consultants are sandburs

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Anoka-Hennepin School Board Election - Strib coverage. Lawsuit against the District.

Meet the candidates, an Oct. 22 Strib item by Paul Levy, here. Earlier: Half the seats are up this election, Levy also, Oct 12, here.

Litigation coverage, here.

Readers intending to vote in the upcoming election wanting more information, this

Google = Anoka-Hennepin school district election

More subjectively interesting is coverage of the litigation, on appeal over a statute of limitations dismissal, Strib reporting,

At issue is material distributed by Anoka-Hennepin Schools in 2011 and the suit’s claim that the district needed to file campaign finance reports.

[...] On Friday, the group took its case against the state’s largest school district to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

In a lawsuit that a judge dismissed earlier this year, ruling it had not been filed in time, the Minnesota Voters Alliance claims that the Anoka-Hennepin District failed to report expenditures related to a 2011 referendum brochure. The brochure informed voters of the consequences of approving or rejecting three levy questions on the November 2011 ballot.

“What’s at stake is the nature of school district referendum elections,” Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing the Minnesota Voters Alliance, said after Friday’s arguments before the Appeals Court. [...]

The attorney representing Anoka-Hennepin says the district was not disseminating campaign literature when it explained the consequences of yes or no answers to each of three questions on the 2011 referendum ballot.

“No, this isn’t campaign literature,” attorney Jeanette Bazis said after the hearing. “This is a brochure to educate the public … an obligation the district takes seriously.”

In her statement to the Court of Appeals, Bazis noted that the district did not want a repeat of January 2002 — when residents complained at a meeting that they had not been well-informed about 2001 levy questions.

Bazis said that in 2011, the district made concerted efforts to inform voters — through its website, providing an online tax calculator and distributing an official notice of the special election — detailing the tax effects of each levy question.

The Voters Alliance and member Donald Huizenga filed a complaint on Nov. 2, 2012, against Anoka-Hennepin with the Office of Administrative Hearings. The suit was dismissed this past April after Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman ruled that the Voters Alliance and Huizenga, who says he’s monitored school referendums for 12 years, failed to meet a one-year statute of limitations.

The judge noted that the school district posted its brochure online on Oct. 27, 2011, the same day it circulated 6,000 copies of a printed version to staff for circulation to district employees and others. Four days later, on Oct. 31, the district mailed 82,135 copies to school district residents. A complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings alleging that the district violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act was not filed until more than a year later.

Kaardal said that the alliance had thought it filed its claim in time, thinking the court was paying attention to the date that referendum literature was received, not sent. But Judge Lipman noted that the brochure was posted Oct. 27 on a Web page that attracted more than 4 million visits in October of 2011.

“It took time to research all this material,” Huizenga said of the length of time before the alliance filed its complaint.

[...] “Did the district, in this brochure, act to promote the ballot question?” Bazis asked after the hearing. “Our attorney general has said a school district should provide voters with facts and information, so they’re not left misinformed. Case law says [a school district is] allowed to explain what happens if you vote no or if you vote yes. We believe that that is what the school district did.”

Kaardal says the brochure was a blatant promotion.

“It’s part of having an attractive brochure,” Kaardal said. “They want you to read it, to get a reaction. And, in the end, they want you to vote yes.”

[bolding added] It seems dead-in-the-water certain that the filing was not within a year of the mailing (even presuming a three-day mailing gap from into-the-mail to delivery unless weekend days intervened and that question exists). The web posting was earlier than the mailing. But all of that ducks the substantive question, as does the Bazis statement about what the Attorney General may have said, presumed for now to have been via an AGO and not less.

What possible harm would result from the act of promoting transparency by the school board, on its own initiative, filing a disclosure statement? Sunshine is the best disinfectant, per Justice Brandeis in his famous 1914 quote, and why oppose sunshine with a technical one-year limitations argument? What does that teach?

It seems the parties should settle, with the Board saying in the future, without any admission of politicizing things, that it will for informational purposes either file the report or post the equivalent on its own webpage, stating what was spent in any brochure preparation-mailing; with the watchdog group dismissing their appeal.

The public should know if public money was spent for a PR firm to prepare hype and/or information, and the full cost of sending out any election-related mailings. That and the identity of any PR firm used and the details of a contract is public data, and something the self appointed watchdogs could seek, even now, via a public data disclosure request. Then if the request is frustrated or ignored, sue on that.

A data request for the exact information a CFB filing would contain (or for more) seems to fully moot going to court the way these folks did. Occam's razor would favor seeking the public data, finding the facts that way, and then publicizing any impropriety the self appointed watchdogs might uncover.

It's strange.

The school district does not look particularly good in not disarming the substance of the complaint by offering in the future to openly post any/all such information as a CFB filing would entail, even with the day-late dollar-short argument available in this instance.

Creating tempests in teapots? Why do that without considering the public data disclosure request route?

To be clear, I might have made an erroneous assumption because all I know is what is in the Strib report and if there had been a data discovery request made at any point, and that fact not reported by Levy in weighing how much detail might be too much, his readers would have no easy way to know. If Huizinga or a friend reads this, a comment about the status of possible data request activity would be a welcome thing for aiding this particular Crabgrass post.

In any event, Huizenga and associates should get a data request in for 2011, now, per the saying, better late than never, if they have not followed that path already. If a request was made and a response attained, providing the info contained within the response or a summary statement to Crabgrass, via a comment or by email, would be appreciated.

________FURTHER UPDATE________
Well, nobody else caught the possible error above, but if a three day extension from date of mailing a notice applies to a notice beginning date for statute of limitation purposes, that seems to suggest a barely timely filing of the initial action that was dismissed as untimely. One expects that argument was made, and the appellate panel hearing the appeal will address it in issuing an opinion.

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