Danville school officials charged

DANVILLE — The state attorney general's office has charged two members of the Danville Independent school board with illegally soliciting school district employees during their campaigns for office last fall.

Julie Erwin and Lonnie Harp each were charged with a misdemeanor count of engaging in prohibited political activities, according to criminal complaints filed Friday in Boyle District Court.

Erwin, 42, and Harp, 44, had no comment Monday. Both were elected to four-year school board terms in November and assumed office in January.

Lee M. Wise, an investigator with the state attorney general's office, doesn't specify in the criminal complaints how the two allegedly violated the law.

But Ephraim Helton, the Danville attorney representing the two, said Erwin and Harp "very innocently" sent an e-mail to about 120 people announcing their candidacies for school board. The list included about 20 or so teachers in the Danville district, Helton said.

The e-mail asked anyone willing to put up a yard sign, write a letter to the local newspaper or call registered voters to contact Erwin or Harp, Helton said.

"I don't know how you could make a more innocent statement than what was made by the two individuals," said Helton, who practices law with Erwin's husband.

Helton said Erwin and Harp do not plan to resign from the school board.

Erwin, a former teacher and school principal, is founder and executive director of an adoption agency. Harp, a former education reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal, has written and published newsletters for parents and teachers about academic standards.

The initial complaint made to the Office of Education Accountability was referred to the state attorney general's office, said Shelley Johnson, deputy director of communications for the attorney general's office.

Wise wrote in his complaint that he "confirmed through interviews" that Erwin and Harp, as candidates for school board, acted "to solicit employees of the Danville Independent School District for their services" in their candidacies. The complaints say the offense occurred Sept. 22 and 23, 2008.

According to state law, "No candidate for school board shall solicit or accept any political assessment, subscription, contribution or service of any employee of the school district."

The law also says that any school board candidate or school board member who willfully violates any provision of the law "shall also be disqualified from holding the office of school board member."

If found guilty, Erwin and Harp face up to a year in jail or a $500 fine, Johnson said.

Erwin and Harp are scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 13 in Boyle District Court.