News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 9, 2014

Bennett accepts $5,000 fine in ethics settlement

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has agreed to pay $5,000 as part of a settlement with Indiana’s ethics watchdog in which he admits to using state resources for campaign work but is cleared of formal ethics violations in the grade-change scandal that cost him his job as Florida’s schools chief last year.

A copy of the settlement was obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday evening. POLITICO first reported the Bennett settlement late Wednesday afternoon.

Investigators from Indiana’s inspector general’s office found that Bennett had his state staff work with campaign staff to coordinate his official and political schedules using state Microsoft software and computers. They also determined that Republican fundraising lists were downloaded to state computers in January 2013 by state staff at his request, after Bennett had lost his 2012 re-election bid.

It remains unclear, though, if all of the campaign lists were downloaded to state computers after the election, as Bennett said. A copy of “The 5000” list obtained by The Associated Press last year was created by Bennett’s then-Communications Director Cam Savage in August 2009 and found on a state computer in a folder with other public spreadsheets, including contacts for Statehouse media and top Department of Education staff.

Bennett resigned as Florida’s education chief last August after the AP published emails showing he had changed Indiana’s school-grading formula to benefit an Indianapolis charter school founded by a prominent Republican donor. State investigators determined this week in the same settlement that Bennett’s grade-changes did not violate any state ethics rules.

Bennett said in a statement Wednesday evening that he hoped the report would bring the grade-change questions to a “final, conclusive end.” He also said he hopes his “mistakes” lead to clearer guidelines of what is acceptable use of state resources.

“There are tens of thousands of state employees in Indiana but only seven elected executive state officials. For those seven officeholders this case is very important. Without well-drafted policies in place that expressly allow the limited use of state property for political activity by elected officials, all present and future Indiana elected officials are at risk of inadvertent violations,” he wrote in a statement.

Bennett’s lawyers also wrote at the end of the statement that Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry would decline prosecution of Bennett. An email to Curry’s spokeswoman was not immediately returned Wednesday night.

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