The Louisiana Ethics Commission has initiated debt collection proceedings against two elected members of the Orleans Parish School Board for alleged violations of state campaign finance laws. Board incumbents James "Jimmy" Fahrenholtz and Carolyn Green Ford are among 40 elected officials statewide who, along with former candidates, are the subjects of stepped-up efforts by the state to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties for late filings of campaign finance reports.
Ethics Commission officials say campaign finance reports ensure the integrity of the election process by informing the public about a candidate's funding sources and expenditures. The actions are the latest sign of trouble for the School Board, whose incumbents are beginning to draw opposition for the Sept. 18 election after a public uproar over some board members' treatment of popular School Superintendent Anthony Amato. Qualifying for all seven district seats runs from Aug. 4-6.
Fahrenholtz has represented District 3 since 2000. An attorney, he has been subpoenaed to appear before the Ethics Commission Aug. 12 to respond to charges he owes the state $4,000 in fines for failing in a timely manner to file two campaign finance reports. Fahrenholtz, who recently helped fight off a reported board coup against Amato, says he will appeal the fines -- at least until the Sept. 18 primary election rolls around. Fahrenholtz acknowledges that his dispute with the state ethics folks has escalated since last year, when he initially was fined $2,000 for filing a campaign finance report 267 days late. He has since been fined an additional $2,000 for failing to file a second report due Feb. 17, which was more than 139 days past due by press time.
"That is the same situation I was in before; it's built some," Fahrenholtz says. "If I can't get it overturned, then I will just go ahead and pay it. I think I'm in the right and they (the ethics board) are not. It's a paperwork thing. It's no big deal."
Ethics Commission attorney Alesia Mottle says Fahrenholtz's fines could soon total $10,000 -- more than the average School Board member's annual salary. Fahrenholtz has until July 12 to file his second campaign report or, Mottle says, she will seek an extra $6,000 in penalties. Fahrenholtz's hearing before the commission is scheduled to begin Aug. 12 -- six days after qualifying closes.
Fahrenholtz's strategy against the charges contains an element of risk. Under state law, any political candidate who spends campaign funds while owing the ethics board money -- after appeals have been exhausted -- may be assessed a civil penalty "not to exceed 200 percent of expenditure or $1,000, whichever is greater." Fahrenholtz, whose district includes Lakeview and parts of Mid-City, had no announced opposition at press time.
Meanwhile, Carolyn Green Ford, an administrator of the Total Community Action anti-poverty agency who has been representing School Board District 5 since she was first elected in 1992, allegedly owes $8,600 in fines and penalties for tardy campaign reports, including one filed 392 days late. The ethics board is seeking to garnish her School Board salary until the debt is paid, commission attorney Mottle said.
In a recent letter to the School Board's payroll department, Mottle wrote that pursuant to state law, "the non-exempt portion of [Ford's] public salary will be forfeited beginning July 23, 2004 until the (Ethics) Board has received payment in full."
In response, Ford says that the person who usually files her campaign reports did not file it. "I'm going to try and resolve it," she says.
Adding to Ford's woes is last week's announcement that she will have opposition in the Sept. 18 primary. "I hate that I have opposition for the reason that I have opposition," Ford says, referring to what she calls widespread "untrue statements" that she supported a failed attempt to fire Amato.
Phyllis Landrieu, the aunt of one of the state's U.S. senators, its lieutenant governor and a local civil court judge, says she is running a "reform" campaign to give new leadership to the Uptown district. A veteran of some 50 campaigns who has never held elected office herself, Landrieu recently received her master's degree in education from the University of New Orleans. She has served on state education advisory councils, and from 1997 to 1999 was a member of the United Negro College Fund Board. During the 1970s, she served for eight years on the New Orleans Aviation Board.
In other district news:
• In School Board District 1, which covers parts of eastern New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward, college educator Heidi Lovett Daniels last week announced she is challenging incumbent Cheryl Mills, who is president of the board. Mills was reportedly part of the faction that tried to oust Amato. Daniels, a political newcomer and a doctoral candidate in education administration at UNO, is an assistant professor of education at Dillard University. Mike Glapion, an insurance agent and political newcomer, also might enter the race, sources say.
• District 2 incumbent Gail Glapion (who is not related to Mike Glapion) has not announced opposition, even though she has said she is retiring after winning five elections to the board since 1984. Glapion stayed neutral in the recent dispute over Amato's fate but indicated support for the superintendent.
• In District 4, incumbent Ellenese Brooks-Simms may get opposition from mayoral press secretary Patrick Evans and assistant city attorney Tommy Robichaux, sources say. First elected in 2000, Brooks-Simms has been an outspoken critic of Amato.
• District 6 incumbent Una Anderson, who went to court to block Amato's firing, had no opposition at press time. She was elected in 2000.
• District 7 incumbent Elliot "Doc" Willard, reportedly part of the initial anti-Amato faction, won unopposed in 2000. He has yet to draw an opponent.