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Campaigning on-the-clock using school e-mail accounts

We have run a series of columns about union employees using the Sarasota County School District official email system to promote political candidates for public office and harassing district employees while on the clock.

Our initial reports just scratched the surface of the corruption within the Sarasota County School District.

Shirley Brown WEB

Shirley Brown, Sarasota County School Board member.

We wrote that this would be a challenge to the leadership of Superintendent Lori White. Today we report that this “culture of corruption” has ensnared at least two sitting School Board members – Shirley Brown (D) and Caroline Zucker (R) and the District Communications Director Gary Leatherman, who reports directly to Superintendent White.

Florida Statutes 104.31Political activities of state, county, and municipal officers and employees, states:

(1) No officer or employee of the state, or of any county or municipality thereof, except as hereinafter exempted from provisions hereof, shall:

(a) Use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or a nomination of office or coercing or influencing another person’s vote or affecting the result thereof.

[ … ]

(3) Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

[Emphasis added]

In a string of emails we find both Shirley Brown and Caroline Zucker violating not only Florida Statues (FS) 104.31, but also FS 106.113.  We also find School Board member Brown, Director Leatherman and the Ken Marsh campaign violating FS 106.15, which states:

A candidate may not, in the furtherance of his or her candidacy for nomination or election to public office in any election, use the services of any state, county, municipal, or district officer or employee during working hours.


Ken Marsh, former district bureaucrat and candidate for School Board.

In this string of emails we find Shirley Brown and the Ken Marsh campaign coordinating campaign donations. We also find the District Director of Communications and Community Relations Gary Leatherman giving advice to and editing a Ken Marsh for School Board campaign flyer. All of these actions improperly use the district proprietary email system and the exchanges occur during working hours.

ann hankinson

Ann Hankinson, teacher Pine View.

Items forwarded to staff, other school board members, the Ken Marsh campaign, Gary Leatherman and Superintendent White include:

  • School Board member Caroline Zucker is asked by Aaron Watkins, from Carab Enterprises, who she voted for in the School Board primary. Zucker replies, “I voted for Jane Goodwin, Shirley Brown and Ken Marsh.” (NOTE: Read more about Zucker here.)
  • An email from Ann Hankinson, a AP calculus and statistics teacher at Pine View school, sends a draft invitation to a Ken Marsh for School Board event to be held on October 1, 2014 to Gary Leatherman for review and editing. Leatherman states he reviewed the invitation and made minor corrections. Leatherman goes on to reply to Hankinson, “Hi, I’m just checking to see if my email replies are being received.” Hankinson then uses the district email system to send the invitation out to her “Dear Math Colleagues.”
  • Information about the Lee County, FL School Board reversing its decision to opt-out of mandated Common Core testing sent to the Ken Marsh campaign.
  • Ken Marsh sending an election night invitation to Pat Gardner, President of the Sarasota Teachers/Classified Association (SC/TA).
  • Gary Leatherman in direct contact with Ken March and his campaign with a summery of  “the various ways and media we employ to help parents and other interested community members watch school board meetings.”
  • SC/TA President Pat Gardner in direct contact with the Ken Marsh campaign discussing strategies on how to attack his primary opponents “innovative ideas about public access to school board meetings.”
  • A political fundraising letter sent to Shirley Brown, Gary Leatherman and others from Gabriel Hament seeking donations for the Ken Marsh campaign. Leatherman replies, “Thanks, I contributed $100 last night.”
  • Shirley Brown responds to an email from Austin Jambor, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley, stating, “…I am hosting a reception for Ken Marsh Oct. 1 in Prestancia. Hope you can join us!”
  • Kenner Brooke from North Port High School sends out a Sarasota County Democratic Party flyer.

Dr. Richard Swier

Dr. Rich Swier is Publisher of www.DrRichSwier e-Magazine. Twitter: @drrichswier He holds a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, a Master's Degree in Management Information Systems from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Richard is a 23-year Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his years of service.

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Categories: Education, Policy, Politics, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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