Several employees are raising the alarm about an Alexander Local School Board candidate allegedly campaigning for office while on the job.
The candidate – Kathy Dougan – has worked as a custodian for the school district for roughly 30 years. Three Alexander employees have told The NEWS that they’ve witnessed her campaigning for the position while on the job, including asking employees to sign her petition while at work; having her campaign signs inside the school building on at least one occasion; and passed out her campaign shirts for students and others to wear during a school volleyball game in September.
School district policy states that employees are “not permitted to use district time, moneys, facilities, equipment or supplies to campaign, nor are the employees to actively campaign while on duty,” according to the policies on the Alexander Local School District’s website.
Dougan strongly denied the allegations in an email Tuesday.
“These allegations are an unfounded, unsupported attempt to derail my campaign,” she wrote. “During my campaign I have taken very serious, the way I conduct myself and my ability to follow the process and procedures laid out by the Board of Elections. I have and will continue to campaign within these guidelines and with respect for my opponents to set a good example for our students.
“After all, they are the reason I am so passionate about gaining a seat on the Alexander School Board,” she said.
Despite that denial, a post on Dougan’s Facebook page shows her posing with students and others wearing her campaign shirts while at a volleyball game in September.
One of the employees – whom The NEWS has granted anonymity because of a stated fear of retribution at the school district – said that picture was taken while Dougan was working.
“At the volleyball game at Alexander (9/17, Alex vs. Vinton), Dougan handed out T-shirts to the entire student section to wear during the game,” the employee said. “She told them they could wear the shirts for the game and could buy them for $7. Dougan works the evening shift, from 3-11 p.m. This occurred on site, during her working hours.”
The employee noted that two other workers approached her (the employee) after witnessing Dougan gathering signatures for her petition to run for election, during her working hours, from employees she directly supervised.
Those two employees confirmed as much with The NEWS.
“We as employees have been afraid to say anything for fear of backlash if Ms. Dougan gets on the School Board,” one of the employees recounted. “There were many employees that signed her petition to run for School Board due to the fact they were afraid not to in case she was to get elected. Many signed during her working hours, and we signed them on our working hours as well.”
Alexander Schools Supt. Lindy Douglas provided the following brief statement Tuesday: “I have no comment in response to your inquiries and no public records responsive to them either,” she said. “This fall has been a great start to the school year, and I wish all candidates in the Nov. 5 elections the best of luck and success.”
School Board President John Hutchison said in a brief phone call Tuesday that he’s the “wrong person to talk to” because he’s running for re-election, then directed this reporter to the superintendent. Hutchison’s name was on the T-shirts Dougan passed out during the volleyball game, according to the photos of the event.
The anonymous employee initially quoted above alleged that Dougan has been heard stating that she was running because “someone has to protect Lindy (Douglas).”
These allegations against Dougan come as the school district and Douglas have come under scrutiny since parents and others’ concerns were made public over the summer about the district sweeping allegations of bullying and harassment under the rug.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn also had raised concerns about School Resource Officer and Athens County Sheriff’s Lt. Jimmy Childs not following through on alleged sexting and other cases at the school district; the Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office reached an agreement on how to handle those cases in the future.
Blackburn said in a brief interview Wednesday that he has heard concerns about Dougan allegedly campaigning on school property.
“We recommended that they take those concerns to the Ohio Elections Commission… as well as the School Board and the Superintendent; they shouldn’t want that (happening) either,” he said.
Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey said in a brief interview Wednesday that she’s also aware of the concerns, but added that “we have no jurisdiction over that.”
An article by senior attorney Susan Oppenheimer of Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler, on that firm’s website, argues that Ohio law prohibits public boards of education from “compensating any employee for ‘time spent on any activity to influence the outcome of an election’ regarding a candidate for public office or the passage of a levy or bond issue or other ballot issue,” and also argues that “public school employees cannot engage in… campaign activity on paid time.”