Many people are aware of the county missing the required date to provide a Notice of Election for the Basin Rec Bond; however, there may be another, just-as-serious issue, that the County has chosen to ignore. When a bond is going to appear on the ballot, the County has to have an official public hearing on the bond. According to Utah Statute 11-14-318 this public hearing has to occur between 30 days before and 5 days before the first Notice of Election.
So, when was this public hearing for the Basin Recreation Bond? It was August 20th. When was the Notice of Election made ? October 20. That’s 61 days. Twice the statutory limit.
This issue was brought to the Summit County Council’s attention during a meeting that enabled citizens to say why they were for or against the bond on October 29th. The council deferred the question to the Snyderville Basin Board of Director’s legal counsel who provided a number of answers, none of which made sense, at least to us. He replied that the October 29th meeting (that we were currently in) was the required Public Hearing. When a council member replied that would be after the October 20th Notice of Election (and not the required 5 days before), he then stated that the public hearing was actually required to be 5 days before the election and that October 29 was 6 days before the election. Then when shown the actual statute saying “notice of election” and not “election”, refuting his latest argument, he replied that there were many meetings. A council member chimed in that there are different timelines and requirements. That was the end of it.
Yet, we still believe that the public hearing date requirement was violated. We’ll explain below but first let’s talk about why this is important. The reason public hearings about a bond are required to be in close proximity to an election is because the state wants to ensure that people are paying attention to the election and are considering the bond in terms of the upcoming vote. If not, a public hearing could be held far enough in advance that it inhibits people from participating in the process. In the case of this bond, there appears to be little opposition to it (as stated by Basin Rec representatives). Is that because when people were finally paying attention to the election, the bond public hearing had already happened? If that bond meeting had been performed closer to the election, would people have shown up, then organized, and then formed a group to oppose the bond? Would that change the outcome of the election? We’ll never know. We never got that opportunity, as required by law.
So, specifically why do we believe this statute was violated and the various comments about different timelines and requirements isn’t germane to this discussion? It’s been insinuated that there were many meetings about the bond, going back to June 18th. Yet, a Public Hearing is a pretty specific thing. It’s not a working session. It’s not informal. It’s noticed in the paper and usually has specific language associated with the agenda item.
Why do we believe the Public Hearing for this bond happened on August 20th, 2014? Two reasons. First, the Summit County Council meeting agenda states specifically “Public Hearing regarding Special Bond Election fro[sic] Snyderville Basing Special Recreation District”. Second, it is followed by “the purpose of which is to receive input from the public with respect to (a) the issuance of the Bonds and (b) any potential economic impact that the improvements, facilities, or properties financed in whole or in part with the proceeds of the Bonds may have on the private sector”. Summit County typically puts language like that into agendas and motions so it matches word for word what is required by law. If you look back at the statute mentioned above, this phrase is used in 11-14-318 (1)(b)(ii)(B). We can’t seem to find either a documented Public Hearing or that phrase used for any other public meeting for the bond offering besides the one that happened on August 20. Therefore, we have confidence that this is the date of the Public Hearing as required by law.
As mentioned above, the official Public Hearing has to occur between 30 and 5 days before the Notice of Election. So, what’s the Notice of Election? Again, it’s not some informal statement on an agenda or a publication of testing of voting equipment. It is the formal publication that appears in the paper that says there is a bond election, what the proposition is, and when the election will be held. Here is the Notice of Election for this bond on the Utah Public Notice Website. You’ll notice it is dated October 20 (The Park Record is also required to post it and did so 10/22) and that it says “Election Notice”. Perhaps people are confused because the Notice of Election Statute (11-14-202 (2)) also refers to mailing pamphlets between 15 and 45 days before the election. However, above that in section 1 it specifically says Notification of Election and provides timeframes for the Notice of Election… which is what the “30 to 5 days before” is referencing.
So, as stated at the beginning of the article, we believe that the Public Hearing occurred 31 days before it should have. However, we all know that the Notice of Election came out late, so is that the cause of this secondary snafu? The Notice of Election was actually scheduled for October 11th but let’s say the notice was actually published on the first legal date possible (35 days before the election). It would have been published on September 30. That means the Public Hearing could be between August 31st and September 25th. The hearing would have still been early.
OK, then let’s say we are completely wrong about the Notice of Election date and somehow mailing pamphlets fulfills that requirement. Pamphlets were mailed October 15. That would mean the Public Hearing should have been between September 15 and October 10. The hearing would have still been early.
So, we could be completely off base and missing something fundamental. However, it seems pretty straight forward. The Public Hearing for the bonds appears to have happened a month early and that (if true) violates Utah Statute 11-14-318. As important, we can see how this could materially impact the outcome of this bond election.
This, along with the delayed election notice, were two reasons the Summit County Council should have removed the bond from the November Ballot. This bond could have come back in the next available election. The proper rules would hopefully have been followed and the public would have an honest shot at the participating in the whole process. It could have been done the right way, if only they were willing to wait.
As we stated in another story, you may think “what’s the big deal” because the last open space bond passed with a 30%+ margin. Yet, it is likely in the next few years you are going to see some sort of bond for 1 or 2 additional school buildings. That bond will likely be $30-$60 million. Will you still feel the same way then? Will you be OK if election rules aren’t followed on something you are opposed to?
That’s why we care about the process and want to try to ensure that it is followed every time.