A local political campaign may have violated state law by mailing a letter to the home addresses of Lincoln County Schools employees.
A special session of the Lincoln County Board of Education has been set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss the matter in response to complaints about the letter, which board member Tommy Houser’s campaign sent to teachers and other school staff.
Whoever accessed those addresses for Houser’s campaign may have committed a crime because the information is protected as private personnel records under North Carolina law.
Bob Joyce, a specialist in public employee law with the University of North Carolina School of Government, told the Times-News this week that the names of school employees are a public record, but their addresses are protected and can’t legally be given out to a campaign.
“Under G.S. 115C-321(c) it is a misdemeanor for a public official to allow access to confidential information from a personnel file if the access is allowed ‘knowingly, willfully and with malice.’” Joyce wrote in an email on Tuesday afternoon.
While Houser has not said who gave his campaign the addresses, in a phone call with the Times-News on Tuesday he expressed surprise about the situation being controversial. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” he said. “I was just trying to tell teachers what a good job they were doing.”
Houser claimed it was common knowledge that board members have access to employee information, including addresses.
Whether that’s the case is unclear, but for a board member to use confidential information to benefit his campaign is drawing criticism this week.
Superintendent Sherry Hoyle has also denied requests for a similar address list from citizens working with other board candidates’ campaigns, citing the same statute as Joyce.
Houser’s letter to school employees discusses his personal background and reminds teachers that their supplements have increased during his time on the board. He also encourages school employees to contact him directly with their needs and concerns.
The letter concludes, “Thank you for the confidence you have given me by allowing me to serve on the board for the past 12 years. With your support I will strive to work together and continue to have Lincoln County Schools one of the best in the state.”
Despite his characterization of the letter, nowhere does it describe his view of the job the teachers are doing.
Staff writer Jenna-Ley Harrison also contributed to this report.