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Save Our Salmon claims Pebble supporters campaigned illegally at Nondalton School

Posted: September 15, 2011 - 12:05am

Representatives of the Save Our Salmon (SOS) initiative filed a complaint with the Department of Education & Early Development on Wednesday, saying opponents of the measure were illegally promoting a “no” vote on the ballot initiative at Nondalton School.

SOS attorney Tim McKeever sent a letter to the Department on Wednesday saying it believed three initiative opponents were on Nondalton grounds the previous day pushing a partisan objective illegally.

The letter states Lake and Peninsula Borough Mayor Glen Alsworth, Former Calista Corp. chief executive Matthew Nicolai and Native actor Wes Studi were distributing anti-SOS materials during school hours. None of these three could be reached for comment by press time.

It states this violates multiple laws against using school resources during school hours for political activity. The letter cites Alaska Statute 14.03.090 as stating, “Partisan, sectarian, or denominational doctrines may not be advocated in a public school during the hours the school is in session. A teacher or school board violating this section may not receive public money.”

It also states the Alaska Administrative Code calls against using school resources to influence elections and states educators may not use institutional privileges for partisan political activities.

The letter cites from the Code: “A school district may not appropriate or spend school district money for the purpose of influencing the result of a public vote on an election, referendum, initiative, recall, or other election involving candidates for or holders of public office.”

“We believe the laws we cited in that letter show they can’t advocate partisan activity this way. It can be done at other times, not during the school hours,” McKeever said.

The letter recommends the state immediately investigate to determine whether this political conduct violates state law. It also asks the Lake and Peninsula School District superintendent and other officials to immediately instruct all schools that political activity related to SOS cannot be conducted at the schools while school is in session.

The letter included an autographed copy of a flyer for Studi that reads, “Hear Wes discuss the importance of Salmon and Subsistence to Native Peoples.” This attachment didn’t include a date or place for this appearance.

The flyer states it was paid for by Defend Your Rights — Vote No on the Save Our Salmon Initiative.

However, whether this flyer was distributed at the school illegally isn’t certain. Nondalton principal Ed Cox said there isn’t evidence he knows of that any of the three people listed were at the school.

He said he had no knowledge of them being on school grounds during school hours. He said he only learned about this from the district superintendent after McKeever’s letter was sent.

“I had no knowledge of them on the school grounds so I checked with staff, both certified or not, and no one had even seen them,” he said.

The SOS initiative would allow the Lake and Peninsula Borough to bar large-scale mining activity that extraction activity that would significantly impact salmon streams. Pebble Mine’s development would be directly affected.

There has been a standing battle between SOS and Pebble’s partners over whether the initiative would be on the voting ballots in October. The Alaska Supreme Court just recently ruled that it would.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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