1. Gradebook

Teachers complain about campaign material in their email

Published Aug. 16, 2018|Updated Aug. 16, 2018

This post has been updated with the candidate's response.

Laurie Rodriguez opened her Hillsborough County School District email and found a campaign flyer for Steve Cona, a builders association executive who is running for School Board.

Rodriguez, a teacher at Erwin Technical College, wasn't pleased. Her husband, retired school district administrator Bill Person, is one of Cona's opponents in the race.

Everyone who works for the school district knows – or should know – that campaigning at the workplace is against the rules. You can get fired. Some have.

But what about people who do not work for the district?

That question will be answered in Tallahassee, where state election officials have received two complaints that we know of from teachers who say Cona broke the rules when he reached into the email list.

Teachers Aron Zions and LoraJane Riedas allege Cona violated Florida Statute 106.15 (3-4), which says that candidates shall not “use the services of any state, county, municipal, or district officer or employee during working hours.” Nor are they allowed to “solicit or knowingly accept any political contribution in a building owned by a governmental entity.”

The mailer included a "Donate Now" button, which could be seen as soliciting donations.

Both teachers, in their complaints, contend that Cona's action "speaks to his disregard of the law and is disrespect of our District employees, those he is currently campaigning to lead."

Riedas goes onto write that "if I were to even respond to this email, or share my thoughts through school email about this, I would be in violation of district technology policy."

Both Zions and Riedas are active in the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, which has given its endorsement to Person.

Cona, chief executive officer of the Association of Builders and Contractors, Florida Gulf Coast chapter, issued this statement Thursday:

"Our campaign used email addresses provided by the Supervisors of Elections Office, and it's important to note these email addresses are registered directly by individual voters. If a teacher, like our opponent's wife, inadvertently used their teacher email address with the Supervisors of Elections Office, it is not illegal to receive political notifications from candidates, but we agree teacher email addresses should not be registered for political use."

Cona is running against Person and Gil Machin for an open seat to replace Susan Valdes, who is running for the state house.

Of the three, Cona has raised the most money at $68,508. Person has spent the most, $32,927. Their district includes parts of northwest Hillsborough, Town 'n Country and West Tampa.

The primary is Aug. 28. If no single candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two will go to a runoff on Nov. 6.


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