APOC investigates claims made by Tom Schantz against school district
Valdez City Schools District has been accused of violating Alaska campaign laws by Valdez man Tom Schantz. In a complaint he filed last week with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC,) Schantz claimed the school district caused irreparable harm to last Tuesday’s municipal elections by paying to run newspaper ads touting the benefits of a new middle school. Proposition 1, which was on the ballot Tuesday, asked Valdez voters to approve or reject the issuance of general obligation bonds totalling$39 million to pay for a new middle school to replace the aging Gilson Junior High.
The election results were not available at press time. Preliminary election results are available on an insert in this week’s paper.
APOC held a public hearing in Anchorage Friday to decide whether or not it would expedite the complaint filed by Schantz. The request for expedition was denied by APOC, but an investigation into the matter will be made.
“It is the complainant’s responsibility to show it is warranted,” APOC said during the hearing.
The newspaper ad in question ran in the Valdez Star September 19 and did not mention Proposition 1 or the October 2 election. The ad, running under the banner “Gilson Junior High School Replacement” attempted to answer three questions posited by the school district; why replace the school building, why will it cost $39 million, and why is replacing the building a top priority for the district.
The ad did not mention who or what organization paid for it, which Schantz claims is violation of Alaska campaign law.
During Friday’s APOC hearing, Schantz complained that similar ads, along with a second ad published in the Valdez Star September, 26, were also posted on the KVAK radio website. The second ad, touted in its banner that the State of Alaska will pay for 60 percent of the new building’s construction cost. It also contained a “Proposition No. 1 Fact Sheet” and “Paid for by Valdez City Schools,” disclaimer at the bottom.
Schantz also complained the school district sent students’ home with inappropriate materials regarding the proposition.
John Sedor, the school district’s attorney, represented the district at Friday’s APOC hearing.
Sedor told APOC commissioners and attorneys that while the district did not agree that the allegations made by Schantz were valid, the district would pull all web-based ads and had no prior plans to distribute materials anywhere regarding Proposition 1.
In a copy of an email correspondence between Schantz and Sheri Pierce, city clerk and top election official in Valdez, that was presented as evidence by Schantz to support his complaint, Pierce said the ad did not appear to break campaign laws.
“The ad does not say ‘vote yes proposition 1’ so in my opinion APOC would probably deem that it is not concrete in its direction to the voters. I imagine this was on purpose.” Pierce’s email said. “You could get a ruling from APOC, that is their job to monitor political ads, if they believe something is in violation of their rules for reporting, they will follow up.”
Schantz disagreed with Pierce and did file an APOC complaint.
In his email reply, Schantz said he believed the ads were inaccurate because the information the district published did not include interest costs on the bonds voters are asked to approve and financial terms that have not yet been determined in the price taxpayers will incur to barrow money.
Schantz said he felt this unfairly impacted voters.
City administrators have said the true cost of interest for the $39 million in bonds will not be known until city officials attempt to sell the bonds.
Schantz also said he was expressing views he held as a taxpayer and Valdez resident, and not in his capacity as the city’s comptroller.
“I feel the harm to the election is irreparable,” Schantz told APOC officials.
During the hearing, Schantz told APOC officials he felt out of his element. When asked what remedy he would like to see imposed if indeed it is found the district violated campaign laws, Schantz was noncommittal.
He told the board he opposed a monetary fine because as a taxpayer, it would penalize himself.
“From my perspective, fining the school district is fining me,” he said at the hearing.
There was no clear timeline for the final results of the APOC investigation into the complaint.