TUSD Board Member Gloria Copeland Has Trouble With Her Homework.
By Jamie Manser
GLORIA COPELAND, THE Tucson Unified School District Board anomoly, now is the election-year anomoly.
Copeland vowed that her first term on the school board would be her last. But after four years, she wants to retain her power.
With clumsy stealth, Copeland is hiding from the public how she finances her political operation in a sprawling district that includes 200,000 voters. This is how she does it:
With sloppy, repeatedly late campaign-finance statements in her 1994 election that show an incredibly low $650 in available funds and an even more remarkable $265.38 in expenditures for a tight, four-way race for two seats. By comparison, the well-heeled and well-financed Brenda Even raised and spent $24,342 to get re-elected to the TUSD Board in 1994. Still, Even outpolled Copeland by just 2 percentage points. The top spender in the race for three TUSD seats in 1996 was Mary Belle McCorkle, who spent $18,052 to win a second term.
By skirting campaign finance laws that demand reports soon after money is collected and spent. Copeland, as she did in 1994, withheld as long as possible a statement of organization and then filed one in such a manner that she would not have to declare--as other candidates have done twice--what she is raising and spending.
Using TUSD employees to do her politicking, including having them circulate and sign nomination petitions.
Critics and neutral observers say it's all part of Copeland's strategy to garner sympathy because of what appears to be an underfinanced, underdog campaign. All the while, Copeland has styled herself, during School Board meetings and during her numerous radio talkshow appearances, as a tough fiscal watchdog who can pinpoint misspending and inaccuracies in TUSD budgets.
But by her own admission in an interview earlier this month, Copeland says her 1994 campaign finance report, on file with the Pima County Division of Elections, is wrong. Copeland said she raised and spent $3,500.
"I don't know what you're looking at," Copeland said.
For starters, Copeland's post-general election finance report, filed December 7, 1994, shows this: Eleven dollars remaining from her unsuccessful campaign in 1992; $650 in total receipts; $265.38 in expenses; and a balance of $395.62.
Even with the paucity of contributions and complications, Copeland reported inaccurate information. She didn't bother to report another $50 in contributions.
And the report listed no expenditure for the campaign signs Copeland placed all over Tucson.
Additionally, Copeland's December 1994 report was improper because it lumped together reporting for two distinct--and required--reporting periods. An earlier report attempted to lump three periods together.
It's difficult to unravel what Copeland did in 1994. Much of her finance report is filled with blank pages, hard-to-read notes, and liberal use of "N/A"--not applicable.
Copeland's reports are the type that would never be accepted by the City Clerk's election division. There, City Council candidates find they can't hide money from auditors.
But candidates for the TUSD Board, as well as for the 14 other school boards in Pima County, file their campaign finance statements with the county's Division of Elections. And while that office cites delinquent filers, it has rarely penalized anyone--something that County Elections Director Mitch Etter wants to change.
"It's a mess," Etter said of Copeland's 1994 report. "I've made requests of the County Attorney that we should have the power to review and check the finance statements."
He has not received the support he sought to check the reports, as is done by the Maricopa County Division of Elections, where Etter worked before taking the Pima County job.
MEANWHILE, COPELAND jump-started her campaign by relying on TUSD employees to join her family in getting her nomination petitions so she can qualify for the November 3 ballot alongside eight other candidates. Leaders of the pack include Rosalie Lopez, Diane Carrillo and Carolyn Kemmeries.
John Thomas Michel, principal of Booth-Fickett Magnet School, said last week that he supports Copeland but that he does not actively participate in her campaign.
Still, he was active enough to circulate her nominating petitions. He said he did not circulate any at school. Copies of the petition show that Michel began collecting signatures on August 17, the first day of school.
Jennifer Canright, a math teacher at Booth-Fickett, also circulated petitions for Copeland and is playing an active role in Copeland's re-election bid. She acknowledged gathering signatures at the school, but said she did not circulate them during school hours.
Karen Wynn, director of TUSD's Native American Studies Department, also passed petitions for Copeland. It was an odd show of support, since Copeland has said she opposes separate ethnic studies programs.
Copeland is keeping under wraps just how much money she will take from TUSD employees--she did not file a finance statement when six of the other TUSD candidates filed by the August 27 deadline for the period that began June 1 and ended August 19. The next report is not due until October 8.
CANDIDATE CAROLYN Kemmeries, a retired TUSD principal, hit up 79 TUSD employees for nearly 30 percent of her $10,809 for the period. She still lagged behind Lopez, a lawyer and Booth-Fickett parent, who raised a total of $12,669 to Kemmeries' $11,823. Lopez collected a total of $110 from four TUSD employees.
Kemmeries' TUSD contributions were a mix from administrators, teachers and other staff. Kemmeries bundled her expenditures with a $1,474 payment to consultant Jan Lesher, the ex-wife of TUSD Board President Joel Ireland and a continuing political ally of Ireland. Lesher is also advising candidate Celestino Fernández, who reported $3,785 in campaign funds.
Tucson Unified employees, mostly administrators, were responsible for more than a third of Carrillo's contributions, which totaled $6,675 for the period. Carrillo is principal of Peter Howell Elementary in TUSD.
Kemmeries said she sees no conflict with contributions from TUSD employees.
"The maximum anyone can give is $300," Kemmeries said. "And if anyone can be bought for $300, they shouldn't run for office."
Carrillo said it would be improper to demand contributions from her employees.
But Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who spent 12 years on the TUSD Board ending in 1986, says it's time for TUSD to follow the city, county, state and federal governments in banning employee political contributions.
"The trend has shifted from the teachers and other staff giving to administrators playing a heavy role," Grijalva said. "I still favor the organizations being involved, like TEA (Tucson Education Association). But pressure needs to be taken off the employees. And to say that contributions don't influence Board decisions on promotions and transfers is purely naive."
In a landmark act for the free-for-all Pima County government, Grijalva and the Board of Supervisors voted in 1992 to prohibit political contributions from county employees to any county candidate. But the rule stopped short of the city rules that not only ban cash contributions but put severe limits on political activity by city employees.
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