Controversy abounds in school race

Following board candidate Karla Dyer’s request, Federal Way Public Schools have delayed distribution of the Federal Way High School newspaper.

The latest edition of the Eagle Eye, slated for a Nov. 1 publication, was held up by Superintendent Tom Murphy after Dyer raised questions about the school paper being used in a heated campaign.

The edition had letters submitted by a student and by English teacher Pam Ashe that were critical of Dyer’s desire to cease requirements to read certain books in classrooms.

Dyer is running against Earl VanDorien Jr. in the District 4 race.

Diane Turner, a district spokeswoman, said Murphy got a call from Dyer indicating the candidate believed publishing the letters would be a violation of state law by using public resources to boost campaigns.

Murphy sent Dyer’s complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission and the district’s legal counsel before giving the high school the order to delay distribution. The state commission asked for more information and won’t respond before Monday, Turner said.

“Of course, we will abide with legal authority and the PDC,” she said.

School newspaper adviser, teacher Keith Swanson, said he understood the district’s position to delay the paper, most likely until after the Nov. 6 election.

It was the first time that publication has been stopped, Swanson said.

The students, he said, are the losers while the lawyers hash out election law and consequences.

“I’m disappointed for my students that all of the work that they’ve done, all the late evenings that they’ve put in ... have been sabotaged by this situation,” he said.

Swanson had traded phone calls and e-mails with Dyer over the past week. He initially had contacted her at student Opinions page editor Laura Brown’s request. Brown wanted Dyer to submit a letter responding to the Ashe’s claims.

Dyer said she felt media coverage of the newspaper spat has been fair, and felt the district responded appropriately.

She said she was “shocked” that a letter critical of her views was submitted by a teacher.

“For people who know me, it was almost humorous,” she said. She added it was disappointing that contents of the unpublished newspaper had leaked to other media.

“The timing is pretty obvious,” she said, “that somebody would like to sway an election.”

In another development, Dyer’s opponent said he filed a complaint against her Friday with the Public Disclosure Commission.

On Friday morning, PDC Assistant Director Susan Harris verified the PDC received a faxed complaint, and said she expected the original in the mail later that day, which is needed before the PDC can process the complaint.

“Based on what Mr. VanDorien has cited, we will investigate once we get the official complaint in the mail,” Harris said.

On the faxed complaint form, VanDorien alleges that Dyer exceeded her campaign spending limit by $690.26. Dyer filed a “mini” form with the PDC, meaning she’s limited to spending $3,500.

“I find myself at a distinct campaign disadvantage since I have had to file numerous forms disclosing all my contributions and expenses, easily exceeding $6,000 in this campaign. I believe Karla Dyer has been able to use my full compliance with the PDC to garner information on my campaign and use it to her advantage, leaving me at a distinct disadvantage,” VanDorien wrote on the faxed complaint.

VanDorien also asserts that Dyer failed to produce campaign books at a pre-set time and location, as required by law.

Harris said an investigation would take at least two months.

If the investigation points to a violation, and Dyer does not dispute the complaint, it could be heard by a single commissioner and Dyer could face a maximum penalty of $500.

If it’s disputed, or the investigation determines the possible violations warrant more stringent action, the complaint would be heard by the entire commission and Dyer would face a maximum penalty of $2,500, Harris said.

Dyer said she does not plan to dispute the complaint. She readily admits she made errors, citing inexperience.

“I thought I could put in as much of my personal money as I wanted without exceeding it,” she said. “...I had misunderstood what I read.”

She added she’s in the process of doing the necessary paperwork required by the PDC to rectify the situation.

She said she also made an error with the open books requirement. “I had the wrong date,” she said.

Dyer said she met with VanDorien, who was the only one to inquire about her books, on a different date to show him her books.

“He technically has a right to do it, I just need to take care of my paperwork,” Dyer said of the complaint.

She said she holds no grudge against VanDorien for filing the complaint, but added “I probably wouldn’t have done it” if the situation had been reversed.

VanDorien said he wouldn’t have done it, either, if it hadn’t been for an incident involving campaign signs.

“This is the final straw in a very negative campaign that she’s been running,” he said.

He said he gained reluctant permission from his church to put up a campaign sign. The pastor did not want a sign war on the property, he said.

Dyer’s campaign then persuaded the pastor to allow signs for her campaign in the interest of fairness, then put seven up on the property, he alleged. The angry pastor ordered all signs pulled as a result, he said.

VanDorien said he felt the move was invasive.

“To me, this is tantamount to home property,” he said.

He said he’s struggled to run an ethical campaign and to make sure all of his paperwork was in order with the PDC.

“I have sour grapes, I admit it,” he said. “...But I’ve been honest and ethical and done my paperwork.”

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