content, intent
Give careful consideration to style, tenor and timing when creating information documents. The distinction between legitimate research/information efforts and improper campaign advocacy may be difficult to determine for specific cases. When in doubt, check with the district’s/community college’s attorney or send the information document to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division for review.
Elected board members may campaign fully for or against any ballot measure as long as they don’t use public resources. The courts recognize the right, if not the duty, of elected officials to speak out on major issues, particularly on matters that affect the constituents they serve.
Board members can speak without restriction as long as public resources are not involved in any way. The board member can use district-prepared materials for reference because these materials are public records available to anyone.
Elected boards of school districts, ESDs and community colleges can take a position on a ballot measure provided public resources are not used to advocate that position.
Board resolutions for or against a ballot measure must be drafted by a member of the board, not by the superintendent/president or board secretary. The board secretary can make copies of the proposed resolution and include the drafted resolution in the board packet sent out before the board meeting. On resolutions that take a position on a ballot measure, the superintendent/president can prepare information that indicates the impact that ballot measure will have on the district/community college, but must make that information balanced and impartial.
Following passage of a resolution, the board secretary can retype the resolution to conform to the district/community college format. The superintendent/president may not endorse the board’s action, but can sign the resolution strictly "attesting to the action taken" and as the official clerk. Language labeling the signature as such should be part of the signature line.
If the district/community college normally includes information on board meeting actions in a regular district publication, the action the board took on the ballot measure resolution can be included as part of the listing of board actions, but should not be specifically highlighted. Board action to support or oppose a ballot measure should be included in the board’s official minutes.
Don’t campaign on district time
School district, ESD and community college employees can campaign outside their hours of employment and without the expenditures of public funds. Employees must not be required nor coerced to aid in a campaign. During working hours employees can say, "Here are the facts; please vote." They can say, "Vote yes," on their own time.
A superintendent/president attending a meeting as the representative of the district/community college cannot advocate for or against a ballot measure. The superintendent/president can provide information on how a ballot measure will impact the district but should provide information that is balanced and impartial. If an employee of the district/community college wants to advocate a position on a ballot measure, that employee must make it perfectly clear before speaking at a public gathering that such opinions are personal and are not given in the employee’s official position. If such opinions are given at a public gathering the district/community college cannot pay for any part of that employee’s appearance, such as the cost of the meal or travel expenses.
Do provide public forums
School districts, ESDs or community colleges may provide at public expense, a forum in which the opponents and proponents for a ballot measure are given equal time to present their views.
For further information see Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees (564k ) from the Elections Division, Secretary of State’s Office.
This information is taken from OSBA’s Oregon School Bond Manual which is designed as a guide to help school district, education service district and community college officials understand their long- and short-term borrowing options.
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