Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn said he will reimburse the county for DARE t-shirts which featured an advertisement for his reelection after a school district sent the sheriff a letter objecting to the ads.
Sarcoxie Superintendent Kevin Goddard said he learned about the advertisement on the t-shirts a few days after the May 2 DARE graduation at Sarcoxie.
“My own fifth grade daughter got one,” Goddard said. “But she had put hers on and sat in the back seat behind me. She complained she was warm on the way home so I told her to take off that extra t-shirt, and she did and threw it on the floor of the car.
“I got a call the next day from a board member who said I needed to be aware of it. I also got a call from a parent about the ad and I let the DARE officer know I needed to talk to him.”
Goddard said the t-shirts violated the district’s policy and state statute.
He said he wrote a letter to the sheriff regarding the t-shirts.
In the letter, Goddard said: “This sort of political message does not allow the school to remain neutral on political issues.”
“State statute is clear that no public funds, directly or indirectly, may be used to oppose or support a ballot issue,” the letter, dated May 10, said. “The Missouri Ethics Commission would not support the use of school funds to pay school employees for their time while distributing such materials to students.
“In addition, school board Policy KI limits advertising and distribution within the school. The policy specifically prohibits political campaigning. While it would not be realistic to try to rectify the situation at this time, I would remind the Sheriff’s office to avoid such advertisements in the future within schools.”
Jasper County Presiding Commissioner John Bartosh said the Sheriff presented a bill for the t-shirts, which were handed out in Sarcoxie, Avilla and Jasper over the past few weeks. The commissioners refused to pay the bill, which was seeking $305 for reimbursement from the Law Enforcement Sales Tax Fund.
In a statement released Friday, Dunn said he would pay the cost “To avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
Bartosh said the Jasper County Prosecutor’s Office was investigating to see if Dunn broke any laws against using public money for his reelection campaign.
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Dunn, in his statement, said he didn’t do anything illegal.
“I personally paid the same amount for sponsorships as others have in the past, and the D.A.R.E. funds used for the purchase of the shirts was the same amount as with other sponsors,” Dunn wrote in his statement, released Friday. “Nevertheless, I have been publicly criticized through allegations that I have used public funds for my re-election campaign, that I have created a conflict of interest by using the program to promote my re-election and that I have acted unethically.
My attorney has advised me that I have done nothing illegal since I was treated the same as any other sponsor from a financial aspect, and I have not violated any election ethics laws. Any other candidate or organization can seek to sponsor a batch of the shirts.”
The Sheriff and the commission have been at odds for the past year over a number of issues, including distribution of the Law Enforcement Sales Tax grant funds, overcrowding at the Jasper County Jail in Carthage and making repairs at the jail.
Dunn has sued the commissioners over their actions last year taking control of the Law Enforcement Sales Tax Grant board, and control of the Sheriff’s budget.
Sheriff Dunn has been sued by Henry County for unpaid costs of housing Jasper County prisoners at that jail after the commissioners declined to pay the more-than-$100,000 bill presented by Henry County.
Goddard said the sheriff’s DARE officer told him he sought advertising on the t-shirts to offset some of the costs of the shirts.
The shirts feature ads from other businesses, but no other political ads.
“The cost of these shirts is paid in part with public funds set aside for the D.A.R.E. program,” Dunn said in his statement. “But the cost is also partially underwritten by sponsorships from businesses and other groups who pay for their logos to be imprinted on the back of the shirt which in turn saves public funds. Recently I decided to personally sponsor a batch of the shirts with a re-election logo. I personally paid the same amount for sponsorships as others have in the past, and the D.A.R.E. funds used for the purchase of the shirts was the same amount as with other sponsors.”
Bartosh said this dispute does not involve the commissioners other than that they declined to pay the bill presented by Dunn.
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Bartosh said he heard from Sarcoxie, Avilla and Jasper schools about the t-shirts and that he believes Dunn was wrong to place his logo on the shirts.
“Those shirts are copywrited,” Bartosh said. “The DARE program has an exclusive on the t-shirts and you can’t print your own shirts with any kind of advertising. He told everyone that you sell advertising to support them? That’s not true.”