School staff paid by Dashiell Primary day work may have violated state election laws

September 22, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In a possible violation of state election laws, at least a half-dozen Old Court Middle School employees were recruited and paid $125 each on primary election day to work the polls for state Senate candidate -- and current school board member -- Robert Fulton Dashiell.

Dashiell, who was soundly defeated in his primary bid to unseat 10th District Democratic state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, confirmed that the $125 checks were given out at Dashiell's election night ++ headquarters at the Forum, a catering hall in Northwest Baltimore.

But Dashiell and his campaign manager, Julius Henson, said the workers were told not to cash the checks until the next day -- apparently to meet technical requirements in the 1970s-era law banning election-day payments.

Dashiell denied that his campaign did anything illegal or unethical in recruiting school workers or making the payments, which he said were for canvassing neighborhoods before election day and for "training and expenses" allowed under state law.

But Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a private watchdog group, said: "You have the classic case of the most common election law violations, not to mention the ethics law."

Dashiell and Henson said the unsigned Dashiell recruitment fliers passed out to school employees were produced by some unknown "rogue" campaign worker, not by the official campaign.

County school officials are investigating the Old Court incident to see if any employees crossed ethical boundaries, said Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione and school board President Dunbar Brooks.

"I'm concerned about the possibility that employees have violated the ethics policy we do have," Marchione said: "We're in the middle of investigating."

Brooks said he's heard some allegations but said, "I don't know what all the facts are. I want to look at all the facts. We'll deal with it as a board."

The school board's ethics code says political activities must take place "outside the workplace and outside working hours," and adds that an employee or volunteer "must refrain from exploiting the privilege of his or her position."

"We're talking about prohibited election practices the use of your position to induce your employees to work for you for pay," Skullney said.

The Old Court incident is the latest of several campaign irregularities involving Dashiell. On Friday, a county hearing officer fined the Dashiell campaign $8,000 for posting 40 campaign signs in June on public rights of way along Liberty Road. And Dashiell has yet to file any campaign finance reports -- a full month after the first one was due.

The Old Court payments involved at least a half-dozen women sitting outside Old Court on Sept. 15, primary day, wearing Dashiell T-shirts and handing out campaign literature. All identified themselves as teachers, secretaries or maintenance workers at the school.

They said they responded to the unsigned flier that circulated at school shortly before the election, offering $125 for "election assistants."

Election night, the Old Court workers returned to the Forum and were given checks by the Dashiell campaign. Except for teacher Rosalie Jones, the others refused to give their names or discuss the incident.

But several days after the primary, Principal Cheryl Pasteur said several members of her staff recruited through the flier had "no idea" they would be working for the Dashiell campaign until they arrived at the Forum for a "training" meeting.

The notice distributed at school instructed them to call "Dr. George" at the home phone number of Dr. Bernitha George, a former county NAACP official.

She refused to say what her role in the campaign was, and denied printing or distributing the flier. Dashiell, however, said George was his coordinator of campaign workers.

Dashiell and Henson would not say how many paid workers the campaign had, or how much they were paid. "This flier was not authorized by this candidate. It is not a piece of campaign literature," said Henson, who also was campaign manager for Joan M. Pratt, who lost a primary bid for state comptroller.

Dashiell denied using his position to recruit school employees. "Did we solicit school people? No," he said. However, he said, any school employee who wanted to work in his campaign was welcome and would not be turned away.

Dashiell, appointed to his first five-year term on the school board in 1994 by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said he intends to run for political office again in four years.

"It really was a learning experience," Dashiell said Friday in his downtown law office, as Henson sat filling out a finance report by hand. "I consider it growing pains. These were mistakes we won't make again."

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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