School board candidate forum off

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 27, 2000

LAPLACE – There won’t be a candidate’s forum for the four men running for the District 8 seat on the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board. For onecandidate, Russ Wise, the lack of a debate is so upsetting he is seriously considering filing a lawsuit against the school board.

“I feel that as a basic act of democracy, we should make ourselves available to the voters all at the same time,” said Wise after informing the press the proposed debate set for tonight had been canceled.

Wise’s frustration comes on the heels of his month-long attempt to put the forum together. Shortly after qualifying for the race Wise wrote the threeother candidates, Charles M. Duhon, Randall Triche and Michael Maggiore,asking them to participate in the forum. Nobody, he said, responded to hisrequest.

He then sent letters to the four schools in District 8 asking for sponsors for the forum. He was told that the schools had already held their monthly PTOmeetings and the next meetings would be after the election.

Only Dr. Courtney Millet of LaPlace Elementary School agreed to make herschool available if Wise would organize the forum. The date of Sept. 27 waschosen.

Wise got 40th District Judge Sterling Snowdy to be forum moderator and again, Wise sent letters to the other candidates telling them of the forum.

Again, he said, he got no reply.

Last Friday Millet called Wise and informed him the other candidates had called her expressing their concern over the legalities of the forum.

Millet called the school board attorney, John Diasselliss, for his advice.

Diasselliss said that because there was no third party sponsor the forum could not be held on school grounds. It would look like a political ploy by Wise.Wise was stunned by the decision.

“I never challenged the other candidates at all,” said Wise. “I just asked themto take part in a forum.”Diasselliss then said if Wise signed a liability form, releasing the school board from any liability if anything should happen on school grounds, then Wise and the candidates could hold the forum.

Wise signed the form and had to pay $200 to the school board to cover the cost of opening the school after hours.

Wise then asked Millet if flyers could be sent home to parents telling them about the forum. Millet asked Diasselliss, and he said no to distributing theflyer to the children.

For Wise it was “fish or cut bait” time.

“I had already spent $50 on the flyers and I couldn’t use them,” said Wise.

“It was too late to get an ad in L’Observateur.”He had four options open to him. He could spend a good deal of for an ad inthe Times-Picayune, hire people to hand out the flyers, find volunteers to distribute the flyers or do it himself, which he said was a physical impossibility. He had only two days to inform the public.Wise was upset over the school board’s decision about the flyers.

“If schools can send home ads with their kids telling parents to buy candy and other things, I should have the same right to tell people about the forum,” said a frustrated Wise.

In the flyer, there are no candidates names mentioned, just an invitation for District 8 residents to come listen to the candidates speak at the school.

“I’ve bent over backward to avoid getting any extra credit for doing this,” said Wise. “I’m thinking of going to court and having a judge order the schoolboard to participate in the forum. I think I have a First Amendment case.”When contacted, Diasselliss said the flyers could not be given to the children because schools are not political organizations.

“The facilities are available to everyone,” said Diasselliss. “But if you wantto pass out flyers, you have to do that yourself. We don’t use school childrenfor that purpose.”

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