Just so you know, Josh Whitley doesn't hate kids, or education, or Berkeley County schools.
Yes, he ran the campaign against the district's $198 million bond referendum last year. And it's true he wasn't thrilled to see voters overwhelmingly approve it.
But that's not why he filed a complaint against the district with the state Attorney General's Office — a complaint that has some Berkeley schools officials scared for their jobs.
No, Josh Whitley simply believes the district broke the law by using district personnel and equipment to run the campaign — and someone should answer for that.
“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and some good people got caught up in this,” Whitley says. “I don't regret asking for accountability of public officials. I sleep at night.”
But these days there are probably some Berkeley schools officials who don't.
A simple apology?
Whitley, a Daniel Island attorney, is a product of Berkeley County schools.
He credits many of the teachers and principals there with helping him get an education, go on to college and establish a law practice.
His mother works for the district, and he plans to send his daughter to Berkeley public schools.
Whitley says he wasn't opposed to a tax increase for schools, just that particular one. He thought district folks were less than forthcoming about the true cost of Cane Bay Middle School, and that got him looking at them. When the bond referendum came up, he organized Berkeley Citizens for Sustainable Education to stop it.
From the start, he thought district officials seemed a little too cozy with the campaign. It's hard to blame them — they are realistically the biggest supporters of the schools. But there are laws.
He used the Freedom of Information Act to get district emails, and found what he considers proof. There are emails from officials that seem to discuss campaign strategy, a promotional video for the campaign. It looked to him like they were running the show using district equipment during business hours. That would be against the law.
Whitley approached district officials with his findings, and said if they would just apologize, he'd drop the whole thing. But they blew him off.
“They dug in their heels, and that caused me to dig in my heels,” he says.
This case has no bearing on the bond referendum. It passed, and that's the way it's going to be.
But this isn't over.
Whitley isn't hoping for a perp walk, which is a remote possibility depending on the level of charges. But he does hope there are consequences, as a good lesson for the students. He says getting away with lying sets a bad example. Privately, he says, even district employees are cheering him on.
“I don't want anyone to go to jail, but I don't want them in a position of overseeing tax dollars,” he says.
The Attorney General's Office is said to be looking very closely at this. No matter what happens, it's a safe bet Berkeley school officials now wish they'd taken Whitley's first offer — and just apologized.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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