The commission in charge of enforcing fair play in politics has ruled that one of the Hesperia Unified School District's two employee unions did not violate state law during this year's school board campaign season.


The Fair Political Practices Commission was responding to a complaint filed by school board candidate Chris Bentley, who alleged that California School Employees Association #684, which represents the non-teacher, non-management staff of the HUSD, violated state law when it used district resources for campaign activities this autumn.


On September 24, the CSEA sponsored a forum for school board candidates at the district headquarters. According to Bentley, the CSEA's earlier decision to endorse candidates Frank Rich and Eric Swanson made the event a partisan one, despite the CSEA's invitation to all six candidates to appear and speak at the event. (Bentley, along with candidates Chris Lindsay and Anthony Riley, did not attend.)


Bentley also said the CSEA newsletter, which contained an endorsement of presidential candidate Barack Obama and solicited support for Rich and Swanson, and included CSEA chapter president Ruth Ter Keurst's phone number at work, showed she was doing political work while on the clock at her HUSD job.


But the FPPC disagrees. In an October 1 letter to Bentley, with copies sent to Ter Keurst, Rich, Swanson and the HUSD officials named in Bentley's original complaint, FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter puts it simply: "After review of your complaint, the information you provided is insufficient to establish a violation of the [Political Reform] Act."


"The political reform act is pretty toothless," Bentley said. He's also filed a complaint with the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit regarding the CSEA's actions, and said the unit is reviewing his complaint. "They can get a pass on the FPPC, but they need to be very careful."


"I had turned over to [the state level of] CSEA to look at it," said Ter Keurst. "They felt I hadn't done anything wrong."


She did concede one point, though.


"The only thing I had done wrong had been corrected within 24 hours," she said. "I made a mistake in our newsletter: I put in my work number."


At the request of Superintendent Mark McKinney, CSEA posted a revised version of their newsletter on their Web site, and posted a flyer at school sites with Ter Keurst's personal phone number, directing employees to use that number instead for CSEA activity.


Despite the FPPC's decision, Bentley said he still believes his complaint was valid.


"There's criminal activity here," Bentley said. "The only reason that I care about this is it's gotta stop. [District employees engaged in political activity during school hours] in '06, it's happening in '08."


Ter Keurst said she hopes the union will continue its political activities in the 2010 school board election, despite the political fallout in this year's election cycle.


"I learn by the school of hard knocks," she said.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.