Former state superintendent Tony Bennett ineligible for Clark County Council
Update (Feb. 2, 2017)– (AP) — Former state schools superintendent Tony Bennett can’t fill a vacant Clark County Council seat because he hasn’t lived there long enough.
Republican precinct committee members elected Bennett to the vacancy Wednesday, but when the News and Tribune informed him Thursday that state law required residency of at least one year, he said he would step aside. Bennett says he’s lived there about six months.
Attorney Larry Wilder said he misread the statute before advising Bennett and the party on the matter.
After Bennett’s unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid, the former Clark County school superintendent became Florida’s education commissioner but resigned after The Associated Press published emails showing he changed Indiana’s school-grading system to benefit a top Republican donor’s charter school. The Indiana inspector general also found he broke ethics laws.
CLARK COUNTY, Ind. – A familiar face now sits on the Clark County Council.
Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was appointed to the position this week by a Clark County GOP caucus, according to our media partners at the IndyStar.
Bennett lost his re-election bid to Glenda Ritz in a political upset in 2012. A year later, he resigned as Florida’s education commissioner amid an ethics investigation related to the Indiana post.
Bennett told the IndyStar that the new position in Clark County gives him an “opportunity to do something that I think is really positive.”
Bennett was chosen to fill a vacancy on the council.
“I wanted to be a service to our county given my background. I have a good understanding of fiscal policy and budgeting,” he told the IndyStar.
Bennett indicated the new position doesn’t point to grander political ambitions, saying he wanted to serve the local community to the best of his abilities. He also said he wanted to stay close to his family following the October 2016 death of his son.
Bennett was a proponent of education reforms in Indiana, including establishing state’s school voucher program and changing how teachers are evaluated. Many public education supporters railed against those reforms.
After Bennett lost the election, he moved on to a similar position in Florida. He stepped down in 2013 after the state’s inspector general investigated allegations that Bennett had improperly used state resources, violated the state’s “ghost employment” statute, and altered the state’s A-F school rating system to benefit charter schools, including one run by a prominent Republican donor. Bennett denied any wrongdoing.
The state’s Ethics Commission fined Bennett $5,000 as part of a settlement. The complaint alleged that Bennett utilized state computer equipment for political and personal uses. There were no violations related to the grade-changing case.
Bennett resigned from the Florida position because the investigation became too much of a distraction.
Ultimately, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said it wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against Bennett. In a statement released in 2015, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said there was “no evidence to justify criminal charges” and declined prosecution.
“The conduct in question has been appropriately addressed as ethical violations, resulting in sanctions against Mr. Bennett by the State Ethics Commission,” Curry wrote.