Commission accepts Tony Bennett settlement; leak not addressed
The Indiana State Ethics Commission met today and unanimously accepted a report by the Inspector General which detailed the settlement reached with the attorney for former Superintendent Tony Bennett.
According to the settlement, Bennett admits to using state resources for political purposes and agrees to pay a $5,000 fine. The Commission cleared him of misconduct in the Christel House Academy grade-changing scandal. However, it does not address any political motives behind the grade-change.
In a statement released to the media, Bennett skirts responsibility for his unethical actions by blaming himself for not having pre-written his own department rules which would have allowed him to use state resources for his re-election campaign.
“I have agreed to pay a fine and accept responsibility for violations of DOE’s electronic information policies. Limited personal uses of the agency’s computer systems for political activity on my part would have been permitted if I had implemented policies that expressly permitted those uses. I did not and the failure to implement those policies is no one’s fault, but my own.”
Today’s statement runs contrary to Bennett’s earlier statement when he initially reacted to the Inspector General’s complaint:
“Throughout my time in public service I made every effort to be cognizant of and to follow state rules and guidelines for elected officials.”
The settlement (which can be read here) was leaked to a reporter in Washington D.C. yesterday and was getting public traction here in Indiana at the tail end of yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting. It is unclear how or who leaked the settlement because no explanation by the Ethics Commission was forthcoming today regarding the leak.
Bennett was absent from the Ethics Commission hearing, and was instead represented by one of his 3-member attorney team, Larry Mackey. Mackey later told the media that Bennett was on a vacation with his family.
Mackey sat beside Inspector General Thomas during his report presentation and began his brief statement by praising the work of Thomas.
Thomas explained to the Commissioners that the $5,000 fine was consistent with previous fines levied in similar ethics cases. The Commissioners asked no questions and voted unanimously to accept the report.
Since Bennett’s defeat, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law making it a crime (Class A misdemeanor for one offense; up to a Class D felony for 2nd offense) for a government employee (including public school teachers) to use employer property to convey messages advocating for a candidate or referendum question.
Under Indiana law, the punishment for a Class A misdemeanor is under IC 35-50-3-2, imprisonment for a fixed term of not more than one (1) year; in addition, he may be fined not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).” Class D felonies under IC 35-50-2-7 are punishable by at least six months in jail (a misdemeanor sentence) or as much as three years in prison (a felony sentence), as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
Tony Bennett has 90 days to pay his $5,000 fine.