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Has the Fat Lady Already Sung on the Park City School District Bond?

I received an email last night criticizing me for yesterday’s article on Superintendent Ember Conley and the School board being held accountable for the educational outcome of their $66 million bond. No, it wasn’t from someone involved in the schools telling me I’m wrong about the bond (although, I’m sure I’ll get that). It was someone telling me that I was completely off base because the voters haven’t even approved the bond yet. The gist was, “How can you write such things? The people haven’t even had a chance to vote on it yet. When they vote it down, you’ll see.”

Yep. We’ll see.

Technically, the person is correct. The public hasn’t voted yet. That’ll come on November 3. There is even a group that has formed to oppose the bond. So, perhaps they’ll surprise me and create a message that resonates with the voter that causes enough people to say, “Hold on. Let’s not rush into this.” But I doubt it. Why?

It’s like Park City’s high school football team playing the University of Utah. If they played, our students would be outgunned, underfunded, and would be like children playing versus grown men. It’s the same with this fight.

The school district is meeting with the parent teacher organizations at each school to deliver their message. The school district hired a local PR firm, Panic Button Media, to publicize their point of view to date. They are likely hiring another PR firm to continue the process going forward. Moe Hickey, former school board member, is heading up the “Yes” committee and he is good at what he does. KPCW provides a platform almost each week for the school board to push their message (albeit with some tough questions from Leslie Thatcher). The Park Record, too, provides a platform for pushing the bond.

I’m not saying that what the “Yes” people are doing is wrong. In fact, they are doing what you do when you want to get something done. They are generally playing by the rules with a goal in mind. Pass a bond.

If you want to beat your competitor, you have to know who you are fighting. And in this case it’s a juggernaut.You are fighting Mike Tyson and he’ll bite off your ear if it wins him the fight. Stacked against you is the fact that this is an off year election and will be the only thing on the ballot in Summit County. If teachers and parents, persuaded by PTO meetings, show up and vote, that even lessens your odds.

At this point, in my opinion, if you don’t want this bond to pass you better hope for an Act of God, a 1000-year blizzard in early November, or for a procedural screw up on the part of the school district that invalidates the bond. The latter is fairly unlikely, due to the district’s business Administrator, Todd Hauber. If he doesn’t know ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING related to the business side of schools, I’d be shocked. He is more than competent. He is the guy you’d want on your side… but unfortunately in this case, he’s on the other side (if you are against the bond).

So, has the fat lady sung? If not, she is finishing her warm up. Almost…a … done… deal.

Yet, I love a good fight. Debate and argument are a fundamental part of democracy. I don’t think the bond should just be passed because “schools are good” or “I read in the Park Record that we are going to have trailers at Trailside” or the “Yes” side has more connections and thus more media coverage.

If you are against this bond, here are some procedural things you may want to investigate. This is just a list of things you may want to check out and understand if everything was done in the right way:

  1. During the three community meetings where it was said that the community spoke and decided how to rebuild the Kearns campus(i.e. scenario 3), there might have been a quorum of school board members at some of the meetings. According to the Open Meetings Act, any time a quorum of members is present at a Meeting (defined as a convening of a public body to discuss, receive comment, or act on a matter under its jurisdictional or advisory power) the public must be provided notice. If there was a quorum present, these meetings were not noticed. I’m sure a School Board lawyer would argue that if a board member did not actively participate, it didn’t violate law. Yet, that’s not what the law says. In this case, one could argue that if a quorum of school board members was in attendance, they influenced the outcome of these meetings without noticing it to the public. So, if you care, I’m happy to provide videos that would let you determine how many school board members were at each meeting.
  2. You could do much the same thing with Master Planning Committee meetings. You would check to see if their was a quorum of school board members present (especially at some of the latter meetings) and if so, you could press that issue. Like above, the school board will lawyer up… so you’d need to be willing to do the same if you pursued this.
  3. The school board cannot spend any funds to “push the bond”. So, when Panic Button Media was hired to be part of this project this had to be only in a “present the facts” capacity. I have no idea whether there is any violation here but I suspect it would be hard, when you really do want to push the bond, to not slip up and provide direction to your PR firm that isn’t purely fact based. In this case, you would want to GRAMA request all emails between the superintendent, Todd Hauber, and Panic Button media.
  4. Along the same lines, you could look for statements by school board members, representing the district, that are not fact based. If a school board member is speaking for himself, however, he or she has first amendment rights. So school board member Tania Knauer could say that she fully supports the bond. However, she could not say that the school board wants you to vote for the bond.
  5. Just like stated above, it is a conflict of interest for someone paid out of public funds to push a bond. The timing of Moe Hickey leaving the school board on 7/31 and leading the “independent” committee for the bond in August is interesting. Mr Hickey received $23,629.06 in compensation in 2014. I’m not familiar with school district rules but if he was paid in August or was still on the district’s health care plan in August, there may be a little problem there.
  6. You’d want to evaluate the timing of the submitted bond language to ensure that it was submitted to the Summit County Clerk, Kent Jones, on time (75 days before the election). From my experience, his office date stamps everything. If the date stamp was before 8/18, when the school board voted on the issue or after 8/20, it doesn’t meet the 75 day requirement per Utah election law.
  7. You’d want to ensure other requirements are followed, like public meetings, voter pamphlets, etc. You’ll find that in the Utah Code, Title 11, Chapter 14.

I’m sure there are other procedural angles you could follow. If you are going to go this route, I’d recommend doing it before the election. It will be that much harder to say, “The school board violated these procedures and the bond should not be allowed” when it gets 70% of the popular vote. However, if you find a procedural problem and bring it out ahead of time, you may influence people’s’ opinion. That way, you aren’t crying sour grapes.

So, I’m sticking with my original argument. I believe the fat lady has sung. Defeating this ballot initiative will be difficult if not almost impossible.

Do I think it should be defeated? I see both sides. Only time will tell, though, whether this is money well spent. That said, if you are against the bond and want a chance, you better bring your “A” game because you’re in for a hell of a fight.



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