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Thread: Is the website WaylandSchoolCommittee.org legal and appropriate?

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    Default Is the website WaylandSchoolCommittee.org legal and appropriate?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    This privately funded web site is linked to from the publicly-funded Wayland Public Schools website (see http://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/distric...ttee/index.htm). Is this really a true separation of church and state when, to the average person, it looks like the publicly funded website is directing you to an "official" website for the School Committee. I'd say Mr. Dieffenbach's assertion above is not so concrete.
    www.waylandschoolcommittee.org *IS* the official web site of the Wayland School Committee. Both the "linking" WPS page (cited by Mr. Baron, above) and the "linked" WSC page clearly state the WSC site's purpose.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    www.waylandschoolcommittee.org *IS* the official web site of the Wayland School Committee. Both the "linking" WPS page (cited by Mr. Baron, above) and the "linked" WSC page clearly state the WSC site's purpose.
    No, it is the official website of five people (owned by Mr. Dieffenbach, not the town) who contribute their own funds to advocate for things like an override, along with providing information about what the school committee is doing. An official school committee website is, in my opinion, funded publicly and free of opinion/propoganda/etc. I'm not saying I think the private one is wrong or bad, but it is not what I would think of as an official site for a publicly elected body and I don't think the link is appropriate as it can be very easily misleading to people not paying close attention.

    Whether the links are accompanied by explanations or not, it still is a publicly funded website providing links to information that takes a political stance. It really is not a lot different, again in my opinion, to have this link on the School's website than the link in Charlie Schlegel's e-mail directing people to override information.

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    I registered www.waylandschoolcommittee.org, and I maintain it as webmaster, but I am not its owner--that role is served by the Wayland School Committee (WSC).

    The site is the official site of the WSC because that's the Committee's position. This fact doesn't change because someone other than the WSC wishes otherwise, even if he or she wishes really hard.

    I cannot speak for the other members of the WSC, but in my opinion, the site wasn't designed for people who choose not to pay attention to it, its front-and-center caveat, or the same caveat immediately adjacent to the link on the Wayland Public Schools site. Rather, quite the opposite.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    An official school committee website is, in my opinion, funded publicly and free of opinion/propoganda/etc.
    One other thing--are you really saying that a committee shouldn't be able to express an opinion on an ''official'' web site (and perhaps other places)? Such a limitation would not only impede public officials from carrying out their responsibilities and serving the community, it would go far beyond what even the OCPF prohibits.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    One other thing--are you really saying that a committee shouldn't be able to express an opinion on an ''official'' web site (and perhaps other places)? Such a limitation would not only impede public officials from carrying out their responsibilities and serving the community, it would go far beyond what even the OCPF prohibits.
    Nope, look at my original answer on this. I said that there is nothing wrong or bad about a site where the SC chooses to advocate for their positions. Good for you for going the extra mile and funding it.

    However, the current path is cloaked in misperception (not evil intent, mind you). The privately-funded site contains key documents from meetings for public consumption, it links back to the Wayland Public Schools website for agenda/minutes, etc. It also mixes in opinion and politics. This would not be acceptable on www.wayland.k12.ma.us and it should not be acceptable on your site either unless it is COMPLETELY separate. Right now, it is not.

    I'm not so sure the OCPF would say this is allowed like this. Have they ruled on the appropriateness of this site? Maybe I'm wrong here...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    Nope, look at my original answer on this. I said that there is nothing wrong or bad about a site where the SC chooses to advocate for their positions.
    In Post #15, you said "An official school committee website is, in my opinion, funded publicly and free of opinion/propoganda/etc." So I asked, do you really mean that an official site should be free of opinion?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    However, the current path is cloaked in misperception (not evil intent, mind you).
    I don't know what "cloaked in misperception" means. Are you saying that either the WPS or the WSC site isn't clear about the latter's purpose? Or are you saying that a visitor who isn't paying attention might miss the latter's purpose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    The privately-funded site contains key documents from meetings for public consumption, it links back to the Wayland Public Schools website for agenda/minutes, etc. It also mixes in opinion and politics. This would not be acceptable on www.wayland.k12.ma.us and it should not be acceptable on your site either unless it is COMPLETELY separate.
    "Entirely separate" seems to miss the whole point of Al Gore's Internet. In addition to eBay, YouTube, and The Onion, the Internet is blessed by the invention of the hyperlink, which provides for pathways between information without a link's creator necessarily taking a position on the destination. One may certainly choose not to follow a hyperlink, of course, Dawn Davies and Wayland eNews being perhaps the most notable example of such restraint.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    In Post #15, you said "An official school committee website is, in my opinion, funded publicly and free of opinion/propoganda/etc." So I asked, do you really mean that an official site should be free of opinion?
    Yes, I really mean that a governmental site that purports to provide official information such as agendas, minutes, committee documents, etc. should be free of political opinion. I'm not saying, however, there is no place for political opinion. It is just not here. Your Wayland blog is a perfect place for it. Here is a perfect place for it. Letters to the editor are a perfect place for it. I'm sure there are many other examples.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I don't know what "cloaked in misperception" means. Are you saying that either the WPS or the WSC site isn't clear about the latter's purpose? Or are you saying that a visitor who isn't paying attention might miss the latter's purpose?
    I'm saying it is VERY easy for the average reader of the site to miss the fact that this is not officially connected to the public school site. The misperceptions come from the cross-links, the document postings, etc. I see the disclaimers, but the perception of the site trumps those in a NY minute. I guess, to your question above, a bit of both in your scenarios above.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    "Entirely separate" seems to miss the whole point of Al Gore's Internet. In addition to eBay, YouTube, and The Onion, the Internet is blessed by the invention of the hyperlink, which provides for pathways between information without a link's creator necessarily taking a position on the destination. One may certainly choose not to follow a hyperlink, of course, Dawn Davies and Wayland eNews being perhaps the most notable example of such restraint.
    I disagree, Jeff. It is the obligation of the School Committee (or any other governmental body, for that matter) to completely disassociate its private website with the official website publicly paid for by us, the taxpayers. That's been my point all along. I know what's possible, but I ask is it appropriate? To the point of answering questions, has the OCPF been asked about this website and its appropriateness? If yes, and they approved, then my opinion is moot. To quote Dr. Burton..."I'd really like to know."
    Last edited by Jeff Baron; 07-01-2008 at 07:46 AM. Reason: Fixes quote formatting

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    Private citizens are entitled to operate a web site and employ it to advocate their positions. The fact that these private citizens happen to be members of the School Board does not diminish this right.

    However, is it appropriate for a page in the public school web site to hyperlink to one and only one privately-operated web site? To a web site operated by one group of private citizens advocating their particular positions?

    Who approved the addition of this one hyperlink to the public school web page? Can other private citizens create web sites advocating alternative positions and have hyperlinks inserted into the the public school web page so readers can navigate to their sites too?

    Were School Board Members to use their public positions to directly or indirectly limit connectivity from public school web pages to privately-operated web sites of their choosing, then in my opinion an ethical boundary would be breached.

    The current situation may be entirely innocent, but it reeks of poor judgment and invites scrutiny.


    Dave

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Bernstein View Post
    Who approved the addition of this one hyperlink to the public school web page? Can other private citizens create web sites advocating alternative positions and have hyperlinks inserted into the public school web page so readers can navigate to their sites too?

    The current situation may be entirely innocent, but it reeks of poor judgment and invites scrutiny.
    Good points, Dave. Well, we'll find out something this Monday night at the website is part of the SC agenda. Come to Town Building at 7:30 and ask your questions live!

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    I thought Alan Reiss raised a really good question at tonight's SC meeting - what happens when the day comes that Jeff Dieffenbach is no longer on the school committee? What happens to the website then?

    After nine long years, it's hard to imagine a Wayland School Committee without him, but realistically will he want to run again after the way things have gone this year?

    Or if he does run, is it possible he wouldn't get elected?

    While it's too early to tell on either of those questions, it's not too early to wonder what would happen to the SC website at that point.

    According to what was said by Jeff tonight, the SC using his site - www.waylandschoolcommittee.org - as a platform for advocating candidates and positions is legal, but is it proper? Clearly if this site were owned by the schools, it would not be legal, but because it is owned by an individual, it is.
    So, the law has been circumvented, but one still have to wonder if it is appropriate.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    As has always been my intention, and as I have said several times of late, when I leave the Wayland School Committee (WSC) for whatever reason, the domain www.waylandschoolcommittee.org will belong to the Committee, just as it does now.

    The WSC site no more "circumvents the law" than does, well, providing stickers to voters to facilitate a write-in campaign for public office, to cite just one example pulled randomly from the air.

    In fact, my read of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) "Interpretive Bulletins" suggests that there may be nothing that the privately-funded WSC site does that couldn't be done on the publicly-funded Wayland Public Schools (WPS site).

    The relevant OCPF prohibition is against the sending of unsolicited information relating to a ballot question using public funds. [IB-92-02, I.D., p.4 regarding print information, and I.G., p.4 regarding electronic information]

    The OCPF allows publicly funded sites to link to ballot question committee web sites, subject to several conditions that do not apply to non-ballot question committee web sites. [IB-04-01, II.A., p.3, 2nd paragraph under II.A.]

    Moreover, the OCPF allows publicly funded sites to include "information and endorsements" regarding a ballot question as long as the information/endorsements are not sent unsolicited. [IB-92-02, I.G, p.4]

    The WSC site is not used to send unsolicited messages. It does include "information and endorsements" regarding ballot questions, but only occasionally, and only representing a small fraction of the site's content.

    The WSC site (a) is a convenient way for the WSC to quickly post information without burdening public school employees and (b) consistent with the law and the OCPF's interpretation of the law.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The WSC site no more "circumvents the law" than does, well, providing stickers to voters to facilitate a write-in campaign for public office, to cite just one example pulled randomly from the air.
    Well, given that Mr. Dieffenbach clearly has not taken the time to even Google the Secretary of State's rules on running a sticker campaign (http://www.sec.state.ma.us/Ele/elestkr/stkridx.htm), I thought I'd post them for everyone else here:

    If a scanner voting system is used in your community the techniques for a write-in campaign are similar to those used for paper ballots. The voter writes in the name and address of the candidate with no political party or other designation, in the space provided below the list of candidates for that office. The voter can join together the arrow pointing to the candidate written-in or fill in the oval next to the candidate written in. Although, this is not necessary for the vote to be valid.

    If you wish to run a sticker campaign where a scanner system is used, you must comply with the following requirements:

    • The sticker for an individual candidate should be 2 1/4" long by 1/4" high to fit the space on the ballot. Measure them, these are the exact specifications of my stickers.
    • The name of the candidate shall be printed in black ink exactly as it appears on the voting list, in capital letters 1/8" to 1/4" in height. The number and street (if any) and the city or the town where the candidate resides shall be added after the name in smaller type size than the name. No political or other designation (such as republican, veteran, present representative, etc.) shall appear. Again, printed as instructed.
    • Voters should be instructed how to affix the sticker, depending on whether it is self-adhering or the type that must be moistened. Sticker directions may be attached to a card, which may also contain information about the candidate. Clears up any controversy about my cards too. Completely "in bounds."
    • Voters should be instructed to place the sticker in one of the spaces provided beneath the list of candidates for that office. The voter is not required to join together the arrow pointing to the candidate, or fill in the oval next to the candidate. Also something we did.
    • Stickers must not be distributed inside the polling place or within the building in which the polling place is located, or less than 150 feet of the entrance to the polling place. When and where a scanner system is used, a slate of candidates may run on a single sticker. The slate sticker may be of a size to accommodate the entire slate; multiply the 1/4" height by the number of candidates and follow the instructions above. We stayed outside the 150 ft. zone. The "slate" part of this is inapplicable.

    Just thought I'd take the time to do the research for Mr. Dieffenbach here and provide accurate, researched information. Given the wildly incorrect comparison, though, it makes you really begin to wonder about the legality of the SC website and the amount of real (as opposed to the suppositions posited in this post) research he or anyone else did to find out how much it truly complies with OCPF rules.

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    Thank you, Jeff, for reinforcing my point. Sticker-aided write-in campaigns and the WSC web site alike are both legal and appropriate.

    If you have some basis for suggesting that the WSC site (or the links to it from the WPS site) is either illegal or inappropriate, I would be interested to hear it. I suspect that objections, if any, will relate more to appropriateness.

    So, let me ask the forum whether it deems any of the following actions inappropriate.

    • Deliberating on and recommending a school budget
    • Advocating for a school budget
    • Communicating information and advocacy to those who ask for it

    The WSC web site helps the Committee carry out these actions. A small fraction of that site, for relatively short periods of time, contains information and advocacy related to ballot questions in a manner consistent with practices overseen and recommended by the OCPF.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Thank you, Jeff, for reinforcing my point. Sticker-aided write-in campaigns and the WSC web site alike are both legal and appropriate.

    If you have some basis for suggesting that the WSC site (or the links to it from the WPS site) is either illegal or inappropriate, I would be interested to hear it. I suspect that objections, if any, will relate more to appropriateness.
    Not sure I get how I reinforced your point? Anyway...

    The town's website is paid for by the public, its a piece of valuable equity which carries the good name and full faith of the town of Wayland. By attaching a private site to it which advocates for ballot questions, then that hyperlink uses the public equity for the benefit of the private site. My understanding is that this is not allowed per the "Anderson" ruling under the OCPF rules.

    Again, it is not the website itself, it is the appearance of "officialness" (not a real word, but it works here) that is the problem. Why not have the OCPF issue a written ruling as to the issue and be done with it. They have the final say on this, not me. Whatever their opinion is, in my judgement, is the acceptable one. I guess I'd say, Jeff, to take it beyond the phone call you discussed last night and ask them to issue an official position on, as you mention, appropriateness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    So, let me ask the forum whether it deems any of the following actions inappropriate.

    • Deliberating on and recommending a school budget
    • Advocating for a school budget
    • Communicating information and advocacy to those who ask for it


    The WSC web site helps the Committee carry out these actions. A small fraction of that site, for relatively short periods of time, contains information and advocacy related to ballot questions in a manner consistent with practices overseen and recommended by the OCPF.
    I'll answer this by saying that the actions are not inappropriate if it separate and distinct from the town's public website (as demonstrated in my response about "Anderson"). The current website blurs the line to the average resident -- disclaimers or not.

    Again, let the OCPF rule in a written fashion and the debate is over. I couldn't say for sure what is the correct position, and both you and I are just supposing based on limited knowledge. I ask, then, will you bring it to them and ask for this written opinion?
    Last edited by Jeff Baron; 07-08-2008 at 09:07 AM. Reason: Spelling Error....Sorry!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    Why not have the OCPF issue a written ruling as to the issue and be done with it.
    Jeff, you chastised me for not doing research on sticker campaigns, but I'll decline to return the favor except to say that my post above is not my personal opinion, but rather references the OCPF's written ruling.

    The OCPF allows publicly funded sites to link to ballot question committee web sites, subject to several conditions that do not apply to non-ballot question committee web sites. [IB-04-01, II.A., p.3, 2nd paragraph under II.A.]

    Moreover, the OCPF allows publicly funded sites to include "information and endorsements" regarding a ballot question as long as the information/endorsements are not sent unsolicited. [IB-92-02, I.G, p.4]


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    The current website blurs the line to the average resident -- disclaimers or not.
    Average residents, here in Lake Waylandbegon?

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