Canutillo’s superintendent has accused three school board candidates of distributing signs and fliers advocating against the district’s $264.1 million bond proposal that violate state election law.

“I was going to use my voice just like they’re using their voice because I’m a citizen and I’m a community member of Canutillo first,” Pedro Galaviz said of his decision to file the complaints, which he submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission late Sunday. The complaints were submitted in his capacity as a private citizen and not as superintendent.

“Last year I just sat and this year I wasn’t going to be a bystander anymore. Sometimes as superintendents we’re just bystanders and we take a lot. … This year I wasn’t going to fall for it.”

Several of the people accused by Galaviz said they were not involved in creating or distributing materials opposing the bond.

The Nov. 8 election is the Canutillo Independent School District’s second attempt at passing a multimillion-dollar bond to fund campus renovations and security upgrades. About 65% of voters rejected the two bond proposals on the November 2021 ballot. That election also saw an intentionally false and misleading “disinformation” campaign against the bond, Galaviz said.

He filed complaints against Breanne Barnes, Andy Gomez and Salvador Gonzalez, candidates for the Canutillo ISD Board of Trustees in this year’s election who have been vocal about their opposition to the bond. They have cited its high cost and what they say are its non-essential projects, paired with what they believe to be a lack of transparency around previous bond spending.

Galaviz also filed complaints against Elizabeth Perez, a former Canutillo Elementary School teacher, and Canutillo resident John Joyner.

The complaints accuse each person of being part of a “Vote No campaign against the Bond … (that) includes the design, production and distribution of materials that constitute political advertising,” according to copies Galaviz shared with El Paso Matters.

The filings charge the individuals with sharing and promoting fliers and yard signs that do not include a political advertising disclosure statement noting who paid for them in violation of the Texas Election Code.

Signs advocating against Canutillo ISD’s 2022 bond election that have appeared in the community. (Courtesy of Pedro Galaviz)

“The law prohibits a person from using, causing or permitting to be used, or continuing to use political advertising containing express advocacy if the person knows it does not include the disclosure statement,” reads a 2019 fact sheet from the Texas Ethics Commission.

The commission defines political advertising as “communications supporting or opposing an officeholder, a political party, or a measure (a ballot proposition),” which include communications on fliers, billboards or other signs. The election code does not apply to “circulars or fliers that cost in the aggregate less than $500 to publish and distribute.”

State law governing political advertising disclosures statements applies to billboards and signs on both public and private property, said J.R. Johnson, executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission. The state commission is tasked with investigating alleged violations of state election law, and does not comment on specific complaints.

Barnes and Gomez maintained that they have no knowledge of who is creating the anti-bond materials and that they have no involvement in their distribution.

Breanne Barnes

“I honestly think it’s very unethical for Dr. Galaviz to be making these allegations without even contacting us as candidates to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re seeing. Are you part of this?’” Barnes said.

As part of the complaints, Galaviz included a photo of campaign fliers from Barnes, Gomez and Gonzalez that were stapled together along with a “Vote No CISD Bond 2022” flier.

Barnes said the three candidates, who are helping each other with their campaigns, have given “hundreds of fliers to people in our community for them to help us … get our information out about our platforms.”

“So the fact that they are stapled together doesn’t prove that it’s us doing it because it’s not,” she said. She added that she is asking supporters who may be stapling her flier to the anti-bond flier to stop doing so.

Andy Gomez

Gomez did not deny that he has a “Vote No CISD Bond 2022” sign in his yard, but said he has no idea who put it there. The superintendent included photos of the homes of Gomez, Gonzalez and Perez with identical-looking signs, all of which are missing the political advertising disclosure statement, as part of the complaints.

“Every community member I talk to knows I’m against the bond; I don’t support the bond. I think they feel like, ‘Oh he’s against the bond, I should put it here (in the yard),” Gomez said.

Gomez said he would remove the sign if the Texas Ethics Commission rules it’s against the law.

Joyner similarly said he has “absolutely nothing” to do with the community-wide anti-bond effort.

“I’m not involved with it. I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “And if the superintendent alleged that I do know something about it, he’s wrong — 100% wrong.”

Joyner does have a “Vote No” bond sign on his property, which he said he created for the 2021 election and updated for this year’s election. His sign does not have a disclosure statement.

“I’m not part of any group so why should it have a political advertising disclosure on it?” Joyner said. “It’s protected under the First Amendment free speech. I can say whatever I want on my property.”

Perez and Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.

Despite the lack of disclosures, Galaviz said he was able to figure out who he believes is behind the anti-bond campaign based on insight from community members. That included reports that Perez, the former teacher, was delivering “Vote No CISD Bond 2022” signs to businesses.

His goal in filing the complaints is to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules, he said.

On Nov. 1, the Just for Kids political action committee that is supporting the bond filed its first campaign finance report since the school board called for the bond election in late August. The PAC did not file a report covering the period from July 1 through Sept. 29, which was due to the Texas Ethics Commission by Oct. 11.

The PAC is independent from the district, said Canutillo ISD spokesperson Gustavo Reveles.

The Nov. 1 report notes $22,500 raised from Aug. 1 through Oct. 24, $10,000 of which was from the El Paso Association of Contractors and $5,000 of which was from Hunt Companies. The PAC reported spending over $32,000 on mailers and digital ads. It also paid consultant Mark Smith about $5,100.

The PAC spent nearly $56,000 on last year’s failed bond effort, according to previous finance reports.

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.