Tacoma-area residents this month will see a blank space in the voters pamphlet where a statement arguing against a $500 million school bond should appear.
Two statements were written in opposition to the Feb. 12 ballot measure, but neither will appear.
Blame it on a combination of missed deadlines, strange bedfellows and a system that often struggles to recruit tax critics to write ballot statements.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson calls it “an exercise in civics that didn’t go very well.”
One ballot statement against Proposition 1 was written by Robert Hill, a controversial local figure who sometimes goes by the name “The Traveler” and is an inmate at the Pierce County Jail. He missed the auditor’s Monday evening deadline by 12 minutes.
The other statement was written by Ken Miller, a longtime resident who bowed out Monday morning, saying it was too difficult to collaborate with Hill. Anderson had appointed the two men in recent days to produce a statement opposing the bond.
“I exerted — and exceeded — what I consider a reasonable effort to craft an effective statement,” Miller told The News Tribune. “I believe Mr. Hill is genuinely trying to be a good citizen, at least in this case. Unfortunately, I lack the skills or time to work with him.”
The voters pamphlet for next month’s special election will contain a “for” statement supporting passage of the Tacoma bond, which would fund more than a dozen new or remodeled schools. It also will include statements both for and against the Puyallup School District’s $279.6 million bond.
But finding people ready, willing and organized enough to take an official stand against the Tacoma bond turned out to be such a formidable task, no ballot statement representing the opposition view will appear in the pamphlet.
On Dec. 20, the Tacoma School Board held a special meeting to form a committee to write the “for” and “against” statements. The board produced the names of three people who requested to write the “for” statement, but it did not identify anyone to write the “against” statement. No opponents stepped forward, school district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.
That left the task in Anderson’s hands. State law requires the county auditor to make an effort to appoint as many as three people to form an “against” committee when local jurisdictions don’t.
“I am Plan B,” Anderson said Monday. “I am the fallback position.”
She said she would have preferred the school board follow the manual she distributed and choose members of an “against” committee. When it was left to her, she said she had no choice but to appoint all comers on a “first come, first served” basis.
Hill and Miller were the only candidates who volunteered. Hill was appointed first.
Miller told The News Tribune he and Hill weren’t able to agree on a unified position.
From the start, Miller had reservations about teaming with Hill, who is due to get out of jail in April for a sentence he received for causing a scene at a local bar. Hill also spent time locked up after being convicted of intimidating a judge.
Among Hill’s other offenses over the years was an arrest at a City Council meeting in 2009 for violating a restraining order secured by Anderson, a councilwoman at the time.
Hill previously was named to write the “against” statement in advance of last fall’s Pierce Transit tax measure, but he withdrew after the transit board decided to reconsider his appointment.
“I’m not convinced that (Hill) makes the most effective advocate (for rejecting the school bond), given that he has even more public baggage than I do,” Miller said Monday.
The logistics of a jail sentence also complicated their ability to work together. Hill has no Internet access, could only communicate in 20-minute blocks on the telephone, and had no easy way to exchange written materials with his fellow appointee, Miller said.
Early this week, Miller resigned his appointment, and Hill became a committee of one.
“It’s not anybody’s fault, particularly,” Miller reflected. “I’m not aggrieved. (Hill) is trying to exercise his rights and responsibilities as a citizen with unusual constraints of his own making.”
In the end, Miller wrote an “against” statement that he never submitted. It contends that new construction does not lead to better education and urges the school district to make better use of the buildings it has.
Hill’s statement accuses the district of spending too much to put Proposition 1 on the ballot and urges voters to verify the need for the bond by visiting at least one of the 14 campuses where work would be done.
The “pro” statement — co-written by Willie Stewart, Dan Barkley and Kathleen Merryman — says the measure would enhance the safety, security and health of students at a time of record-low financing and construction costs.
“Every Tacoma child deserves an excellent education, the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential, and the best possible environment for learning and teaching,” it says.
Ballots for the special election will be mailed to voters no later than Jan. 25.
Matt Misterek: 253-597-8472