By DAVID KRIER
In response to a complaint filed by Boscobel School District resident Steve Peer with the Government Accountability Board (GAB) on Feb. 9, the GAB last Wednesday ordered the school board to call a referendum if it wishes to borrow $10 million for energy efficiency projects and a bus garage update.
“Essentially, the school district was saying that Mr. Peer’s request for a referendum was not done properly,” GAB Public Information Officer Reid Magney said Monday. “The (Government Accountability) Board determined that (school board) clerk (Barb Puckett) was wrong in rejecting Peer’s petition and there should have been a referendum.”
Peer began collecting signatures for a referendum petition after the school board gave notice on Nov. 18, 2014 that it had adopted a resolution authorizing the borrowing of up to $10 million for energy efficiency upgrades at the district’s schools and bus barn. On Dec. 18 Peer turned in 405 signatures to Puckett calling for a referendum.
“On January 28, 2015, I was finally given a Certificate as to Sufficiency of a Petition by Steve Wacker, Director of Operations, signed by Barbara Puckett, school board clerk, dated January 9, 2015,” Peer wrote in his Feb. 6 complaint to the GAB. “Barbara Puckett certified that the petition that the petition for a referendum was insufficient because none of the referendum petition sheets offered for filing had a copy of the referendum resolution attached.”
Peer alleged that Puckett violated and never complied with several GAB statutes in rejecting the petition, and the GAB agreed.
In its response to Peer’s complaint, the school district argued that the GAB did not have the authority to determine the validity of Peer’s petition because such authority is “vested solely with the local election official.”
The school board hired the Madison law firm of Axley Brynelson, LLP to represent it in this matter. Axley Brynelson is one of the 10 largest law firms in Wisconsin, with such clients as the American Transmission Company, AnchorBank and Menard’s.
“The thrust of this response is to indicate that the (Boscobel School) District has no obligation to challenge the sufficiency of a petition for referendum by involving the jurisdiction of the GAB and that the GAB does not have subject matter jurisdiction relative to determining the sufficiency of the petition for referendum,” Axley attorney Timothy Fenner wrote on April 14.
However, the GAB in its findings stated that under Wisconsin statute 5.06 it has the authority ‘…to determine whether a local election official has complied with the election laws or abused his or her discretion in administering the election laws.”
The school district also argued that Peer’s petition was not filed in a timely manner and was therefore invalid.
“The Clerk’s certification as to the insufficiency of the Petition was made on January 9, 2015. The Complaint was filed with GAB on or after February 9, 2015,” Fenner wrote. “In this case, the Complainants have challenged the Clerk’s determination 30 days after the date of that determination, far beyond the period of time authorized under the regulation. The complaint should be dismissed as untimely.”
However, the GAB argued that since the school district did not provide the Certification as to Sufficiency to Peer until Jan. 28 and Peer filed the Complaint 15 days later on Feb. 9, that Peer filed his Complaint in a timely manner.
As far as the petitions not having a copy of the referendum resolution attached to each of them, the GAB wrote that “Attaching the resolution to the petition sheets is not required under any applicable statute or rule.”
The GAB further states that even if there were problems with the petitions, Puckett never gave Peer an opportunity to correct the problem and re-submit the petitions. In its final determination, the GAB ordered “…that the Resolution (borrowing up to $10 million) shall not be effective unless adopted by a majority of the district electors voting in a referendum called by the Board of Education.”