October 21, 2008

COMMENTARY: College Employee Endorses Candidate

Walking on the Ledge:
JCCC should not approve this message

With the transitions going on at Johnson County Community College, it might be difficult for some to understand the influence and limitations of these new campus positions.

Take the case of Jerry Wolfskill, director of Public Safety, as he assumes more responsibility with the newly formed JCCC Police department.

Terry Calaway, president of JCCC, posted an item Sept. 15 on the college's electronic mail server, Infolist, noting Wolfskill's new responsibilities with the JCCCPD.

"I have asked Jerry Wolfskill to take on the added leadership role for the Campus Police department," he wrote. "He will work with Chief Ramirez to continue to assess all means needed to assure a safe environment for all on our campus.

"In his new role Mr. Wolfskill will work to expand opportunities with our community police and law enforcement entities and will assure, along with the chief, that officer training and community policing are of the highest priority."

I doubt Calaway meant for these expanded opportuntites to include endorsing political candidates. Yet, Wolfskill has done just that.

Frank Denning a candidate for Johnson County Sheriff lists Wolfskill's endorsement on his website.

While inappropriate, the endorsement does not violate college policy.

According to college policy 422.02, "All college personnel enjoy the rights and privileges of any free citizen in matters of a political nature. Employees shall not use time for which college pay is received, nor college property, students, school equipment or materials for the purpose of solicitation, promotion, election, or defeat of any candidate for public office or of passage or defeat of any election issue."
To my knowledge Wolfskill has not used college time, resources or students to promote Denning's candidacy. However, he is using college property -- it's name -- and by making a public endorsement, Wolfskill suggests to the public that JCCC supports Denning.

As a private citizens, Wolfskill and JCCC employees can advocate for whomever they wish. However as an official of the college, Wolfskill should retract his endorsement and the Board of Trustees should amend college policy to prohibit employees from using their titles to endorse political candidates or issues.