Staff Reporter - Call Newspapers
April 13, 2011 - Mehlville school officials are investigating how staff email addresses were obtained by a third-party vendor that sent out a political email ahead of last week's election.
District staff reported receiving an e-mail April 4 advocating the election of Michael Klund to the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
The email, titled "Mehlville Firefighters and Paramedics Support Mike Klund," was sent from Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Klund on April 5 narrowly lost his bid for the board seat to incumbent Chairman Aaron Hilmer.
The email stated, in part, "... The Mehlville Firefighters and Paramedics of Local 1889 are supporting Mike Klund for the Mehlville Fire Protection District on April 5th, and believe strongly that you should too."
The email, formatted as an electronic newsletter, included a letter from Russell Bono, a retired Mehlville fire captain and Marine Corps veteran, criticizing the MFPD for denying Local 1889's request to display fire equipment at a benefit for his grandson, a Marine who was severely injured in Iraq.
In addition, the email denounced Hilmer for testifying recently in favor of Missouri House Bill 409, which would offer an optional defined-contribution plan in the Missouri Public School Retirement System for new employees.
"The biggest threat to classroom teacher pensions, which they contribute 14 percent of their own paychecks to annually, are politicians like Aaron Hilmer," the email stated. "Protect classroom teachers and public servants by joining the grass-roots effort to elect Mike Klund."
A disclaimer at bottom of the email stated, "Email addresses used for this email were compiled through various family, friends, supporters of Mike Klund, the Mehlville Firefighters and Paramedics and public records, like taxpayer-funded websites."
District policy prohibits it from accepting political advertisements, Director of Communications Emily McFarland wrote in an emailed response to staff.
"We wanted to assure you the Mehlville School District does not endorse any political candidates and are investigating how your email addresses were procured," McFarland wrote.
The email was sent to more than 400 staff addresses using Constant Contact, an email-based marketing firm, she said.
"It is important for you to know that neither Constant Contact, nor the political candidate on the advertisement, obtained the district's permission to send out this email," McFarland wrote.
Officials told the Call the district has never used Constant Contact's services.
"It surprised us," Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost said on Friday. "From what I understand, and I'm learning about this too ... there's pretty sophisticated software out there that companies like that utilize to get inside of business email groups."
It's also possible the company "cut and pasted" staff email addresses from the district's website, Knost added.
He said the investigation is ongoing.
"I don't have many answers other than it did happen," he said. "We were not happy with it."
Beth Cross, community relations director for Lindbergh Schools, said she'd heard no reports of the email showing up in staff inboxes in that district, which includes areas the MFPD covers.
Klund told the Call that Mehlville teachers supported his candidacy but said he was "completely unaware" of the email.
Full text of email: