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Dahmen Files Government Accountability Board Complaint Against School Board Clerk
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David Dahmen, the middle school science teacher who wishes to run for a seat on the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School Board, filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board (GAB) Friday afternoon. Dahmen’s complaint is against school board clerk Annette Ashley, who recently ruled against placing Dahmen’s name on the April 2 ballot due to an issue with his candidacy papers.
Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said Ashley will have 10 business days to respond to the complaint. Dahmen will then have an opportunity to submit a reply.
After that, the GAB will rule. “We could uphold the clerk’s decision or we could order him placed on the ballot,” said Magney.
Ballots for the election won’t be printed until March.
Dahmen’s candidacy papers had been challenged by Jim Greer, the Area 1 School Board incumbent whose seat he hopes to take.
Dahmen then filed a response to Greer’s challenge, but Ashley on Jan. 15 concluded Dahmen’s nomination papers “have not been timely filed, and were not in the physical possession of the filing officer by the statutory deadline as required by [GAB] rule 2.05(2).”
Greer’s challenge was based on photocopied signatures of support Dahmen initially provided to the school district’s filing clerk, Cheryl Janssen. The incumbent on Jan. 7 filed a challenge based on the fact that GAB rules require original signatures rather than “facsimiles.” Dahmen turned in the originals after the official filing deadline has passed.
In his complaint last week, Dahmen alleged that Ashley “improperly denied [Dahmen’s] placement on the ballot... .”
“I am not a lawyer, I am a public servant … and a private citizen seeking a local office,” Dahmen wrote. “I readily admit that I did not file my nomination papers according to the ‘letter of the law’ as reviewed by Ms. Ashley. I did however file my papers in a reasonable manner, and in substantial compliance with GAB rules.”
“I ask the GAB to consider that if situations like mine result in the disqualification of potential candidates, only the well connected and the well financed will be able to seek local offices, such as the one I seek,” Dahmen wrote.
Two Accounts Of Dahmen’s Filing
According to Janssen, Dahmen turned in his initial candidacy paperwork on Jan. 2 at 4:10 p.m. The deadline for filing was 5 p.m. that day.
Janssen said her initial check “is to make sure it is notarized, all the right areas are filled out and complete.” She said she also makes an “initial count of signatures to make sure they at least have more than 100 signatures there.”
“We do not review the signatures until later,” Janssen added. The district must certify and review candidacy filings by Jan. 8 with the board clerk, Annette Ashley.
Janssen said she noticed on Jan. 3 that Dahmen had turned in photocopies, rather than original signatures. She said it was the first time a candidate had failed to turn in original signatures in her seven or eight years as clerk.
Janssen indicated most candidates running for the MCPASD Board of Education for the first time call or stop by to ask her about the process. She said she explains the requirements and provides a how-to guide provided by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
Dahmen never inquired and Janssen didn’t know he was running until the day he dropped off his materials, she said.
Following Greer’s challenge to his candidacy, Dahmen penned a response, providing his account of the process. Calling himself a “veteran teacher but a novice candidate,” Dahmen said he was initially unaware of the need to turn in original signatures. He added that the filing clerk did not inform him originals were required until one day after he dropped off his Declaration of Candidacy paperwork.
Dahmen said he immediately provided the originals after being informed of the rule. He noted that the originals were identical to the photocopies.
“I gave the photocopies to [Janssen],” Dahmen wrote in his complaint. “After handing my papers to her, I waited for her to tell me whether I had complied with the filing requirements. I asked if the documents were adequate, to which she replied in the affirmative.”
“The following day, [Janssen] called me,” Dahmen continued. “She said that she had made a mistake in accepting photocopied papers and that she had been unaware of the statutory provisions for this requirement which required that the originals be filed.”
Dahmen, who teaches science at Glacier Creek Middle School and is grievance chairman with the MEA teachers union, said he immediately, following the school workday, delivered the original nomination papers to the filing officer.
“The overriding purpose of nomination papers is to show that a candidate has a least a minimum level of support for his or her candidacy from qualified electors in the political subdivision where the candidate seeks to stand for office,” he wrote. “I timely met that standard.”
The Incumbent Responds
Greer said that, despite ongoing uncertainty about whether his seat will be contested on the April 2 ballot, he will continue campaigning on a platform based on “all the good things the district is doing.”
Greer disagreed with Dahmen’s assertion that the challenger’s absence from the ballot would prove only the well-connected and the well-financed are able to serve on the school board.
“I think if you look at the makeup of our school board you’ll see we come from all walks of life,” Greer stated.
“Part of the reason the [filing] process exists is to ascertain whether someone is serious about serving on the board,” said Greer. “If [Dahmen] had simply asked a question, he wouldn’t be in this position. Honestly, even if he had happened to see me and asked me, I would have told him the truth [about needing to turn in original signatures].”
“I’m not afraid of running against him because I truly believe we’re doing great things in the district right now,” Greer added.
Other Questions Remain
Perry Hibner, the school district’s community relation specialist, said if Dahmen ends up on the ballot and wins the Area 1 seat, questions about his ability to sit on the school board could remain.
Barry Forbes, associate executive director and staff counsel for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said last week the criminal conflict of interest statute (WI Stat. 946.13), the code of ethics for government officials (WI Stat. 19.59) and the common law doctrine of incompatibility of offices or positions all contain prohibitions intended to keep elected officials from overseeing themselves as employees.
Forbes said Dahmen, who filed with the district to retire from his teaching position in June, might have to leave his job before then in order to take a seat on the school board.