Bonneville County prosecutor files civil complaint against D91 superintendent, comm. director over bond materialsPublished at | Updated at
IDAHO FALLS – The Bonneville County Prosecuting Office has filed a civil complaint against Idaho Falls School District 91 Superintendent James Shank and D91 Director of Communications Margaret Wimborne alleging they illegally advocated for a school bond using school board money.
The civil action alleges that Shank and Wimborne violated the Public Integrity in Elections Act by “authorizing the use of school district funds and resources to produce and distribute several fliers, posters and bookmarks which offered reasons why voters should pass the bond,” according to a news release from Bonneville County Prosecutor Randy Neal.
The Idaho Falls School District Board of Trustees denies any wrongdoing and says factual information was legally printed and distributed to patrons but Neal says multiple complaints were filed with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office which led to the investigation.
“The Public Integrity in Elections Act envisions that local prosecutors act a bit like a traffic cop to ensure that public officials and employees stay within their lane of providing information, but not advocating,” Neal says. “The Act does not provide for criminal prosecution, but instead authorizes a civil penalty. It is comparable to a traffic ticket, but is civil in nature.”
According to the Act, “it is against the public policy of the state of Idaho for public funds, resources or property to be used to advocate for or against a candidate or ballot measure.”
“‘Advocate’ means to campaign for or against a candidate or the outcome of a ballot measure…(but) does not mean providing factual information about a ballot measure and the public entity’s reason for the ballot measure stated in a factually neutral manner,” the law says. “Factual information includes but is not limited to the cost of indebtedness, intended purpose, condition of property to be addressed, date and location of election, qualifications of candidates, or other applicable information necessary to provide transparency to electors.”
In 2022, a $250 million school bond meant for a new high school, two new elementary schools and a renovation of Skyline High School failed to pass on the ballot during the November general election.
It was the largest bond D91 had ever asked the public to approve and 58% of voters said yes while 42% of voters said no.
The official complaint alleges that on Aug. 4, 2022, Wimborne ordered posters and postcards from Teton Printing relating to the bond issue. Twelve days later, the items were paid for in full with Idaho Falls School District 91 funds in the amount of $635.40.
On Sept. 26, Wimborne ordered 7,925 bookmarks for the District 91 bond issue from Teton Printing. Sixteen days later, the bookmarks were paid in full using school district funds in the amount of $919.05.
On Oct. 10, Wimborne ordered a digital run and postage run of District 91 bond issue material from Alpha Graphics in the quantity of 24,101. Fourteen days later, it was paid in full using $12,649.60 in school district funds, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that both Shank and Wimborne admitted to Bonneville County investigators that district funds were used to produce bond material before the general election, and that the material was distributed through the use of district schools and property.
Shank also reportedly admitted to authorizing the use of the funds to produce District 91 bond issue material, and that opposition material was not allowed to be distributed in the same manner as pro-bond material in either distribution or in time at meetings.
During a special board meeting on Monday, the District 91 school board approved the use of legal counsel regarding civil action against two Idaho Falls School District 91 employees.
When contacted for comment, Wimborne referred EastIdahoNews.com to Hillary Radcliffe, the Board of Trustees Chairwoman. In a statement, Radcliffe said there was no wrongdoing and the district only provided facts to the public, not advocacy.
“Per Idaho Code 74-605, school districts are allowed to share a public entity’s reasons for a ballot measure and factual information about that ballot measure. We believe that the school district did that, that they shared factual information with the parents and patrons of our district about an important issue. We don’t believe that Dr. Shank or Ms. Wimborne did anything beyond sharing factual information that was important to the district,” Radcliffe said.
Pending court proceedings, Wimborne and Shank could both be subject to fines of up to $1,500.