By EMILY R. WEST
After waiting nearly 100 days on a decision, an administrative law judge wrote in his opinion that parent group Williamson Strong wasn’t a political action committee.
In Judge Michael Begley’s initial order, he wrote that Williamson Strong didn’t constitute a PAC with respect to the 2016 election cycle and the remaining allegations were dismissed without that prejudice, meaning they are dismissed permanently. Begley provided 25 reasons in his order.
The case of Williamson Strong’s status has gone on since 2014. Former District 12 Williamson County School Board member Susan Curlee filed a complaint with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Begley wrote the Registry failed to show its burden of proof in the case.
“This ruling vindicates these five parents, who acted merely as concerned citizens voicing their opinions on issues of public education, just like other news organizations,” Williamson Strong lawyer Anthony Orlandi said.
“The ruling also confirms that Susan Curlee’s inflammatory allegations were baseless and that the Registry of Election Finance should have reached this decision from the outset. It is unfortunate that it required two years of expensive litigation to achieve justice, but our clients are grateful for this outcome.”
Curlee, who has left the school board as well as the area, did not answer a telephone call for comment, and her voice mail box was full.
Members of Williamson Strong – Jennifer Smith, Susan Drury, Jim Cheney, Sarah Barnard and Kim Henke – formed the group in June 2014 as parents of students in the public school system. They created social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter along with a website.
Several issues surfaced during a November hearing in Nashville: what constitutes a political action committee, what is considered a political endorsement, postings commenting on positions on public education by the 912 Project and Americans for Prosperity, and how web hosting and web domains functioned in relation to cost.
Each of the Williamson Strong parents testified under oath before Judge Begley in the November hearing.
The Registry still has the ability to appeal Begley’s order. But a petition for reconsideration cannot be submitted any later than April 12.