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Park director apologizes for ‘error in judgement’
South Whidbey Parks & Recreation director Terri Arnold apologized publicly this week for what she termed an “error in judgment” last month.
In a letter sent to The Record, Arnold said it was unfortunate her “unintended snafu” took time and energy away from reporting on more compelling issues.
On Friday, Sept. 5 Arnold sent a letter to island newspapers that she wrote on a district computer asking voters to approve the district’s November ballot measure for a $15.2 million bond to pay for the construction of an aquatics and recreation center.
Using public facilities to advocate a ballot measure position is a violation of Washington’s campaign laws. According to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, the law prohibits the use of public facilities, such as district computers, to support or oppose a ballot proposition.
Generally, a letter to the editor supporting a ballot proposition is seen as a private activity, which employees of public agencies can do, including using their title in the letter, so long as they do so with private resources.
Arnold also sent e-mails from her office to a part-time district employee, park summer camp director Adele Sanders, offering advice on how Sanders could compose her own letter supporting the recreation center.
All of the e-mails were sent from firstname.lastname@example.org, Arnold’s e-mail address at her office in Community Park.
At the time, Arnold said it was a careless error when she improperly used the district’s computer supporting the center. Arnold said she wrote her campaign letter at home and sent the letter to herself at the office, then out to the media. However, she did not provide any e-mails that would corroborate her claim when those e-mails were requested by The Record, leaving open the possibility that she actually wrote the letter on county time while at work, as well.
In a closed-door session late last month, park commissioners instructed Arnold to issue a letter of apology to the community and reimburse the parks district for the time she spent campaigning for the proposed pool and community recreation center from the park office during business hours.
Park Commissioner Linda Kast said the board plans to wrap up the matter at its next board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 15, but the amount of reimbursement hasn’t been decided yet.
“The amount of reimbursement will be based on the time she spent,” Kast said. In addition, Arnold and other park employees will receive training about state laws which prohibit public employees from using public facilities for the promotion of any ballot issue.
In her apology letter, Arnold added that the most painful part for her was disappointing the park district commissioners.
“It is important to me that I have their support and the community’s trust and I assure everyone, this is very unlikely to happen again,” Arnold wrote.
She added that she hopes people can “move on to more newsworthy issues.”
“I am mostly disappointed by all the time and effort this unintended snafu required on behalf of so many people; the editors, reporters, commissioners, staff, and the public (who had to read about it). It was most unfortunate that this took time and energy away from reporting on the more compelling issues in our community,” she wrote.
To read the letter, click here.