The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission is investigating a complaint that former Sumner Superintendent Gil Mendoza failed to follow state public disclosure laws when he mailed out 24,288 school board election fliers.
The two-part complaint was filed by Sumner School Board President Sherm Voiles. It alleges that Mendoza violated state law because the fliers do not clearly state who paid for them and questions whether Citizens Advocating a Responsible Education System (CARE), the entity named on the flier’s return address label, is a political action committee.
The complaint also states that Mendoza did not report the $6,300 mailing cost to the PDC, said Lori Anderson, PDC spokeswoman.
Anderson said a ruling on whether or not the flier violates state law is unlikely to occur before the Nov. 8 election.
“We have not completed the initial review and I doubt we will before the election,” said Anderson.
The flier urges voters to choose Sumner School Board candidates who have children attending Sumner schools, namely over incumbent for position 2 and over Ron Weigelt for position 4, which is currently occupied by Greg Hanon. Voiles is not up for re-election this year. The flier also urges voters to cast ballots for Richard Hendricks, who is running unopposed for position 3.
Mendoza said he’s confident the PDC will rule that CARES is not a political action committee. Political committees are defined as entities that either pool money or gather contributions to influence an election.
An individual spending his own money does not qualify as a political committee, said Anderson.
“CARES is me and my family,” said Mendoza. As for the financial report, Mendoza said he was unaware of the requirement to file such paperwork with the PDC, but that he spoke with a PDC representative Tuesday.
“He walked me through the form and I am planning to send that in today,” said Mendoza.
If the commission finds the flier violates state law the consequence can range from a warning to a $4,200 fine, said Anderson.
Meanwhile, comments appearing on Buchich's candidate profile featured on Patch show that some citizens are questioning why a board member appears to be attempting to influence the election via a PDC complaint, while others are asking why a former superintendent is reaching into his pocket to sway voters.
“The real question to me is, why would a former superintendent who’d been released from the district, try to directly influence the election against a board member who was obviously on the board when he was released from employment?” said Voiles, referring to DeMarre.
Mendoza said he acted as a citizen, taxpayer and voter who lives in the community, adding he has a daughter, nieces and nephews who collectively attend four schools in the district.
“I am trying to influence the election for five candidates not just one,” he said, pointing out the flier’s theme of supporting candidates who have kids attending Sumner schools. “It’s my personal and professional belief that school board members who have kids in our schools are more vested. I think they make the stronger candidates… They have a real pulse on what’s happening in our schools.”
Mendoza served as the Sumner superintendent from July 2007 to June 30, 2011. He departed after the School Board voted 4-1 to approve a . Hendricks cast the dissenting vote. Mendoza had one year left on a three-year contract, and the agreement paid him an estimated $178,000 – his annual base salary of $147,000 along with an annuity and a year’s medical benefits.
Voiles said he wants to know why Mendoza did not place his own name on the mailer.
“You have to ask,” said Voiles, “why would he fund something like that and try to conceal his involvement – which was apparently substantial involvement?”
Mendoza said he used the CARES title because he did not want to use his name, which is well-known in the district, to sway voters.
“I tried to be neutral on it and let people make an objective decision based on the theme of whether candidates have kids in school (here) or not,” said Mendoza.
As for the expense, “It’s a personal choice,” Mendoza said. “How much somebody spends on being politically involved or being community based.”
Voiles also questions Mendoza’s lack of knowledge regarding the financial filing requirements.
“As the previous superintendent … he is very familiar with PDC requirements,” Voiles said. “He did not fulfill these requirements.”
Mendoza, however, said he checked with the Pierce County elections office before sending the flier to ensure it was appropriate. He also said the school district’s communication director is in charge of overseeing concerns regarding public disclosure when bond or levy elections occur, not the superintendent.
“This was not,” he said, “a bond or a levy.”