SANDY — Local school board elections usually don't generate much political heat, but the race for the Precinct 7 seat on the Canyons Board of Education has taken a contentious and mysterious turn.
Draper-area residents this week have been receiving an automated phone message that paints an unflattering picture of Canyons School Board candidate Chad Iverson. In the message, an unidentified woman describes Iverson's campaign as "funded by the labor union" and implies that Iverson opposes a code of ethics that would remove convicted felons from the school board, if elected.
"We don't want to turn our schools over to the union or allow convicted felons to serve on our school board," the message states. "Ask Chad Iverson to stop being controlled by the union, reject their endorsement, refund their campaign money and support a much-needed code of ethics for our Canyons School District."
But the message, Iverson said, is "outlandish" and false. Tuesday night, after hearing the message, Iverson released a statement calling on his opponent, incumbent Paul McCarty, to "disavow these last-minute, anonymous, slanderous attacks."
Automated phone message to Draper residents
McCarty adamantly denied having any involvement in the messages.
"I was very surprised," McCarty said, after hearing about the automated calls. "I did not authorize it. Unequivocally, I did not."
The Canyons School Board's proposed code of ethics, which has been debated publicly, makes no mention of convicted felons. It does include language allowing board members to remove each other from office by a two-thirds majority vote in instances of "high crimes and misdemeanors," but some board members have objected to the provision, saying it runs contrary to state law.
Because school board members are elected officials in a political subdivision of the state, removal from office must be initiated by a "sworn, written accusation to the district court," according to state statute.
McCarty was part of the committee of board members charged with drafting the code of ethics.
Iverson said he has received about 20 calls to his home since the calls went out, and during his door-to-door campaigning, several residents have expressed confusion about the message.
"I don't want a convicted felon on the school board," he said. "It's not saying that, but it could try to tie my name to being a convicted felon."
Iverson said he supports the establishment of a code of ethics but finds certain provisions in the current draft to be contradictory.
The proposed code, in its most recent form, encourages board members to "seek systematic communication" with students, staff and parents, and instructs school board members to "not deal directly with individual subordinate staff members on specific problems."
The ability of board members to communicate with district employees has been a point of debate in the district, and some district critics say the proposed code is a way to muzzle school board members who might stand in opposition of majority opinions.
Last year, school board member Kevin Cromar received a public censure for undermining district Superintendent David Doty and speaking individually with members of the staff.
Iverson said he supports two-thirds of the proposed ethics code, but that further revision is necessary.
"I absolutely think the board needs a code of ethics," he said. "It is something that has been lacking from the current school board."
Iverson also confirmed that he has been endorsed by the Canyons Education Association — as have several other candidates for the Canyons School Board — but the group's contribution to his campaign represents less than 25 percent of his total fundraising.
Ross Rogers, president of the Canyons Education Association, said that all six candidates for the school board were interviewed by a committee of teachers. Based on their recommendations, the CEA endorsed incumbent Mont Millerberg in Precinct 1, Iverson in Precinct 7 and gave a dual-endorsement of Nancy Tingey and Clay Pearce in Precinct 3.
"We're not funding (Iverson)," Rogers said. "We gave him a small amount of money, like we did with Mont Millerberg, like we did with Tingey and Clay."
The phone message does not state who or what organization is responsible for the content of the call. McCarty said he did not know who initiated the calls, and Canyons District spokesman Jeff Haney said that, to his knowledge, no district employees were involved in the making of the automated message.
Mark Thomas, a member of the lieutenant governor's staff who oversees elections, said state law requires political advertisements to disclose their origins. Because the phone message in Draper stops short of telling residents to vote or not vote for a particular candidate, it falls within a legal gray area where disclosure laws are potentially moot.
Despite McCarty's denial, Iverson said he still suspects his opponent had some knowledge of the automated message.
"I don't know who's financing it," Iverson said, "but it's obviously my opponent who's supporting it."
McCarty said he and his family have received angry messages, threats and false accusations throughout the campaign, but at no point has he placed blame on his opponent. He said he's been shocked by the amount of negativity surrounding a school board election and that the race should focus on the district's achievements.
"I've never encountered anything like this in a campaign, with all this negativity," he said. "I insist on putting children before politics."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company