• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

School board to appeal tax recall petition

The Woodford County Board of Education voted to appeal the certification of a tax recall petition after more than an hour in executive/closed session on Monday.

Its action comes after Woodford County Clerk Sandy Jones certified a petition last Wednesday, April 4, opposing a proposed 5.5 cent (per $100 of assessed property value) facilities tax to pay for a new high school.

The board’s deadline to file a notice of appeal was April 16, Hawkins told board members before they voted to go into closed session. Kerry Harvey, an attorney hired to handle all matters related to a special election and the recall petition, was authorized by the board to file an appeal of the certification in Woodford Circuit Court.

With all of the time spent on its decision to enact a facilities tax to build a new high school, which the board has said was best for students and the future of Woodford County, board Vice Chair Debby Edelen said, “It’s our responsibility as elected school board members to continue to fight for that.”

“Looking at the petition, appealing it – perhaps successfully – will further us down the road to get that goal,” she added.

“It’s not about the five of us,” board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV said. “It’s about the kids.”

Before voting to go into closed session at Monday’s special meeting, Wilson said the school board received a copy of the petition on Saturday through an open records request. That allowed board representatives to begin reviewing names on the petition that were either certified or excluded by Jones, Hawkins said.

After coming out of closed session, Hawkins said a 10-day window (ending on Monday, April 16) wasn’t much time to process a lot of information.

“The appeal,” he said, “just allows us to be more thorough in that process. And I think that’s important.”

The petition submitted to the county clerk’s office had 1,567 names on it. Jones certified 1,454 of those signatures as valid, she said.

The recall petition committee was required to have at least 1,377 signatures of registered and qualified voters (equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in Woodford County during the 2016 presidential election), Jones said.

“It’s been our aim all the time to get this thing on the ballot,” said former Woodford County schools Superintendent Paul Stahler, who chaired the recall petition committee. “That’s what it’s been all about.”

When asked why the petition drive against a facilities tax was successful, Stahler said, “When we talked to people, they don’t want their taxes raised. Normally, they don’t have a choice and this time they’re given a choice – or they had the potential to being given a choice.”

He said momentum grew and people were “coming to us” as the deadline for submitting a recall petition approached. To get more than 1,500 people to sign a petition in a little more than two weeks was “a pretty good feat,” he added.

The former Woodford County schools superintendent said the five-member recall petition committee was successful because of a lot of hard work from many other people in the community.

During an interview after the school board’s work session on Monday, Hawkins said because signatures on the petition are from 19 different voting precincts, “we just want to make sure it’s accurate, and we are comfortable with the fact that it’s being certified.”

Hawkins said the 35 to 45 day window when the board can have a special election to allow Woodford County voters to vote on the proposed 5.5 cent facilities tax does not “kick in” until the board’s appeal of the petition’s certification has been settled.

“If we’re not successful in the appeals process,” said Hawkins, “we could then move forward with the special election.”

With an appeal now moving forward, Stahler asked, “Why do they not want it on the ballot? That’s our reaction,” to the board’s decision on Monday.

The school board previously requested that the Woodford County Board of Elections conduct its special election on Tuesday, May 15, if a petition drive were successful.

However, in a March 15 letter, the Board of Elections stated that it could not commit to administering an election on the requested May 15 date because of legal factors and conflicts related to the primary election on May 22.

When a special election may be held if the school board’s appeal is unsuccessful is uncertain, because a circuit judge does not have a deadline for making a ruling.

While the petition demonstrates a grassroots push against increasing property taxes, Hawkins said based on what he heard during public forums, “I think there’s support in this community for a new high school. Because I believe our community sees this as something that is for the greater good.”

Without a facilities tax to pay for a new high school, Hawkins said Woodford County will not have a new high school for its kids in “the foreseeable future … at least 12 to 15 years.”

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