Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Jumbotron Plays Political Ads During Seventh Grade Football Game

There is some irony that I am writing a story about Houston High School's new Jumbotron. After all, one of my many critics suggested that I should be writing about things like the Jumbotron. I smiled at that and it inspired me to write My Answer to Various Attacks. Note number six on the list. (I wrote this list for the sake of efficiency, as I can just repost whenever I get attacked, and point to the appropriate number.)  

Just as I wrote the above referenced post for the sake of efficiency, I am doing the same about the Jumbotron/seventh grade football game incident. This incident has been so thoroughly discussed on the GMSD Facebook page that I am sure I am not adding any new information here. But in some cases I am less of a blogger and more of a summarizer and a historian. And, most of all, I like efficiency!  Down the road, someone may ask, "Now what was that Jumbotron thing that happened?"  Rather than having to repeat the facts from memory, and do all that typing, it is nice to have a summary somewhere so that one may simply copy and paste the URL of this blog post. 

If you do not know what a Jumbotron is, you will find this Wikipedia article informative. The city-owned Jumbotron is new this year to Houston High School, and was at least mostly paid for by the Houston High School Arts and Education Foundation. I only say "mostly" because there have been various city and school board gifts to the Foundation that I do not really want to have to sort out for purposes of this story. 

This year, the Germantown Education Foundation, a city supported 501c(3) that helps schools and teachers financially, held one of its fund raisers, "Yoga on the Field" at the Houston High School Football Field. The idea was to get the yoga community in Germantown to come together to help support the Foundation, and thus the school system. While I am sure the yoga community affected loves this event, it does not attract hundreds of participants, such as a 5k might do--there are perhaps dozens of them. That is not meant to be a criticism in any sense. I only mention that because it would not seem to be a very good way for a potential sponsor of the event to reach a lot of people with advertising.

Still, the Foundation managed to attract sponsorships, and they are listed on this flier.  As far as I know, all of the school board candidates had the opportunity to become sponsors, but the price was too steep for the campaigns of some, particularly given the relatively few participants at this fund raiser. Here are the sponsors:

What kind of jumps out at most people familiar with the school board political races is that the campaigns of Natalie Williams, Linda Fisher, and Mindy Fischer all managed to have the resources to sponsor this event. I understand that a sponsorship cost $250 but I have not confirmed that amount. Ms. Williams and Ms. Fisher are both incumbents, and Mindy Fischer is a candidate for the seat held by Mr. Hoover, who decided not to run for re-election. These three candidates are being openly supported by the Mayor and most of the aldermen. It is almost as if there are "tickets" in this town. They are not based on political parties, but some kind of loyalty/connection ties. Let us just say that these candidates are all connected. Their opposing candidates--Amy Eoff, Laura Meanwell, and Suzanne Jones form an informal ticket as well. They are thought to be somewhat more independent from the current City power structure, but all candidates strongly support the GMSD administration, including Jason Manuel. the superintendent. 

Along with the sponsorship came the opportunity to have an ad placed on the Jumbotron!  At the Yoga on the Field event! An event attended by dozens of participants!   

What happened next is what makes this all newsworthy--for the first time in the brief history of the Jumbotron, it was in use for the entire seventh grade football game the following night, when a continuous loop of the sponsors of Yoga on the Field played for the spectators of the game. The Jumbotron had been used exclusively for the high school until that point. 

Lisa Parker Campaigning with GMSD shirt
Naturally, the supporters of the challengers at the seventh grade football game were wondering why the Jumbotron, a city owned asset, was running ads for school board candidates.  Surely this was a violation of some sort! This was really adding insult to injury, as most youth football families were still feeling the sting from  City Leaders Play Political Football with Popular Youth Sports Program. Additionally, Lisa Parker (current school board member not up for re-election) has been seen in a GMSD T-shirt campaigning for the incumbents plus Ms. Fischer. This could give some the false impression that GMSD supports those candidates and to many people this seems highly inappropriate.  

Mostly because I am basically a nice, non-contentious, and yes, non-political person who does not like to stir up trouble unnecessarily, but who still wants transparency and accountability, I handled this brouhaha entirely differently from how the city handled a campaign violation by the head of the GFL. I simply wrote to Kate Crowder, communications director for the GMSD, and asked for her explanation. I previously had dealings with her and had been impressed.

At the end of this blog, I am detailing our entire email exchange for the sake of transparency. 

For the sake of brevity, though, I will try to characterize the GMSD response to this incident.   

On the question of showing the loop at the seventh grade game: 

The incident was accidental, and has been corrected for future events.

According to the principal of Houston High School, “the board operator for the HMS game was not fully aware of how to operate the scoreboard and the video loop running from the previous evening’s Yoga on the Field event when they turned it on.  I don’t believe the act was intentional by the operator, rather a fear of breaking something by trying to adjust it.” 

First of all, I feel certain that GMSD had no foreknowledge of this incident. I cannot prove that, but both my logic and my heart are in unison on that point.  

I also accept the answer that the operator did not know how to turn off the Jumbotron.That sounds plausible. After all, only the scoreboard is used at junior high games, and some operators of the scoreboard have chimed in and stated that they, too, do not know how to operate the Jumbotron. 

The question remains as to why the Jumbotron was left on in the first place. Never before had a loop been left on for a junior high game after the Jumbotron was used for a prior event. What was different this time? Learning that would require some sort of investigation, and perhaps some difficult questions would have to be asked by the GMSD of the GEF. Perhaps, like having an untrained operator at the seventh grade game, this was a mistake as well. In any case the GMSD did not offer to investigate further, and I did not insist or even suggest that they do that. However, I would be remiss in my job as a blogger if I did not point out that we do not have all the answers. 

I also emailed Kate information that one of the candidates, Mindy Fischer, was using her advertisement on the Jumbotron in a prominent place on her campaign website to promote her candidacy. I asked if that was appropriate, but I did not get a specific answer to that. I am not going to press it, but I would again not be doing my job if I did not point the lack of a specific response to that.   

Because Kate said that GMSD policy was followed when allowing someone to rent the field and the Jumbotron, and allowing their own advertising on the Jumbotron, I am assuming that the lack of response on the use by one of the candidates of the Jumbotron ad means that the advertiser could do what they wanted with the images of their Jumbotron ad. The issue that I see with that is that a Jumbotron ad for a political candidate has the appearance of a city endorsement, since the Jumbotron is owned by the city. 

In our correspondence various GMSD policies and guidelines were cited. Rather than make this Jumbotron post any longer, those that are interested in the details of these are welcome to follow our email exchanges to get to the passages and links cited. 

My takeaway is that the GMSD Board of Education (which will be comprised of different members after the election, no matter who wins) needs to consider this incident in clarifying policies regarding the use of the Jumbotron for political advertising, keeping in mind that the wrong impression can be given if candidates use images of a city owned asset with their advertising on it.  Let us hope that we elect a school board that will tackle such questions. 

The other point I want to make is that there are right ways and wrong ways to handle campaign violations.  The absolute wrong way is to hold organizations that are doing great work in our community up for shame, spending city resources on attorneys and press packets, as was done by our City leaders in the case of the Germantown Football League. The right way is to communicate concerns to the organization in question, and point out their responses and possible deficiencies for future thought, and suggest possible corrective action. 

Shine a light, do not drag through the dirt.  PLEASE.  We are ALL Germantown. 

Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts

Here are our exchanges: 


My understanding is that the Jumbotron was used for (unpaid) advertising
for political campaigns for school board elections at the seventh grade
football game last week.  I feel sure that this was a mistake, since it
would be in violation of various campaign laws to use a city resource in
this manner.

Some of the readers of my blog, Shining a Light on Germantown, have
asked me exactly how this happened, and wondered what the policy of GMSD
is with regard to using the Jumbotron for political ads.  All I really
know is that there are reports that "sponsorships" left over from Yoga
on the Field by the GEF ealier in the week reportedly were run during
the game, and that this was the first time that anyone had seen the
Jumbotron being used in a junior high game.  The "sponsorships" for Yoga
on the Field were three different School Board campaigns.

Again, I want to make it perfectly clear that I feel certain that this
was a mistake, and against GMSD policy, so I am definitely not upset or
making any accusations against anyone or any organization involved.  I
know in my heart that everyone had the best intentions.

Still, it would be helpful to have a statement as to exactly how this
occurred, plus an overall policy statement.  For example, I am also
wondering about lending out the Jumbotron to organizations that sell
sponsorships to political campaigns.  Is that something that was
contemplated before allowing the use of the Jumbotron to the GEF for
their Yoga on the Field event?  Are you going to take any steps to
ensure that incidents like this are not repeated?

You have been extremely helpful to me in the past, and I know you will
be able to clear up the confusion surrounding this incident.

Thank you so much.

Pauline Lathram
Shining a Light on Germantown 

Kate replies to me: 

Here is a link to our policy concerning the matter.

The incident was accidental, and has been corrected for future events.

According to the principal of Houston High School, “the board operator for the HMS game was not fully aware of how to operate the scoreboard and the video loop running from the previous evening’s Yoga on the Field event when they turned it on.  I don’t believe the act was intentional by the operator, rather a fear of breaking something by trying to adjust it.”

Enjoy the nice weather today!  



I am now being told that at least one of the School Board candidates is featuring her ad on the Jumbotron prominently in various campaign materials or website.  So, you see the issue with that, don't you?

What is the official GMSD response to that?

Thank you.



I personally will accept without questioning the HHS prinicipal's statement that the board operator did not fully know how to operate the scoreboard, and that the video loop was running when he turned it on, and that you believe the act was not intentional.  

Finally I had time to read the policy--

I am trying to figure out the GMSD interpretation as to how this policy relates lending out of the Jumbotron to the GEF when their event had sponsors that promoted their school board campaigns. 

Does it fit into exception number one at the top?

No part of the school system, including the facilities, the name, the staff, and the students, shall be used for advertising or promoting the interests of any commercial, political or other non-school agency or organization except that: 1. The school may cooperate in furthering the work of any non-profit, community-wide social service agency, provided that such cooperation does not restrict or impair the educational programs of the schools;

Or does it fit into this?

7. Political signs for people who are running for public office shall not be allowed on school property except those being held by poll workers on election day;

Just trying to seek clarification for future cases that may be similar!  

I am guessing that it was not contemplated by GMSD that there would be political ads on the Jumbotron from the GEF.  But I hate to guess!  So I was wondering about this specifically!  It would be very helpful to know that!

Again, I am not upset about this because I understand that things like this happen.  The GEF does a lot of good work for the schools so I am not questioning their intentions either.  I am just trying to get clarification should this come up in the future.  In two years, if GEF wants to hold this event again during the election, will your response be "If there are political ads on the Jumbotron, or sponsorships by campaigns, we will not be able to allow you to use it because of (language #7 above)", or will it be "okay, of course, you do so much good in the community, that we are allowing you to use the Jumbotron even when there are political ads due to (exception 1 above), just make sure you turn off the loop before you leave?"

And you say corrective actions have been taken.  I am not sure what that means exactly?  Does that mean having Jumbotron operators that are familiar with its operation, or asking about political ads when a non-profit wants to use the Jumbotron?

Thank you Kate.  I am not trying to make a big deal of this at all.  Please be assured of that.  But it is important to get specifics so that we will know what to expect in the future.

Thank you.




Outside groups are able to use/rent our facilities.  The Germantown Education Foundation's Yoga on the Field is an example of one of these groups/events.  These groups/events are allowed to sell and display their own advertising.

I'd like to direct you to two more policies, that might be useful in writing about this:

Policy 3.206:  Community Use of School Facilities

Guidelines for Usage of our Facilities

The bottom line, however, is that we do not want our school sponsored events to become politicized.  

Kate Crowder 



Thank you for the clarity on this.

Probably this would not have become politicized but for the mistake made at the seventh grade game and Mindy Fischer using her ad on the Jumbotron in her campaign material. 

Plus the parents of Germantown Football League families are still furious about the way a mistake by their leader was handled by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.  And then there is the issue of School Board members wearing GMSD T shirts while handing out campaign materials..............that is a separate issue. 

So, tensions are high. 

I am not even sure if I will write about this because it has now been so thoroughly discussed on the GMSD Facebook group.  Saves me a lot of trouble, but I still think a useful comparison can be made to the GFL incident so I am still debating it.  In any case I do accept your explanation, and appreciate it.  

I will in no way try to characterize the incident as anything but a mistake! 

There could be calls for you all to revise your rental policies so that political ads are not allowed.  I have no way to predict public feelings on that.

Thank you again. 


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