IL Tea Party Activists Expose Alleged Gift Cards-For-Votes School Scam

Kyle Olson

5/15/2011 12:01:00 AM - Kyle Olson

One thing I love about tea party activists is their commitment to government transparency and accountability. When they see the media speaking no evil, hearing no evil and seeing no evil, they do the media’s job for them. Citizen journalists are quickly showing the media to be biased and growing irrelevant.

The tea party activist to receive the gold star this week is Lennie Jarrett of Grayslake, Illinois.

In the Grayslake, Illinois School District 46, three tea party members decided to take action by running for three available seats on the school board this spring. I wish more would do the same thing.

Their opponents were two incumbents with strong teachers’ union ties. One of the incumbents, Mary Garcia, also serves as the teachers’ union president in neighboring District 30. The other, Susan Fecklam, reportedly ran a coordinated campaign with Garcia.

The incumbents were obviously concerned about the presence of the tea party candidates on the ballot, and what they might do to the union agenda if they were elected.

So what did the incumbents do? They allegedly broke the law, or violated school policies, by using school email accounts to promote their campaigns, and by bribing 18-year-old students to register to vote, on the presumption the kids would vote for them.

These alleged misdeeds were discovered by Lennie Jarrett, founder of the Lake County Tea Party, through a freedom of information request. He sought and received more than 300 pages of school emails that he believes proves the two candidates, as well as the District 46 superintendent, crossed the line during the recent campaign.

A political campaign on school time

Jarrett said he learned about the alleged misdeeds when he was told that Garcia emailed a state official from her District 30 account, asking for a campaign contribution. That led him to file the freedom of information request, which led him many other Garcia emails.

In one email, sent to School District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barkley and several union leaders, Garcia wrote, "I think that all members of both unions should be appraised of this information. There will be no collective bargaining with these three (tea party candidates) on the board. I am very afraid that Sue and I will not have the funds necessary to fight a 'party.'"

Using school equipment for political activities is a violation of the code of ethics in District 30, where Garcia teaches, according to Jarrett.

Another e-mail, sent by Correll to a fellow superintendent in a nearby district, said "Mary Garcia is wondering how many signs or fliers you would take?"

Superintendents are prohibited by law from participating in any political activities, according to Jarrett.

Yet another e-mail, sent by campaign manager Alex Finke to Fecklam and copied to Garcia, allegedly refers to an effort to hide campaign contributions.

By law, the joint Garcia/Fecklam campaign would be required to form a campaign committee and make a detailed campaign finance report if it raised or spent more than $2,000, according to Jarrett.

"Anything you spend counts toward the $1,999.99 that you and Mary would be allowed to spend," Finke allegedly wrote. "The only way around it would be to lie and pay me cash. Then I could claim that I am volunteering for you."

The fourth, and perhaps most disturbing email was allegedly written by Fecklam to Garcia at her school district address. Fecklam bragged to Garcia about her efforts to bribe 18-year-old high school students who live in the district to register to vote before the school board election.

It is a felony to offer bribes to anyone for voting or registering to vote, according to Jarrett.

"Don't let them turn us in; gifts to register to vote is probably illegal! I did offer Erika (Garcia's daughter) more gift cards if she can gather up even more friends!"

Holding the cheaters accountable

It's bad enough that teachers’ unions at the local, state and national level have become more preoccupied with politics than they are with students and education.

Now it appears they are willing to bend or break laws and regulations to guarantee victory.

Perhaps they've come to believe they somehow own the public schools, or have some special right to use school property for their own purposes. Perhaps they forgot that the schools are owned by taxpayers like Jarrett, who are watching and willing to hold them accountable.

"This is not about whose policies are best or whose are wrongheaded," wrote Paul Mitchell, a local tea party activist, in an article posted on the Lake County Tea Party website.

"It's about how elected officials and employees of School District 46 have abused their positions and their access to benefit themselves at taxpayer expense, and at the expense of the school children entrusted to them."

Jarrett has not been sitting on his email discoveries. He shared them with the District 46 school board at a recent meeting, as well as the Lake County State's Attorney and Illinois Attorney General.

A large group of parents and concerned citizens showed up at the school board meeting to complain about the alleged campaign abuse, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

"You dishonor this community," parent Joan Siefert reportedly told the pro-union candidates at the meeting.

Garcia is reportedly already under investigation for her activities by a School District 30 ethics review board. She could reportedly face various types of discipline, up to and including termination of her employment as a teacher.

Garcia has already suffered at the polls. Two of the tea party candidates, along with Fecklam, were elected to the three school board seats in the April 5 election. Garcia is no longer on the board.

Meat Loaf – and supporters of good government – would say that two-out-of-three ain't bad.