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Epic Charter Schools targets state senator again in pre-election email to parents
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Epic Charter Schools targets state senator again in pre-election email to parents

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Epic Charter Schools’ feud with a state senator who has questioned how it reports some of its student enrollment and attendance has continued through the eleventh hour before Tuesday’s primary runoff election.

In an email to students’ parents sent late last week, Epic called Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee “a dishonest and relentless critic of our school” and denied being obstructive or engaging in negative campaigning against him.

Sharp is running for reelection in Senate District 17 and faces former lawmaker Shane Jett in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff.

Epic also wrote to parents: “The runoff election to determine if he remains in office is this coming Tuesday, August 25. We encourage you, as well as our parents in other House and Senate districts across the state, to exercise your right to vote and for your voice to be heard on the matters important to you.”

Asked to comment, Sharp called the correspondence “election fraud” and payback for Epic’s losing its recent libel and slander lawsuit against him, seeking more than $75,000.

The email came one week after an Oklahoma County district judge slapped Epic with a bill for $36,000 for Sharp’s legal fees in defending himself against Epic’s suit and ordered the school to pay the senator $500,000 in sanctions.

“When they use my name very specifically and they say that I have been dishonest without saying what dishonesty they’re accusing me of, that is over the line. The fact is that they filed a lawsuit against a sitting senator for performing their duties on fiscal policy — and they lost,” Sharp said. “It would appear retaliatory. If it is not, then it sure has the perception of it.”

Sharp said he had already sent the Epic email to his attorneys as possible evidence in case Epic appeals the district court’s ruling.

He also vowed that he would be taking his complaint, and evidence that untraceable “dark money” groups had flooded his race with negative mailers and phone calls full of false claims about his legislative voting record, to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

“We’re going to have to strengthen our election fraud statute. They’re clearly trying to manipulate an election,” Sharp said. “That’s voter suppression — the whole purpose is to discourage voters from voting for me — and that is clearly election fraud.”

A spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said Sharp had already reported the email to them on Monday as possible election fraud, but the AG referred him to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said Ethics Rule 2.4 prohibits the use of public funds or resources, such as computers or time, to influence the results of an election for state office or a state question.

And she said generally, anyone with personal knowledge of any potential violation of the ethics rules may file a complaint with the commission following the process in the ethics rules.

But she said she “will not comment on whether any activity is possibly illegal or inappropriate.”

Asked whether Epic, which is the name used publicly by a nonprofit whose legal name is Community Strategies Inc., is prohibited from sending election-related messages as a nonprofit entity, Kemp responded: “Whether activities of 501(c)(3)s under the tax code are permissible is a question for the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) not the Ethics Commission.”

Tulsa World readers sent in screenshots of Epic’s email. Epic did not respond to the World’s request for its original email message to parents but confirmed it had sent it.

Its spokesman declined to specify whether all students’ parents had been sent the email or only a select group.

Asked why the email was sent, Epic Assistant Superintendent Shelly Hickman responded: “Mr. Sharp claims Epic has participated in an ongoing effort to negatively influence his election, and that is simply untrue. His troubles are of his own making. We felt it necessary to set the record straight with our parents in response to a news article posted last Friday. We will stop defending our school when Ron Sharp stops attacking it.”


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Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

andrea.eger@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @AndreaEger

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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