Written by Steve Ostermann
Wednesday, 17 March 2010 18:24
Challenger criticized for submitting letter to editor that he acknowledges a family member had published three years agoA candidate for the Grafton School Board in this springâs election has come under fire for sending a letter to local newspapers that he submitted as his own but has since acknowledged was largely written three years ago by a family member for an Arizona newspaper and other publications.
Terry Maxwell, 19, a challenger in a three-person race for two board seats, said this week that the letter â which appeared in Ozaukee Press last November and discusses problems with public school systems in Wisconsin and other states â includes
much of an editorial column written by his grandfather, Terrance Maxwell Sr.
The column appeared in the Arizona Range News on March 27, 2007, under the same headline used by the younger Maxwell in a letter submitted to Ozaukee Press.
âI had my grandfatherâs permission to use his article, and I donât see anything wrong with what I did,â said Maxwell, a Grafton High School graduate and first-year college student who is making his first try at public office.
âHeâs a better writer than I am, and I agree with his views on education, so I used it in my letter.â
To verify that he had his permission to use his grandfatherâs column, Maxwell presented a statement signed by Terrance Maxwell Sr.Â
Titled âWhat it means to be educated,â the letter was signed âTerry G. Maxwell, Grafton School Board candidateâ and contained no reference to Maxwellâs grandfather.
Although it was not known at the time the letter appeared in Ozaukee Press that it included previously published material, several readers have since questioned the letterâs originality.
The letter also drew criticism from Maxwellâs two opponents in the School Board race, incumbents Nancy Follis and Eric Oleson. Both said they heard that Maxwellâs letter may not have been his own before they were contacted by Ozaukee Press for comment.
âIf it was his grandfatherâs writing, he owed it to the people to say it was,â Follis said.
âI think it raises questions about his ability to serve on the board. When youâre going to be a School Board member, you have to handle a lot of confidential material and do it with forthrightness and honesty.
âThe way it came across, he made it look like he wrote it, and he didnât.â
Oleson called Maxwellâs letter âan ethical breach.â
âHe signed his name to that letter, which made it appear like it was his, and that was wrong,â Oleson said.
In his letter, Maxwell substituted Wisconsin for Arizona in parts of the original column and added a paragraph about the Grafton School District. He likened his use of his grandfatherâs writing in the letter to what other candidates for public office
and elected officials have done.
âDo you think that President Obama or John McCain write all their own speeches?â Maxwell asked. âThereâs nothing wrong with what I did, and I wouldnât hesitate to do it again.â
Maxwell said criticism of his handling of the letter âis an attempt by my fellow candidates in the race to discredit me.â
He also said he believes his criticism of teachersâ salaries and benefits and the impact teaching contracts have had on school budgets has prompted unfair attacks on his character by some Grafton district employees.
Oleson said Maxwell made himself a target for critics by not making it clear from the start that the letter contained someone elseâs writing but believes it shouldnât become a major campaign issue.
âHe made a mistake, but I donât want to get drawn into a debate on this,â Oleson said. âThere are more important issues to worry about.â
The School Board election is Tuesday, April 6. The top two vote-getters in the race will win three-year terms.
Follis is the boardâs longest-standing member, having served since 1992. Oleson won his first term in 2007.