NBC News Channel / KSL.com
A man who spent time behind bars for child sex abuse is seeking a seat on the Granite school board.
Richard Wagner Jones, a registered sex offender, is currently running against incumbent Dan Lofgren for the first precinct seat on the Granite Board of Education. He is listed on the ballot as R. Wagner Jones, according to the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.
Jones pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony, on July 30, 1990. Several other related charges against him were dismissed, according to court documents. He completed his sentence, which included both prison time and parole, in 2005.
Jones was out of town Wednesday and deferred an interview until later. In an email, he did say that he understands that voters "need to know why there is no risk or need for concern on that issue before the election occurs."
Under state law and Granite School District policy, registered sex offenders are barred, with exceptions, from visiting elementary and secondary schools. District policy allows visits that are authorized and supervised with the school's administration, but the sex offender must stay within eyesight of an administrator at all times. When public functions are being held at a school outside of regular school hours, a sex offender may be present at the regulation and discretion of the school's principal.
Gayleen Gandy, president of the Granite School Board, said Jones' legal barriers would not necessarily impede him from fulfilling the responsibilities of a board member. But she added that for her, visiting educators and students in their school settings informs the decisions she makes.
"I personally feel that it's very important for me to be out in the schools as much as possible," she said. "If I'm going to make decisions from the 30,000-foot level, I need to know what's going on in the trenches."
Gandy said there is no requirement for board members to visit schools, although most find it valuable to do so. She said for many voters, the most recognizable decisions that board members make are those that affect property taxes.
"The job of a board member is basically to make decisions regarding budgets and policies," she said. "I think anyone who pays taxes ought to be interested in who their school board member is."
Gandy said school visits have proved to be a benefit for her. In her first year on the school board, she made a goal of visiting every school in her district and volunteering for a half day.
"I called the principals and said, 'I want you to put me to work,'" she said.
She said that time in the schools, and subsequent visits, have given her a perspective on education issues that she would not have had otherwise.
Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said the laws regulating the sex offender registry have changed since Jones' conviction. An individual convicted today of the same crime would be placed on the registry for the duration of their life, compared to the former period of 10 years from the end of a sentence. Because Jones was not grandfathered into the new law, Gehrke said, his name will be removed from the registry in 2015.
Sex offender registries are designed mostly to keep track of offenders, he said. "It's not intended as a punishment."
Gehrke said the registry, like the department of corrections, is a balancing act between keeping the public informed and safe and equipping convicts with the skills necessary to re-enter society and be contributing members of a community. He said he understands there are special concerns regarding convicted criminals, especially those who commit crimes against children, but added that it is the hope of the Utah Department of Corrections that an individual could complete their sentence and live a happy, productive, law-abiding life.
It will be up to voters to decide who between Jones and Lofgren best represents their interests in education. Lofgren declined to comment on the race and his opponent. He said that this year, like his first election in 2008, he is not running against someone but is running on his own ability and desire to help improve education in the Granite School District.
"When I ran four years ago, it was because I had a very strong sense that we could do better," he said. "It's not about who my opponent is, it's about an opportunity."