New city school board member denies election violation complaint

Sweeney resigned minutes before she was sworn in.

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • Sweeney, a former employee of the district, was sworn in along with three other board members.
  • She denied she solicited votes while working at a precinct on Election Day as one complaint alleges.

The write-in winner of a York City school board seat is denying the merits of a complaint filed by a former board member alleging she solicited votes in a precinct during November's municipal elections.

From left: Lisa Kennedy, Tonya Thompson-Morgan, board president Margie Orr and Tanoue Sweeney take their oath to serve on the York City school board on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2018.

Tanoue Onishi Sweeney, of York City, was sworn in along with board president Margie Orr and new members Lisa Kennedy and Tonya Thompson-Morgan shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, during the district's reorganization meeting.

On Nov. 27, former York City school board member Jose Santiago filed a complaint with the York County Department of Elections alleging that Sweeney "not only worked the polls on election day but also actively solicited write-in votes while working the polls."

Campaigning within a polling place is prohibited by the state Election Code.

While Sweeney said she did work as a machine inspector at the precinct at the Princess Center, the claim that she solicited votes is "totally false" and without merit.

"I have worked that poll since I was 18 years old," she said. "I know the rules, and in no way, shape or form would I do anything like that."

Sweeney said she decided to continue the decades-long tradition of working on Election Day after she was told she was allowed to do so by the elections office.

"I'm doing it to serve my community," she said of her precinct work.

In turn, Sweeney alleges Santiago and others were standing outside of other precincts in the city "saying bad things" about her to dissuade voters.

Sweeney won the vacant school board seat with 138 votes, according to official election results.

Santiago mounted a write-in campaign after failing to file paperwork to appear on the ballot, but he came up short in keeping his seat.

Phone calls to Santiago seeking comment have not been returned.

Quick turnaround: Just before board members were sworn in, board solicitor Jeffrey Gettle publicly asked Sweeney whether she had submitted a letter of resignation to the school district.

"I did," she said. 

"And that's effective immediately?" Gettle asked.

"Yes," Sweeney responded.

Gettle then confirmed receipt of the letter with district human resources director Robert Bernhard and moved forward with the swearing in.

Sweeney confirmed she formally resigned from her position just minutes before the reorganization meeting started, a move that Pennsylvania School Boards Association Member Services Counsel Emily Leader told The York Dispatch last week is within the bounds of the law.

"Once you stop working for the school district — and you’re a qualified elector — then you can certainly run and take a school board seat immediately," Leader said.

Sweeney confirmed she was the president of the district's union for Educational Support Professionals, which represents nonteaching employees at the district.

She worked at the internal suspension unit at one of the district's K-8 schools.

With their oath, Sweeney, Orr, Kennedy and Thompson-Morgan each started four-year terms that will expire in 2021.

Challenge: During officer elections for board president and vice president, incumbent president Orr was challenged by Michael Breeland after he was nominated by Sweeney.

Orr won another one-year term as president in a 7-2 board vote. Thompson-Morgan and Sweeney voted for Breeland.

Later in the meeting, Breeland said he appreciated the "vote of confidence" for him as board president, but added being president involves a level of time that he could not devote.

Board Vice President Michael Miller was re-elected unanimously.

The complaint filed by Santiago is still being investigated by York County Solicitor Glenn Smith, according to York County spokesman Mark Walters.