The Tacoma School Board agreed Thursday to send county elections officials all the names of citizens who applied to write voters pamphlet statements in support of and in opposition to two tax measures on the Feb. 11 ballot.
At the same time, board members said they want to ask again for more volunteers for both statements.
That’s because the only person who offered to author opposition statements is Robert Hill, an inmate in the Pierce County Jail.
Board member Kurt Miller said he wants to make sure that whoever writes the opposition statement is “someone who can work freely” and have ready access to a phone or other communications tools.
“We ran into a problem last time,” Miller said.
Hill is a government gadfly who recently ran for Tacoma City Council from jail. Late last year, he attempted to write a voters guide statement opposing the school district’s $500 million bond measure, which voters ultimately approved in February. But Hill — who was also in jail at the end of last year — missed filing his statement with the county by minutes.
As a result, there was no opposition statement in the voters guide.
Hill last year pointed out that the School Board also missed a crucial deadline, which requires the district to identify potential authors of the “pro” and “con” statements to the county 45 days before publication of the pamphlet. If the school board fails to submit names, responsibility for appointing authors of the voters guide statements falls to the county auditor.
The School Board said Thursday that it will send the Auditor’s Office the names of three volunteers who have agreed to write statements supporting the February levies: Willie Stewart, a former school district administrator and former School Board member; Tacoma Weekly columnist Kathleen Merryman; and Rainier Connect CEO Brian Haynes, past chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce board.
The School Board also will forward Hill’s name to write the opposition statement. But the board said it wants to put out one more call for volunteers.
Michael Rooney, elections manager in the Pierce County Auditor’s Office, said the school district has until Dec. 27 to appoint three members to both the “pro” and “con” committees charged with writing the voters guide statements. But he said that if the School Board seeks additional authors, it may want to hold off sending names to the county until all names are approved by the board.
He emphasized that the school district is the appointing authority, and the Auditor’s Office would step in only if the school district did not act in time.
“It is not the responsibility of our office to ‘perfect’ or tamper with the committee,” Rooney said in an email. “The district and the Auditor’s Office do not share the appointment process, nor do we collaborate to form a committee jointly.”
In February, the school district will ask Tacoma voters to approve two tax levies. The first measure would replace the current operations levy when it expires at the end of 2014. A second levy would pay for technology improvements.
The proposed operations levy would raise a total of $344 million over four years beginning in 2015. The technology levy would raise $40 million over the same time frame.