A Spokane School District 81 administrator and former district spokesman is campaigning for a school board candidate who is friendly to district practices and goals.
Hugh Davis, who for years delivered educators’ opinions to the public as the district’s top spokesman, now is briefing candidate Don Barlow and linking him with key educators.
Barlow described the relationship as Davis “keeping me up-to-date.”
“He’s doing some background checking for me, writing some stuff,” Barlow said.
Davis and Barlow said they don’t view the arrangement as a conflict of interest.
There’s no law or district policy restricting district employees from campaigning in board races as long as they don’t do it during work hours or use district resources, such as copy machines, telephones or paper.
When Davis wanted copies of newspaper articles about opponent Joanne McCann a week ago, he left voice mail asking a SpokesmanReview reporter to call him back at work.
He made the request from Libby Center, the school where he now serves as assistant director. Davis later said he considered the time he spent on the return call part of his morning break.
“It’s on my own time, as a citizen,” Davis said. “When Don asked for some discussion of issues, I agreed to help.”
McCann, a former Catholic school principal, sees it differently.
“It does upset me that a school district employee would do this, at that high of a level,” said McCann. “I think it’s bad on both of their parts. I think it’s a mistake.”
It especially concerns her because Davis worked so closely with Superintendent Gary Livingston, McCann said. Davis was the district’s spokesman until about a year ago.
Livingston said he sees no problem with Davis working for Barlow, as long as the campaign doesn’t involve district time or supplies.
“The district stays absolutely neutral in the board campaign,” Livingston said. “If he’s (Davis) supporting his own candidate, it’s on his time. It has to be.”
There’s little doubt Barlow is the preferred candidate for most District 81 educators, said Lynn Jones, president of the Spokane Education Association.
Jones said the union won’t make a formal endorsement, but he makes no secret he worries McCann will undermine the state’s education reform plan. Jones called a newspaper editor to make that point.
McCann is outspoken about her opposition to education reform, which the district considers a guiding light.
Another district administrator approached an NAACP member and passed along a question that was later asked of McCann during an NAACP forum Monday night.
After getting direct input from the administrator, the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell, pastor of the Bethel AME Church, said he questioned McCann about her skeptical views of the district’s equity team.
“The people I talk to are not in favor of McCann,” Jones said Tuesday. “They’re more afraid of her than they are against her.
“Many of the views I share about Mrs. McCann would be shared by district administrators,” he added.
Jones’ predecessor, Jerry Hopkins, is also helping Barlow. The retired educator is coaching him for a Thursday night candidate forum sponsored by the Parent Organizing Project, Barlow said.
Davis said Barlow approached him in mid-September at a Phi Delta Kappa social. Both men are members.
“He said, ‘What are people concerned about?”’ Davis recalled. ‘I said, ‘Frankly, it’s nice that you’ve got a Ph.D. and are a Native American, but mainly people want to know what’s in it for their kids.”’ After a few discussions, Davis said he began writing 200-word statements for Barlow on top education issues. He doesn’t give Barlow specific information such as test scores but tells him where to get it, Davis said.
He said he volunteers to do the work and doesn’t get paid. Davis said he didn’t consult with his supervisor before joining the campaign.
Although campaigning outside work isn’t illegal, many administrators avoid it for other reasons, said Lorraine Wilson, assistant executive director for the Washington State School Directors Association.
“There’s just some common sense sort of things,” she said. “The person you’re supporting might win, but if the election doesn’t work that way …” Davis said he isn’t worried about what will happen if someday he’s reporting to McCann.
“It’s not an issue,” he said. “She knows it’s a race and people make choices. You look generally at the spirit of democracy.”
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