The Park City School Board had a plan. They knew they could benefit from hiring a communications specialist to help push through a new bond offering for rebuilding Treasure Mountain Junior High. The only question was whether they should hire someone full-time or to just get a consultant that could help through the bond election in November.
But something happened on the way to hiring their specialist. It turns out, it’s illegal.
Hiring someone to help with communications, of course, is legal. Both Summit County and Park City have communications personnel. However using public funds to try and influence a bond election is not legal. This was pointed out by Park City School District Business Administrator Todd Hauber during a recent school board meeting.
Now the Park City School Board and the Master Planning Committee, the committee deciding on whether to suggest rebuilding Treasure Mountain School and who originally suggested hiring communications personnel, are trying to figure out what they should do. It appears they would still like to engage someone to help with dissemination of information related to the bond but are trying to walk the tight line of making sure that no public money is spent related to “pushing the bond on the public.”
From comments made in the last Master Planning Meeting, it appears that their strategy is to come up with a list of all tasks a communications person could perform… that wouldn’t violate state statute. They will then ask their legal counsel to review the list. Then, if there is enough to do, they may engage someone.
The one thing to note, and which was stated during the meeting, is that they will only need this person if they decide to go forward with the bond. So, should the Master Planning Committee decide not to move forward with offering a bond for the rebuild of Treasure Mountain Junior High, this position would likely not be needed at all.
We at the Park Rag believe they are walking a slippery slope. If they hire a communications person to help, it will be difficult to constantly ensure that every action taken by this person could not be construed as “attempting to influence the public” using public funds (the money paid to this person). Even if they have a list of duties, approved by a lawyer, we all know that mistakes happen and that this person may cross the line into influencing the public. If that happens, it could put any potential bond election in jeopardy.
This should be interesting to watch over the next few months. Someone who knows how to work the local media and influence the public could be very useful to the School District. That said, how does that person stop at tasks like “surveying the public on their desires” and ensure that none of their activities actually influence the public. Could even this person creating a survey, which was suggested during a meeting, be construed as influencing the public? Sure. If the survey wasn’t written with great care.
If the school district decides to proceed forward, it’s going to be tough.