Friday, March 03, 2006

Coming in September, a very special election of the CCSD

If the CCSD keeps this up, the September special election they want will be a moot point, since they won’t get around to making a decision until December.

According to today’s ABH, the school board once again failed to make a decision one way or the other concerning the proposed September 19 special election on the SPLOST referendum.  Basically, the community would rather they save the $41,000 and hold the election on – gosh, we don’t know – election day?  The school board, or perhaps the consultants the school board is employing, would rather see the election go down on September 19, where it would be the only thing on the ballot.  

In the ABH story, CCSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway is quoted.  Sez Holloway: “We're still getting a lot of concern about the amount of things that are going to be on the ballot.”  Oh really, sir?  We can’t help but wonder if Jane Kidd is concerned about the number of races on the ballot?  How about Doug Lowery?  James Garland and Andy Rusk both read this blog regularly – how about it fellers?  Are you guys worried about all those races above you on the ballot?  Maybe so, maybe not; doesn’t matter because Jane and Doug and James and Andy don’t have a choice.  They don’t get to have special elections because there’s “a lot of concern” that voters may get tired  “Ballot fatigue” is a real phenomena, be we don’t see any reason why the school district should have any sort of advantage that candidates don’t have.

We’d also like to point out the “consultant” factor mentioned in the ABH.  We’re all for calling in the pros from Dover when necessary, but is it necessary to have consultants advise you as to the appropriate election date?  To be fair, those consultants are probably doing much more than advising the CCSD to have a special election, but you’ll pardon us if we think that these financial consultants should keep their hot little hands off the political side.  How much are the pros costing us anyway?  More than the projected $41,000 for the special election they’re recommending?

Finally, we’d like to discuss the perception factor on this whole special election deal.  What’s the real story here?  Is the CCSD trying to put one over on us?  We ask this because that’s a legitimate perception that could arise from the situation.  You’ve got a school district that is bending over backward to ensure that an election on a fairly important revenue and spending program doesn’t happen on election day, when turnout is relatively high.  It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to ask why the significantly lower turnout for a special election is a benefit for the CCSD.  Is it because SPLOST isn’t particularly popular among some segments of the Athens-Clarke community?  Is it because they don’t want to make the effort to actually sell the program to the voters?  We don’t know.  Your crack editorial staff usually supports SPLOST, and we’ll be voting on September 19, if that’s when the election is.  

But here’s a gentle suggestion for the CCSD.  Take the $41,000 if it’s that important to you, but have the election in November, like you’re supposed to.  Spend the $41,000 on an effort to educate the voters about why they should vote for SPLOST.  If you’re going to spend millions of our dollars, doesn’t the community deserve to give you a real mandate?

Related: Athens Banner-Herald: Decision again postponed on tax referendum” 03/03/06


andyrusk said...

Ditto you assessment of the situation. And I say, load that ballot up. We have enough trouble getting folks to turn out for regular elections.

james garland said...

My comments were requested. So, rambling though they doubtlessly are after a night with a couple of new foster children in the house, here they are:

I feel that the request to hire a consultant, at additional expense no less, is merely a ploy designed to validate the bureaucracy's original desire, namely that of holding a special election in September (itself at needless expense and at a time guaranteed to result in the lowest imaginable turnout). The administration expected its original recommendation to be passed by the Board of Education last month with little fanfare or public interest. That didn’t happen (see below). This month, the official recommendation changed to holding the vote concurrent with the general election in November. That was the item scheduled to be voted on at last night's session. As an aside, note that this meeting was an agenda session, the regular voting session is next week (I e-mailed the members of the Board about this and while I don't fault the Board members themselves, I have learned not to trust the local education bureaucracy; again, see below). But no vote on the revised recommendation was held last night (can anyone say canard)? Instead, we got this idea to hire a consultant. For a bunch that constantly whines about being under-funded, the school district doesn’t seem to mind throwing money at avoidable elections and pointless consultants.

And now comes some shameless self promotion. Were it not for us Clarke County GOP types, the September special election would have been a done deal last month. Who found the memo on the District's web site in which the superintendent rationalized away the cost of a special election and complained about it in a letter to the editor? Me. Actually, I was waiting for the memo, as I had discussed the special election and its associated expense with the staff of the elections office back in January. Who called the folks down at the Banner-Herald and clued them in at to what was going on so that they could look into the matter? John Marsh (another Republican). After doing so, the newspaper editorialized against the idea. Who spoke against the special election at the Board's meeting in February? Karen Schwind (another Republican), John Marsh, and me. Which nine people held up the signs with "General Election" on them as the Board discussed the matter, eventually voting to have a referendum but delaying the setting of a specific date? The Republicans in attendance as a result of our efforts to turn some folks out for the Board’s meeting. You get the drift. Note that these are Clarke County folks (not Ralph Hudgens), who also took formal stands against rental registration, against the local smoking ban, and got the Commission to agree to a .3 mill rollback a couple of years ago. While we have our share of crackpots, just remember this the next time the all-purpose GOP boogeyman is trotted out as a reason to oppose something or someone.

For those who may not know, John Marsh and I have been waging guerilla warfare against the Board since 2004 about budget matters. The Board held budget hearings in April of that year as required by law to discuss a proposed tax increase. The projected increase was only a function of increased assessments. When it adopted a budget in June, the Board added a .25 mills rate increase. It did so without restarting the public hearings process, which is in direct violation of state law. John and I protested, but the Board (acting on the advice of its attorney) ignored us. As did the County Commission (acting on the advice of its attorney), which must approve the Board's millage rate request. As did the local tax commissioner, who must verify that everything was done according to the law. As did the Department of Revenue, which must certify the county's tax digest. John and I followed the food chain up, eventually complaining to the governor's office. That complaint resulted in a meeting with the head of the Department's property tax division, the head of the Department's tax law and policy division, the Department's liaison to the General Assembly, and a guy from the Attorney General's office. At this meeting, we were given any number of excuses and straw man arguments about how the law (and the Department’s substantive regulations) really doesn’t mean what it plainly said.

In fact, it was the Department’s position that its regulations, ostensibly written to implement the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TBoR), actually let local requesting and taxing authorities (such as the Board of Education and the County Commission) do precisely what the law prohibits. When pressed as to how a department's regulations superseded state law, we never received anything remotely resembling a straight answer from anyone. All of this eventually resulted in HB 1281, introduced into the General Assembly this session, to take some of the discretion away from the bureaucracy and put some enforcement mechanisms into TBoR. Say what you will about Bob Smith, but he is the only public official to actually take an interest in this matter. Lest you think that this is just some GOP thing, I have a letter from Roy Barnes, the governor who signed TBoR into law, agreeing that the law has been misused and wishing us well in our effort to rectify it.

So as you can see, John and I have a lengthy history with the school district matters. See the Georgia Public Policy Foundation commentary we co-authored back in December, "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Needs Teeth to be Effective," located at Click on "Taxes" on the left-hand side of the home page.

james garland said...

And while I'm on a roll, a somewhat related measure would put an end to scheduling SPLOST elections on dates guaranteed to have poor turn outs. The bill was reported favorably out of the Governmental Affairs Committee last week:

HB 1306

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Code Section 21-2-540 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to conduct of special elections generally, so as to provide that special elections regarding the imposition of sales and use taxes shall be held only on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Publius said...

I'd be more in favor of it if it had a provision allowing specials on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in odd-numbered years as well, because sometimes a special election really can't wait two years.

Although, this really strikes me as a useless law. While we should stop wasteful special election proposals, like the CCSD's, I don't think you should close the door entirely. Plus, the community should decide these things. I like local control.

james garland said...

An "every year" provision strikes me as okay as well. While I was involved in getting HB 1281 going (we had hoped to get it introduced last year), HB 1301 caught me by surprise. Apparently, other folks around the state are having similar concerns about SPLOST votes.

monticello_pres said...

Banning special elections because of this ridiculous CCSD behavior is like banning bars because some reckless jerk gets drunk and crashes a car. Sure, they injured someone. And that is terrible. But you don't use a chainsaw to prune a tree.

The point that stands out to me (about the CCSD special election desire) is that of the desire for poor turnout. What is the motivation for this? It is obvious and I believe Publius is right on track with that.

Keep up the good work, fellas. I'm sure that $41k would be well received by any number of the district employees as a bonus. My fuzzy math tells me that 164 employees could receive a $250 bonus with that money. Or, even better, we could just save it. There's a novel concept comlpetely lost on government/bureaucratic minds for the most part.

(James Garland, thanks for the time and attention to these thoughts and considerations. Amazing how the truth evades a situation even when it seems clear.)

james garland said...

Just in case anyone is interested, the relevant section of the substitute version of HB 1306 reported favorably out of the Governmental Affairs Committee concerning SPLOST referenda appears below. Instead of limiting such referenda to November of even numbered years, the Committee instead reduced the opportunities for such votes from four times per year to just two by the elimination of the special election dates that are currently available in March and September.

Code Section 21-2-540(c)(3)
Special elections to present questions to the voters on the approval or rejection of the imposition of sales and use taxes shall only be conducted on the date of the general primary or the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years or the third Tuesday in June or the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years.