By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — While Tom Barrett backers have bashed Gov. Scott Walker for an ongoing John Doe Investigation involving former worker aides campaigning on public time, it seems Barrett’s wife has done some politicking of her own on the taxpayers’ dime.
And while a state elections official tells Wisconsin Reporter the matter is between Kris Barrett and Milwaukee Public Schools, Kris Barrett did violate the school system’s policy on computer use.
Media Trackers, a conservative news organization, broke the story Monday.
The Milwaukee-based Media Trackers learned in an open records request that Kris Barrett, wife of Milwaukee Mayor and recall gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett, sent at least three political emails last year, when she was employed at Dover Street School, an elementary school.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, Kris Barrett emailed state Sen. Spencer Coggs, and state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, both Milwaukee Democrats, urging them to vote against Walker’s budget repair bill, asserting that “we are all under attack.”
“Voting for the Repair bill is a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the people who have dedicated their lives to educating children,” she wrote in separate emails to Coggs and Grigsby. “I know I am preaching to the choir, but now it’s in writing.”
Putting it in writing on a MPS account is a problem — or at least it would be, if Kris Barrett was still working for the school district.
“The emails sent from an MPS account constitutes a violation of our policies,” wrote Roseann St. Aubin, communications director for MPS in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.
“I can affirm the emails sent to Media Trackers in response to the Open Records request made by that entity were sent from an MPS email account. The emails cited in the Media Trackers report were accurately represented.”
St. Aubin said Kris Barrett violated the district’s employee Code of Ethics and the Acceptable Use Policy. Employees must sign the AUP before they are given access to an MPS email account. There are penalties for violating the policies.
Kris Barrett, hired as an MPS sub in 2007, began full time in 2009 at Milwaukee’s Longfellow School. She was assigned to Dover Street School in 2010, and her position was terminated on June 30, 2011, according to the district.
St. Aubin said Barrett was among scores of layoffs in the district, and the termination of her position had nothing to do with the political emails.
“We did not become aware of the emails until after the employee was no longer working for Milwaukee Public Schools,” St. Aubin said.
The Barrett campaign and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin have hit Walker hard on the ongoing John Doe investigation.
Barrett on Monday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Walker is “stonewalling” the public by not releasing more information about his involvement with the secret criminal investigation.
The probe, in large part, focuses on allegations that former aides to Walker, when he served as Milwaukee County executive, campaigned on the public clock. One person pleaded guilty to that charge. The governor, who has not been implicated in the investigation, has said he is cooperating with prosecutors. He has set up a legal defense fund.
Kris Barrett’s violation, however, does not appear to run afoul of state elections law, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, the state’s election watchdog.
“Basically it’s an internal matter for Milwaukee Public Schools,” he said. “Those are really local issues.”
When asked whether state laws govern public employees on what they can and cannot do on public time, Magney said it depends.
“If a candidate is using a public account to do something, that might be a campaign finance issue,” he said. “But an individual teacher, that’s expressing their opinion, that’s an issue for the school district.”
Kris Barrett did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment for this story.
Media Trackers’ open records request also found that in March 2011, Kris Barrett used her MPS email account to contact five teachers about campaigning against former Milwaukee County executive candidate and current state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale.
“We are probably acutely aware of how Scott Walker ran the county,” Kris Barrett wrote. “His protégé Jeff Stone would like to take his place as the next Co. Exec. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll gladly buy you a beverage when we’re done.
“I think this is a bad idea. I thought we could help by getting the word out tomorrow night.
“The more people we get to protest the better.”