A petition to gather signatures to place a school bond funding issue before voters fell short of the required number of signatures, according to school election officer and Grand County School District Superintendent JT Stroder.
Moab area residents Tom Lacy, Dwight Johnston, Dennis Silva and Glenn Wanczyk were part of the drive behind a petition picked up from the Grand County Clerk’s office on Nov. 9. The petition was intended to collect enough signatures that would move the bond funding of up to $27 million for the new Grand County Middle School in front of voters for approval or rejection.
Lacy and Johnston said they feel that the residents should have the opportunity to vote on the bond, but the Grand County Board of Education and district officials have said delaying the funding and construction process for approval would be costly. The citizens collected signatures and returned the petition to the Grand County Clerk’s office on Nov. 26.
“The clerk, Diana Carroll, certified that we were successful,” Lacy told the Moab Sun News.
The Grand County Board of Education discussed the petition during its Dec. 5 meeting.
“They turned it in on Nov. 26, the county clerk was here. With a school election, by definition, I am the election official for school business,” Stroder told the board.
The Utah Election Code defines election officers as being the lieutenant governor, county clerk, municipal clerk, or the business administrator or superintendent of a school district.
“We had the county clerk verify voter signatures because we have no way to verify voter signatures,” Stroder continued. “We have that information from the clerk. The clerk certified to us that there is a total of 5,474 active voters in Grand and San Juan counties. Twenty percent of that is 1,095, and the clerk also verified that 1,085 signatures were verified, so they did not meet the 20 percent.”
The school district then issued a press release on Monday, Dec. 10, announcing that the citizen’s petition had fallen short of the required number of valid signatures by 10 signatures.
Carroll said that she checked the signatures and verified the number of signatures on the petition.
“The petitioners used the number of registered voters on the day the petition was created,” Carroll explained. On the day the petitioners picked up their petition, Nov. 9, she said there were 5,378 registered voters. “The school district used the number of registered voters on the day the petition was being turned in.”
When the petition was turned in on Nov. 26, there were 5,474 registered voters.
“The difference is … the (2018) county election was canvassed (and) that added to the total number of voters,” Carroll said.
It’s unclear as to how the school district arrived at the decision that the number of signatures depends on the number of registered voters on the day a petition is returned. The Utah Election Code states that for local initiatives, a person seeking to have an initiative submitted to a vote of the people for approval or rejection “shall obtain legal signatures equal to 20 percent of all the votes cast in the county, city, town or metro township for all candidates for President of the United States at the last election at which a President of the United States was elected.”
The last general election in which there were candidates for President of the United States was in November 2016.
Lacy called the school board’s determination “underhanded” and said, “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Petitioners called the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office and were told to talk to the Grand County Attorney’s Office. Lacy said the county attorney is supposed to review the issue. Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald had not given a determination as to whether the school board’s interpretation of the matter has legal standing.
The school board also said in its press release that the district is now proceeding with the sale of bonds “as soon as possible to finance the construction of the middle school.”
The district expects construction to begin in the spring of 2019, with the new school opening in August of 2020.
Johnston said “three out of four” people he talked to when he was collecting signatures were in favor of placing the new school funding issue on the ballot for voters to decide. He said “lots and lots” of people were also not aware that there was a plan to build a new middle school.
“When the election was certified by the county clerk, we won, so we thought that was behind us and the issue would be on the ballot,” Johnston said. “The school district met, changed the number of signatures, and went forward with it. …They did this to keep the voters from voting. We’re flabbergasted. It’s unbelievable they would have the courage to treat the voters like this.”
Stroder said on Dec. 12 that the district had no further comments to make on the issue at this time.
Grand County School District announces shortfall
“When the election was certified by the county clerk, we won, so we thought that was behind us and the issue would be on the ballot. The school district met, changed the number of signatures, and went forward with it.”