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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 7 years ago

Photo leads to election inquiry

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Following the rejection of his initial elections complaint against the Sarasota County School District, Walt Augustinowicz, head of the political-action committee Better Sarasota Schools for Less, received some ammunition he wanted to use to file a follow-up complaint.

A parent sent a photo to one of Augustinowicz’s supporters that appeared to show a Brookside Middle School employee handing out a yard sign that read: “Preserve our schools … Protect our quality of life! Vote YES March 16!”

Claiming it was a violation of state law for an employee to distribute such a sign at work during work hours, Augustinowicz inquired about filing another elections complaint, but found he was getting nowhere.

“I’m getting roadblocks,” he said.

Augustinowicz called the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Elections Commission, the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of State. Each agency directed him to another agency.

“Finally, someone at the Department of State told me that it would take three-to-nine months for the Florida Elections Commission to conduct an investigation,” he said.

The school-tax referendum, which would renew a 1-mill tax across Sarasota County, will be held in three weeks.

Augustinowicz filed a complaint with the Elections Commission earlier this month, claiming the inclusion of a pro-referendum group’s Web site on a flier sent home with school students violated Florida statutes.

The commission dismissed the claim the following week.

“I’m resigned to the fact that the school district is going to do everything it can to stretch the rules,” Augustinowicz said.

School spokesman Scott Ferguson said that is not the case.

“We recognize that (our employees) get a little overzealous,” said Ferguson. “We have reminded them not to use school resources to push the referendum.”

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