The Tiverton Town Clerk launched an investigation last week into a single claim that one of its elementary school secretaries displayed political pins on a desk in the building.
Tiverton town employees and officers, including those in the school department, are expressly prohibited from influencing the outcome of voting contests through the distribution or publication of election materials, according to Sec. 1218 of the Tiverton Town Charter. This section was added during the last charter update in 2011.
Hilton Road resident Donna Cook submitted a formal complaint to the clerk's office on Monday, Oct. 29 at 10:16 a.m. stating that she saw three Tiverton 1st pins displayed on the desk of a Fort Barton Elementary School secretary - what she claimed was a violation of the town's charter.
According to Nancy Mello, town clerk, Tiverton 1st could be classified as a political action committee because the group endorsed candidates in the 2012 election.
"Since they have endorsed candidates, it could be seen as to trying to influence the election," said Mello.
Mello launched her investigation on Wednesday morning - she was delayed by Hurricane Sandy. She said when she reported to Fort Barton elementary, the employee in question had just one pin on her desk that read "Tiverton 1st."
It was buried under papers and did not display any additional persuasive messages.
"I don't think she knowingly knew what it was," said Mello. "We are trying our best to be fair and get the facts together because we don't want people jumping to conclusions. The secretary immediately threw it in the trash, but it being so close to the election, we thought we should just go to see if we thought [the complaint] was of greater magnitude."
The investigation is expected to last through next week, according to Mello. If Mello finds that the complaint is warranted, which requires her opinion into whether the employee knowingly displayed the badge in an effort to influence opinion, the matter will go before the Town Council for a hearing.
Mello visited and spoke with other schools throughout the district. There have been no other instances or complaints of a similar charter violation.
This complaint under Sec. 1218 is the first since the section was enacted in 2011, a strategy to stop widespread positioning by town and school employees at the time, according to Mello.