Curlee contacts DA
Williamson County Board of Education member Susan Curlee, District 12, filed a sworn complaint with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance alleging that the Williamson Strong parent group is an unregistered politically active group.
The over 100-page complaint states that Williamson Strong engaged in political activities with Williamson County Schools, Williamson County School Board members, local teachers union WCEA and a political action committee (W-PACE) comprised of teachers.
A six-member board with the Registry in Nashville will hear the complaint Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 10:30 a.m.
According to Tennessee state law under Tennessee Code Annotated 2-10, Campaign Finances, a politically active group must file campaign finance disclosures with the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, including candidate endorsements made monetarily.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, notified Williamson Strong co-founder Jennifer Smith of Franklin about the complaint. Smith received notice of Curlee’s complaint Monday by certified mail.
“The complaint appears to allege that Williamson Strong supported candidates without registering as a Political Campaign Committee (PAC),” Rawlins said. “This can be making a contribution directly or [for example] taking out an ad asking you to vote for a candidate.”
“This is the [TCA 2-10] statute our office enforces, so we would only have authority if this was the statute Williamson Strong violated,” Rawlins said.
Rawlins said that there is no “investigation.”
“We have received the complaint,” he said. “The six-member Registry of Election Finance will review the complaint and determine whether to dismiss the complaint or issue a show cause notice to Williamson Strong.”
Rawlins explained that a show cause notice would be a letter to Williamson Strong detailing the statutes the Registry believes may have been violated. Williamson Strong would then have a chance to reply to the allegations.
The complaint lists Williamson Strong’s political activities as endorsing candidates, conducting opposition research, organizing volunteers for surveys, and utilizing social media and editorials to promote certain candidates and positions on political issues, “while clearly opposing others” during the county elections last summer.
Curlee did not respond to the Herald’s requests for comment.
Smith defended the organization, which she explained as a “grassroots effort” to support Williamson County Schools.
“We have no money. We have no budget. We have no bank account. We did not give money to candidates,” Smith said. “Mrs. Curlee is trying to have a case where nothing exists.
“A lawyer is representing us. I can’t predict what the ethics board will say, but we have done nothing wrong. We are parent volunteers. We are in the bowels of the ship.”
Curlee approaches DA’s office
Curlee’s complaint also consists of a note explaining that she contacted the District Attorney’s office to “address involvement of Williamson County School Officials and others,” regarding political activity further supporting her complaint.
District Attorney Kim Helper in the 21st district confirmed that Curlee approached her office about “sitting down” with her to review information that she has recently gathered.
Helper said that she turned Curlee’s request over to a pro tem attorney at the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.
Helper explained that she did not want any “special treatment” to be questioned regarding Curlee or Williamson County Schools pertaining to the request.
“I know Mrs. Curlee,” she said. “Some employees in our office have spouses employed by Williamson County Schools.”
There are currently no official documents from Helper’s office regarding the complaint.
On Sept. 29, Curlee gathered information by placing an open records request to WCS attorney Jason Golden regarding correspondence between members of Williamson Strong, school board members, Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney and “Williamson Secrets,” an anonymous Twitter account.
The request resulted in about 2,000 emails gathered by WCS staff, according to Communications Director Carol Birdsong, which were viewed by Curlee the first week in November.
Curlee submitted another Freedom of Information Act request Nov. 21 to the Franklin Special School District asking for information about her two children as well as Williamson Strong and Williamson Secrets during the time frame from March to Oct. 31.
That request resulted in over 500 pages of documents gathered by FSSD staff, which was viewed by Curlee recently.
The six-member board with the Registry of Election Finance, appointed by the governor and the House and Senate speakers, consists of Patricia Heim (chair) Nashville; Norma Lester (secretary), Memphis; Kent Coleman, Murfressboro; Henry Fincher, Cookeville; Tom Lawles, Nashville; and Justin Pitt, Franklin.
Curlee was elected to the Williamson County School Board of Education Aug. 7 during the County General Election, along with five other candidates, who either defeated or replaced unopposed previous school board incumbents.