[Vision2020] [Bulk] Re: Weitz Lawsuit: A Challenge

Sue Hovey suehovey at moscow.com
Sun May 13 13:32:50 PDT 2007

Jeff,  If what you are saying makes sense now, why did it not make sense a decade ago when to have gotten a court decision might not have been so harmful?  Gerry Weitz would have been a natural for that responsibility when he was on the board and his children were in school. 

You say,
" No two non-elected citizens (albeit that they are both individually involved in the matter - Weitz and Donacht) are in a position to represent the vast interests of the array of stakeholders evident in this matter."

Really, that's exactly what Gerry Weitz did when he filed the lawsuit.  He assumed he was in a position to invalidate the votes of the taxpayers of this district. 

Whether or not permanent levies are a "bad" way to fund public expenditures, is your opinion; however, it continues to be the law.  You wrote in several hundred words what you could simply have reduced to a single sentence.  Why didn't you just say, "we in Latah County have a number of projects to fund: parks for children, playgrounds, an ice rink, so if we cut back on the funding for their education we might be able to consider those other options." 

 Well golly, now at least they'll have somewhere to go when we close the school doors. 


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jeff Harkins 
  To: vision2020 at moscow.com 
  Sent: Sunday, May 13, 2007 10:24 AM
  Subject: Re: [Vision2020] [Bulk] Re: Weitz Lawsuit: A Challenge

  The Weitz/MSD lawsuit raises a plethora of issues about taxpayer funding of public interests.  At the core of the lawsuit appears to be the issue of whether or not the school levy process was in conformity with Idaho legal protocol.  Because "public education" is important to most of us in the MSD, it is critical that there be no ambiguity or uncertainties about the "legality and integrity" of the levy event.  Unfortunately, it appears that some individuals have concerns about just that.  Consequently a legal assessment (via a lawsuit) is underway.

  As this involves decisions of legally elected public officials (school board members), the use of non-elected citizens to arbitrate the issue is inexplicable (the Swanson proposal).  No two non-elected citizens (albeit that they are both individually involved in the matter - Weitz and Donacht) are in a position to represent the vast interests of the array of stakeholders evident in this matter.

  Properly so, this is a matter for our courts. 

  As community members ponder this event, here are some things that might be useful to consider:

  Permanent levies (levies in perpetuity) are a "bad" way of funding public expenditures.  The most egregious decision a current generation can make regarding public programs is to deny future generations the choice of how their tax dollars are spent.  Referred to as a problem of "inter-generational equity"and stated in simple terms, current generations should not encumber the ability of future generations to invest their public resources in those programs deemed essential by those future generations.  Permanent levies have the potential to do just that.  The reason we use "balanced budget" systems in state and local government is to provide reasonable assurance that the current generation "pays its way".  Perhaps the Weitz/MSD lawsuit will give us reason to reflect on the "permanent levy" approach.  We can probably achieve greater public accountability for school district resources if there is some reasonable limit to the life of a levy - say three years or four years.  Returning to the taxpayers to reaffirm their tax investment is an effective means of accountability.

  One of the things that concerned me about the recent levy election was the lack of a detailed spending plan for the additional supplemental funding request.  Future levy requests should be required to have a complete line-item level of detail to support the additional funding request.

  This is a particularly volatile period for public education.  New technologies and new educational processes are working their way through educational systems.  We want to be sure that we leave adequate room for future generations to have flexibility in design and delivery of public education.

  In Latah County, as in most jurisdictions,  we have limited public resources to invest in what at times like seems like unlimited public projects - sort of like the diamond appetite on a zirconium budget.  The school district wants or needs a new high school, or junior high; the county wants or needs new facilities (law enforcement center, county hall, fair grounds); citizens want or need new parks and playgrounds; citizens want or need a permanent location of the ice rink; county residents want or need road improvements; Moscow wants or needs to address the issue of water distribution; some Moscow citizens would like to have their streets paved; and so on ............. It is time that we assess carefully our public needs and prioritize our preferences.  Allowing our public institutions to gain additional resources by simply being the first to the trough does not serve the public interest.

  As our property tax rates are once again at the highest levels of Idaho Counties, it is incumbent upon us to reflect on our priorities - and the proper expenditure of our limited public resources.  If some of our citizens are correct in their assessment that we have reached our sustainability limits (e.g. water, quality of life), then we must be extraordinarily judicious in our commitments of tax dollars to public projects.  For example, if we are at our sustainability limits, the public school census has probably peaked.  Fiscal austerity would suggest that we impose significant fiscal restraint in funding public programs.  If there is a prospect for future economic development, the sooner our community explores the possibilities and moves forward with them, the sooner we can begin to take advantage of a growing tax base and move forward the many public projects that we want to have.

  Weitz is to be commended, not vilified, for taking the first steps necessary for us to engage in serious dialogue about our public infrastructure investments - and to place the responsibility for those investments where it belongs - with the taxpayers.  

  At 07:40 AM 5/13/2007, you wrote:

    JFord asks:

      > What about asking for a "judicial opinion" or judicial review" of the facts 

      > as presented by the interested parties? Does Idaho have such an option or 

      > would a judge(s) be willing to do this? How about the AG looking at the 

      > "facts" and issuing an opinion? If those come back negatively opinoned, 

      > wouldn't that at least be a "warning" to other potential filers?

    The Weitz lawsuit is styled as one seeking a "declaratory judgment and injunctive relief."  The declaratory judgment portion of the lawsuit asks the judge to do precisely what you suggest.  That is what is happening.  

    One may seek an opinion on the merits of an issue of Idaho law from the Attorney General, but this is only "authority" in support of whatever position the A.G. decides is the correct outcome under! the law, and not "precedent."Â  A judge, and the ultimate arbiters of state law questions, the Idaho Supreme Court, would be free to decide this case differently from the opinon issued by the Attorney General, and the court system's answer would be the final say.

    As authority but not precedent, an Attorney General opinion will suggest an answer but it could be "wrong" in the eyes of a later reviewing judge.  I suppose an A.G. Opinion could "warn" of a probable outcome, but it will not carry any weight in terms of forcing those, who might bring a lawsuit that suggests an answer different from the A.G. Opinion, to face any additional consequences for doing so than already exists under existing law.  

    I suppose the upshot of this is that the declaratory judgment action is designed to get to an official statement of what the law is.  An A.G. Opinion or Idaho Tax Commission ruling will merely suggest what the law possibly/probably i! s.  

    BJ Swanson has suggested that the parties mediate and agree to abide by the answers suggested by the Attorney General and the Idaho Tax Commission.  As I think about this, a potential problem arises, one raised by Gary Crabtree and Sue Hovey already, i.e., the lack of binding effect on non-parties.  Entering into such an agreement would bind the MSD and Dr. Weitz from contesting the decisions of the government agencies, but other concerned citizens could still contest the validity or invalidity of the outcome reached in the proposed mediation decision.

    Until thinking the process through in writing this answer, I had been initially receptive to BJ Swanson's mediation suggestion, but the lack of a decisive answer that could come from mediation gives me pause.  On the other hand, a year (or three or five) of operating the Moscow Schools without the significant portion of the money (a fifth, a quarter, a third?) that is provided by the indefinite, per! manent supplemental levy, will be so harmful to our children, schools, and this town as a whole  that I hate to contemplate it. What alternatives do others see?

    Moscow's attractiveness to business and prospects for growth with people that value and support public schools would seem to be damaged significantly in the near term by this lawsuit.  I think that Dr. Weitz is hoping, somehow, to help the schools in the long run with his lawsuit by forcing a re-vote ultimately of money for the schools and hoping to see money allocated for his pet projects.  However, it seems unlikely to me that there is much hope for that prospect to amount to much for a very long time, no matter how favorable the outcome from Dr. Weitz's perspective, given the short term damage.  

    That is why I think his approach was misguided and unhelpful, no matter how much I support Dr. Weitz's desire to increase professional technical education ("PTE") offerings for our ! children in the Moscow public schools.  I fear the backlash against his approach will damage the long-term prospects for needed PTE offerings in which the Moscow schools indisputably are lacking.  (Assuming that Dr.Weitz's lawsuit had not been filed, I note that some new PTE programs that came out of November's MCA forum were being put into place at the alternative school.  I hope that still happens.  Those courses need to be made available to the kids at the high school, too, and not be stigmatized as "just" alternative school offerings, but I am willing to get there with smaller steps that will allow some experimentation and time to establish a track record of success.)

    I fear that the only folks unharmed by this lawsuit are those to whom the public schools are unimportant, because the the lawsuit will not damage their thoughts about whether Moscow is a good place to live or establish a business.  For the rest of us, the day this lawsuit w! as filed remains a dark day.  

    Bruce Livingston
     List services made available by First Step Internet, 
     serving the communities of the Palouse since 1994.   
              mailto:Vision2020 at moscow.com


   List services made available by First Step Internet, 
   serving the communities of the Palouse since 1994.   
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