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(Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor) District 2 school board candidate Tom Decosmio said he is identifying himself as a Republican in this billboard not running his campaign as one.

A billboard proclaiming Hamilton County school board candidate Tom Decosimo a Republican has sparked several complaints from citizens because the campaign is supposed to be nonpartisan, and the matter is under review by the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office.

"Elect Tom Decosimo, A Republican for School Board, District 2," states the digital billboard on Signal Mountain Road.

The party affiliation was removed from the billboard earlier this week as complaints mounted on social media, but Decosimo has had it restored and says he's confident he's in the right.

"I am not running my campaign as a Republican, I am just identifying myself as one," Decosimo told the Times Free Press.

Tennessee State Education Code states, "All elections for school board members shall be conducted on a nonpartisan basis, and no person seeking a position on a board shall campaign as the nominee or representative of any political party."

Bruce Garner, communications director for the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, told the Times Free Press the office has received citizen complaints.

"The matter is under review by the DA's office," Garner said, and may be referred to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance for any appropriate action.

Several residents called in to the Hamilton County Commission's virtual meeting on Wednesday with concerns about Decosimo's billboard.

Resident Brad Shumpert said he was considering taking his complaint to the district attorney's office and was aware there was one already filed.

"It seems like this is in direct violation of this [state education] code, and definitely the spirit of that code — that we want our school board elections to be nonpartisan," Shumpert said in the phone call.

Commissioner David Sharpe chimed in with members of the public who raised the issue.

"I think if you asked everyone in District 2 or any other district for that matter, I think most would agree that partisanship has no place on the school board," he said. "We all see how broken Washington has become from hyper-partisanship. We see it all over the country. And frankly, I think it's dangerous to bring this kind of thinking to Hamilton County."

Sharpe expressed frustration that there seemed to be confusion over the enforcement mechanisms for the state law against partisan campaigning in school board elections.

At one point the party label was taken off the billboard, according to several callers, but as of Wednesday, it was back in place.

Decosimo told the Times Free Press the removal of the word Republican was a mistake by the billboard company and "after having reviewed it with the election commission and with attorneys who know the law extremely well, we are fully in compliance with regulations."

"For the 30th straight day I have knocked on doors and will continue until however many days until the election — talking to voters of the second district, listening to their concerns and letting them know who I am," Decosimo said. "I have nothing to say to those that are raising questions."

The campaign of Decosimo's opponent, Marco Perez, emailed the Times Free Press a statement, saying Perez understands "the importance and purpose of school board races being conducted on a nonpartisan basis. Party politics has no place in our education system. Marco's focus has always been on our students, teachers, and schools. As a school board member, it is essential to engage with the entire community and not just those of a specific party or opinion."

Early voting is ongoing, and Election Day is Aug. 6.

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @justmissmilly.

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