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How 'yes' signs were distributed was a no-no

Staff writer

Marion-Florence schools distributed “Vote Yes” signs from the district’s office, advertising on its website that supporters could pick up the signs there.

That’s a move that would receive a flunking grade from the attorney general’s office.

Although school districts may distribute informational materials about a school bond issue, they can’t advocate a “yes” vote. Flyers the district is mailing out to voters, for example, don’t say “vote yes.”

“I contacted USD 408 and was informed that they are no longer distributing materials from any USD 408 facilities,” county clerk and election officer Tina Spencer wrote in an email Tuesday. “It appears that the school district has corrected the issue.”

In a post seven days ago on the district’s website, district employee Kristi Mercer wrote: “We have yard signs promoting the bond election. If anyone would like to help promote this bond election by displaying a sign in their yard, please stop by the district office at 101 N. Thorp and pick one up.”

Under law, districts aren’t allowed to advocate how voters should vote because it’s essentially a blow to democracy.

“I knew that district funds could not be used to purchase those signs,” superintendent Lee Leiker said.

Instead, donations were solicited. But the district apparently didn’t know it couldn’t distribute signs from its office.

“We are no longer doing that,” Leiker said Tuesday.

The district moved the signs from its office to a supporter’s home, he said, acknowledging that the district was in the wrong.

Leiker said he didn’t know how many people had picked up signs at the district office.

“I’m sure some were certainly picked up there,” he said.

Leiker also distributed signs after work, using his own vehicle. Nothing in state law prohibits that.

The proposed $3.26 million bond issue would pay for improvements such as new locker rooms and new concession stand outside the southwest edge of the track at Warrior Stadium.

It also would create space for a summer weight room that could be used in the winter as pickleball courts to provide recreation for families and those 55 and older.

Bonds that paid for the Performing Arts Center and Sports and Aquatic Center will be paid off this year. Taxes that paid for those bonds would be redirected to pay for the new bonds, resulting in no tax increase.

The signs also don’t say who paid for them.

Signs typically list the name of a committee and its chairman or treasurer.

He identified sponsors of the signs as Marlin and Debbie Buchholz; Chris Hernandez (Edward Jones); Warrior Television Network; Ty Zeiner; Case & Son Insurance; Marion Auto Supply; Bob Brookens; G&J Video; Gene Winkler; Doug Heerey Shelter Insurance; Mike Powers; and Western Associates.

Federal law also makes it improper for most businesses other than sole proprietorships to contribute to campaigns.

Spencer has estimated that the special election Tuesday will cost $7,310. Early in-person voting started Monday and continues 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays until Monday, when it will end at noon.

Election Day voting will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Eastmoor United Methodist Church in Marion and at the Florence American Legion post.

Last modified May 3, 2023

 

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