• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Here’s Johnny! A petition decision

As most of Woodford County likely knows by now, the Sun posted a digital copy of the school tax recall petition on our website Friday. While the decision to do so seemed an obvious one to me, it was not made without carefully weighing its pros and cons.

Here’s what I wrote on our website, which can be seen by clicking the tab marked “Tax Recall.”

The Woodford Sun is publishing … the petition seeking an election on the question of raising property taxes by 5.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to fund a new high school.

There is a great deal of public interest in the petition and the property tax hike, which was approved by the Woodford County Board of Education. However, some may not be aware that the petition is subject to state Open Records law (Kentucky Revised Statues 61.870-61.884). Any member of the public can submit an open records request with the county clerk, as we did, and receive the 255-page document. However, we believe it is our duty, as well as a service to Sun readers and the community, to make this information more readily accessible.

The 113 signatures that were disqualified are redacted; the 1,454 other signatures are presented as they are listed on the petition.

Beneath these words was the petition in PDF form, which was marked, helpfully, “PDF.”

We chose to make the petition available to all – subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

I knew making the petition accessible to anyone with a computer or smart phone would lead to a bit of controversy and more than a bit of motive-questioning – of ours, and of people on both sides of the tax recall debate.

Let me address those in order.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a Kentucky native, famously said, referring to the public’s right to know the workings of their government, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. This is why Kentucky, other states and the federal government have open records laws (though such laws are under attack in some quarters, including Kentucky, and need constant vigilance). In the case of the tax recall petition, I believe the Sun is doing its civic duty by making the signatures certified by the county clerk’s office easily accessible.

The Sun has not taken a position on the question of whether a property tax increase to pay for a new high school is a good idea, and frankly, I’m glad we haven’t.

Education reporter Bob Vlach has done a fine job of letting people on all sides of the issue have their say, as well as providing context for their opinions.

While I was fairly certain that making the petition easily available would create a type of storm not recognized by meteorologists, I was disappointed at some of the accusations hurled via social media. Motives were questioned, personal attacks were made, and what could have been a substantive debate about the merits of the issue too often degenerated into a schoolyard squabble.

A highly entertaining schoolyard squabble at times, but …

Our intention was not to embarrass the people who signed the petition, who merely exercised a right given to them by state law. It’s also worth noting that some of the signers aren’t necessarily against the school tax, but rather feel that the public, and not a five-member school board, should decide the issue.

The Sun will keep you informed of all the developments.

I will climb off my high horse now and back into the high chair I find more comfortable.

Oh, and if there’s anybody really, really mad at me for the petition decision, I’m the guy who looks like Bob Vlach.

P.S. Even a muckraker like me makes new friends from time to time. After the candidate forum last Thursday, April 12, I met a bright, charming young lady named Kiaya who may, unless I dissuade her, become a journalist one day. Maybe I’ll put her to work this summer at the Sun – after this school tax petition stuff dies down, that is.

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