Voters Alliance files complaint against Anoka-Hennepin

Nearly a year after Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 mailed to residents a brochure describing how funds from tax levies on the ballot in November 2011 would be used to maintain and improve district schools, the Minnesota Voters Alliance has filed a complaint against the district with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.

That complaint, filed by District 11 resident and member of the Minnesota Voters Alliance Donald Huizenga Nov. 2, alleges that the school district violated statutes by using public funds to promote the passage of the levy questions.

Those questions were: Question 1: Renewal of expiring portion of revenue authorization; Question 2: Capital project levy authorization for technology improvements for school instruction; and Question 3: Additional funding to maintain stability of educational programs.

At Nov. 8, 2011 election, questions 1 and 2 were approved; question 3 was rejected.

The complaint alleges that Anoka-Hennepin wrongfully used public money to print and distribute a brochure “for the promotion of ballot questions.”

The district did, in fact, mail to residents two brochures describing how the funds from the levies on the November 2011 ballot would be used to maintain and improve district schools.

According to Mary Olson, director of communication and public relations for the school district, the first brochure distributed by District 11 was the official notice of election and included ballot language, voting information and the impact on the taxpayer.

In other words that brochure told voters how much taxes would go up if the levy questions passed (by question) and how much taxes would go down if the expiring levy was not renewed.

The second brochure, Olson said, provided information on what people get for their tax dollars, voting information, how the money for each question would be spent if that question were approved and what would happen for each question if it were turned down.

“I want to stress that in our official notice of election we did publish the amount taxes would go down if the levy was not renewed (as well as how much they would go up),” Olson said. “That ranged from a decrease of $237.28 per year for a $100,000 home to $2,372.77 per year for a $1 million home.”

According to Ellen Perrault, District 11’s communications specialist, the district did not violate any laws and is confident that it will prevail when it has the opportunity to present the facts to the administrative law judge at the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.

Further, Perrault said in a news release from the district, that “the administrative law judge did not find that the district engaged in wrongdoing.”

The district is eager, she said, to defend the claims at a hearing to be scheduled Nov. 27.

“(We) look forward to presenting … evidence,” Perrault stated in the news release.

Huizenga’s complaint alleges that District 11 “purposefully failed to invite, encourage, or offer to publish any opponent’s reasons against the ballot questions.”

When asked to respond to that allegation, Olson said, “When we publish a brochure on a levy or bond, we provide the information we believe people need to make a decision: what will happen if you vote yes; what will happen if you vote no.”

“Citizens have the right to publish ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no’ pieces on their own. They have the right to express their opinions for or against an issue at our (public) hearings.”

Public hearings were held and well-attended in September 2011, six weeks prior to the Nov. 8, 2011 election.

Susan Schleisman, court executive for Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, would not comment on the Anoka-Hennepin case, but said that every case is unique and each penalty would be selected to reflect the specific facts of the case.

Minnesota Voters Alliance is a non-profit government watchdog and grassroots advocacy group. To view its full complaint against Anoka-Hennepin School District, visit www.MNVoters.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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