Indiana News

Bennett Faces Ethics Complaint Over Campaign Use of State Computers

Bennett: Will "demonstrate proper adherence to state rules." Pelath: Unsure that hearing will be unbiased


Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett ( file photo)

Former state school superintendent Tony Bennett faces an ethics complaint from the state inspector general.

Listen to Ray Steele's report from Indy's Morning News:

Bennett himself asked the Inspector General's office to investigate his actions, and Inspector General David Thomas found that there was probable cause that an ethics violation had taken place. Thomas said in a statement that the state ethics commission will hold a public hearing on the matter January 9.

E-mails obtained by the Associated Press showed that Bennett's computer in the state superintendent's office contained the name of a Republican donor as well as email conversations about his then-opponent in the 2012 election, Democrat Glenda Ritz. A complaint accuses Bennett of using his computer for fundraising and to schedule campaign meetings and phone calls.

Bennett requested an investigation to clear him of wrongdoing in the calculation of last year's A-to-F grades for schools. E-mail showed that Bennett's staff made a last-minute change to the formula to ensure an A for the Christel House charter school in Indianapolis.

Bennett's call for an investigation came on the day he resigned as Florida's education commissioner. It's unclear whether that investigation is complete. Thomas said he would have no comment beyond the eight-line complaint.

Bennett did not comment beyond a statement e-mailed to reporters. "Throughout my time in public service I made every effort to be cognizant of and to follow state rules and guidelines for elected officials. I understand no conclusions have been made in this matter and I look forward to working with the Ethics Commission and the Inspector General’s office to demonstrate proper adherence to state rules and guidelines."

Last month, House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath asked Thomas to speed up his investigation of Bennett. "We've exercised our right to hold the IG's feet to the fire, and it's finally yielded at least one somewhat positive result," Pelath said. However, Pelath says he doesn't have complete confidence that the Ethics Commission will be unbiased. "We have to hope that the system will work. We have to remember that the IG and the people who will decide this case have all been appointed by the (Republican) governor," said Pelath.



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