• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board votes to dismiss school tax recall appeal

The Woodford County Board of Education voted on Monday to dismiss its appeal of the county clerk’s certification of a recall petition, which opposed a proposed 5.5 cent property tax to build a new high school. The decision to dismiss its appeal (because of a potential delay in building a new high school and the expense of litigation) came one week after the school board’s decision to move forward with the appeal.

With only 10 days to appeal the certification and two days to review the certified petition prior to last week’s special meeting, “We needed to preserve our (legal) right to be able to proceed and have our options open,” said school board member Sherri Springate of the board’s action on Monday.

After the dismissal of its appeal this week, the board can then move forward with scheduling a special election on the proposed facilities tax. That decision could come as early as next Monday, April 23, at its regular meeting, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said after Monday’s meeting.

The school board had previously requested to have a special election on Tuesday, May 15. Because that election would have occurred one week before the primary election, the Woodford County Board of Elections informed the school board in a March 15 letter that it “voted not to commit to administering an election on the requested May 15, 2018 date” because of state laws and a federal mandate.

Hawkins said state laws related to voting machines being locked down after a primary election and other statutes will determine when the school board can have its special election. And he said he’s confident that election can happen after the primary election and before the general election in November.

“We will work with (the Board of Elections),” said Hawkins, “but again there are statutes that will apply that will somewhat dictate when that special election will be.”

Jones said at prior meetings with Hawkins and school board members that Tuesday, June 26 has been proposed as a date to schedule a special election. That date occurs on the fourth Tuesday after a 10-day period when voting machines are locked down following the primary election, which Jones said, is “statutorily directed.” She said after the board agrees on a date to have its special election, ballots must be printed. That has to occur 45 days before a special election “so we’re clicking. I’ve got a limited amount of time to get these ballots printed,” she added.

In discussions with its legal consultant on matters related to a special election, Hawkins said attorney Kerry Harvey told the board that its appeal of the certified recall petition could take a year or more.

“To avoid that kind of delay and the expense that could be involved with that type of litigation,” Hawkins said, “we felt it was better (to dismiss our appeal) – even though we had some questions, and we had some concerns (about the tax recall petition).”

He said “those questions and concerns didn’t outweigh what we could be looking at in terms of a delay and the expense involved with that” litigation.

However, Hawkins acknowledged that he still had “some real concerns” about some signatures on the petition certified by Woodford County Clerk Sandy Jones. He also said a review of signatures would likely take a long time, and disqualifying enough signatures so they are not counted toward the total number necessary for a petition to be certified could be problematic.

The petition submitted to the Woodford County clerk’s office had 1,567 names on it. Jones certified 1,454 of the signatures opposing a proposed 5.5 cent (per $100 of assessed property value) facilities tax.

A 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), according to Jones.

Looking ahead to a special election, Hawkins said, “Yeah, I’m excited because I do think there’s quite a bit of support in our community (for a new high school).”

He said a grassroots group of parents has been very active and very positive in their approach to getting accurate information out to others in the community via social media.

“So I do think there is a level of support in our community for us to do this,” said Hawkins. “And so now, we get to find out.

“This will ultimately allow our voters in our community to decide,” he added. “And according to what the (tax recall) petition committee has said, that’s what they wanted, is to have an election. We’re going to move forward with the special election.”

Paul Stahler, who chaired the recall petition committee, questioned the rationale of the school board’s decision to spend “quite a bit of money on attorney fees and filing fees (for this appeal) to turn around within hours of filing to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to do it.’ It seemed like they hadn’t planned that out very well.”

Harvey, an attorney hired by the school board to handle the appeal and special election, receives $350 an hour for legal services, according to information provided by the Woodford County Board of Education.

When asked why the school board wants to have a special election rather than place the tax issue on the November general election,

Hawkins said that would result in taxpayers receiving a second property tax bill, which would come at an expense and could cause confusion. Also, delaying a vote until November would slow the process of moving forward with the construction of a new high school by at least six months, he said.

“Other than the election itself not costing (the Board of Education) anything,” said Hawkins, “there are a lot of other issues by waiting until November.

“And when I made a presentation to (Woodford) Fiscal Court last year,” he continued, “they were very opposed to doing a second billing. So we tried to listen to that … We were trying to be responsive to the feedback that we got.”

Based upon information Hawkins said he received from the Woodford County Sheriff’s Office, the cost of a second billing would be almost $20,000. An earlier estimate of the cost for a special election was about $50,000.

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