Pat Hensley bristles at being called a politician, and until her June retirement she held a supposedly nonpartisan position as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Catawba County Schools. But Hensley acted like a veteran politician when she and her supporters used the county school system and their school connections to organize and help launch her successful campaign to get on the fall ballot for the General Assembly.
Civitas public records requests made to the three school systems in Catawba County revealed an active campaign by school personnel to help Hensley. This included help in acquiring the signatures needed to get on the fall ballot for State Senate District 42 and getting vital support, including financial backing, from individuals involved with the schools.
In responding to our public records requests of school officials, moreover, personnel involved with supplying the records failed to disclose information about their own financial support to her campaign.
The initial efforts to help Hensley involved organizational meetings and using the Catawba County Schools email system to encourage employees to help with the petition effort. She needed to collect over 5,026 signatures in Catawba and Alexander counties to qualify for the fall election. She started political fundraising in March, getting early support from past and present school officials. The effort to collect signatures was promoted using school emails, including distributing petitions and
All of the initial efforts in support of her campaign occurred this year while Hensley was still a high-ranking school employee – the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. She even used a district fax machine during school hours to fax a campaign report to the North Carolina State Board of Elections on April 28. Hensley did not retire from the Catawba County Schools until June 1.
As early as March, school officials – including Beverly Snowden, a Catawba County Schools public information officer – were sending emails on the school email system discussing organizing efforts for her campaign. Hensley started a political committee and actively fundraising for her Senate campaign in March.
She not only was involved in running the county system’s human resources office, but email exchanges show her actively helping the leader of the local North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) affiliate get resolutions passed by the county system’s Board of Education. She worked with the local NCAE representatives to provide draft resolutions to Superintendent Dan Brigman.
As reported by the Hickory Daily Record, on April 7, Hensley, while still employed by the school system and identified as an active candidate, spoke at a teacher forum. There she echoed criticisms developed in the
In addition to what our requests revealed, two officials involved in our records requests have failed to include relevant information about their own involvement in Hensley’s campaign.
In requesting the emails, Civitas worked through Crystal Davis, attorney for the county school system. Despite including in our request that email search terms include “Pat Hensley,” Davis has never informed us she was Hensley’s top individual campaign contributor. Financial reports indicate she gave her first $2,000 to the Hensley campaign on March 25, and her donations have totaled $2,164 to Hensley’s Senate campaign.
Also, other records show that Hensley campaign meetings were held at Davis’ office in Conover.
Joining her in contributing to Hensley was Judith Ray, who retired on Aug. 1 as Chief Technology Officer for the Catawba County Schools. Ray would be the person responsible for overseeing the email searches.
In addition to these two, Brigman signed the petition to get Hensley on the fall ballot. Brigman has been the county system’s Superintendent since July 2012.
We are still awaiting responses to all our requests to school systems in Catawba County. The Hickory and Newton-Conover schools systems have not yet responded. But what we have already received shows Pat Hensley and her allies used public school resources and their school system connections to help her campaign for state office.