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Attorney says Olens ‘strangely quiet’ on whether amendment advocacy opinion applies to Gov. Deal

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An attorney whose case was cited in an opinion issued by Attorney General Sam Olens on school boards and advocacy on proposed ballot amendments says the attorney general should publicly state whether the opinion applies to the Governor.

Last week Olens offered an opinion to State School Superintendent John Barge that local school boards are not allowed to use taxpayer funds to advocate for or against constitutional amendments. Attorney Emmet Bondurant says he agrees with the opinion and it reaffirms that it’s illegal for public officials and school boards to engage in PR campaigns on amendment ballot questions.

“I think government is not supposed to use public money for that purpose.”

Bondurant also says he believes cases cited in the opinion reaffirm that elected officials can speak publicly about their stance on issues…including state school superintendent John Barge.

Barge was recently advised by the attorney general to remove a statement about his opposition to the amendment from the State Board of Education’s website. The advice from the attorney general came after an Atlanta attorney representing a group of taxpayers threatened to sue Barge for improper use of taxpayer funds. But Bondurant doesn’t believe the information was in violation of state law.

“Take the school superintendent, you would expect if anybody to have an opinion on this that he would, and he should be able to voice it publicly. But unfortunately both arms and both legs have been broken, and he has been intimidated to take information off the website.”

Bondurant also says Olens has been strangely silent on whether his opinion applies to the Governor.

“Unfortunately in this debate, the attorney general is directing his attack only on those who oppose this amendment. You have not seen a peep out of the attorney general as to whether it is appropriate that the governor guarded by a platoon of state patrolman to be flying around the state on a state airplane or state helicopter to make speeches advocating this, you can’t have it both ways.”  

When asked directly last week if the opinion applies to the governor, Olens responded….

“It would be facts depending on the type issue.”

Olens told reporters the rule applies equally to those for and against amendments. He also says government officials and employees have full First Amendment rights to express their personal opinions. But he says they don’t have a right, to expend public resources in communicating their personal opinions.