by Elliott Stonecipher
This stunning development is no surprise, I suppose, given how far government has wandered from what most believe is right and true and proper.
It now seems more than merely possible that the Yogism from 1973 applies to the Caddo Parish School Board’s pro-tax plan campaign: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” The election on Saturday may prove to be something less than the end of the CPSB’s hyper-aggressive political op to borrow yet another $108,000,000 for a bunch of new buildings.
I am no attorney, but I know some here who are outstanding. The Pesnell Law Firm, some readers may remember, is working pro bono, as am I, in challenging the Caddo Parish Commission’s apparently unconstitutional retirement system, CPERS, as it is called.
Without any mention of the CPSB tax campaign from me, Whitney Pesnell telephoned today to share his concern about the school board’s campaign, and its admitted use of taxpayer resources in the effort. Mr. Pesnell noted both a provision of the Louisiana Constitution, and an on-point case stemming from a like East Baton Parish School Board tax campaign in 1977*.
All things legal and constitutional considered, Mr. Pesnell believes the people of Caddo have a very real legal case against the CPSB and staff – perhaps even in their personal “capacity” – in the way they used public money, facilities, staff time, telephone costs, etc., etc., etc., in these months of their all-hands-on-deck political op.
Mr. Pesnell questions the constitutionality of what the school board has done, with his interpretation based in this Constitutional provision, Article XI, Section 4:
“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization. This provision shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to a proposition appearing on an election ballot.”
All of this is about how the CPSB and staff went far, far beyond that second part. It blew through “dissemination of factual information” from the jump:
(1) When the CPSB picked its marketing title and tag line, it was already over the line: “Re-Invest in Caddo” is all over everything in the CPSB op, from its website, to it’s stationery, ubiquitous Power Point presentation slides, brochures, related letters, placards, marquee signs, on and on and on.
“REinvest” jumped over the line into advocacy … that is, being “for” the tax plan. Constitutionally, that is not neutral “dissemination of factual information.” It urges a “yes” vote.
The CPSB might have put a citizen committee together to do the money raising and spending and advocating, which until this school board effort is what has always been done. It CANNOT advocate with public money, which it has already acknowledged that it did.
(2) Ironically, as Whitney Pesnell most notices and particularly cites, it is the CPSB’s most offensive practice in its campaign which particularly makes this legal case. Better said, it is what it did NOT practice. The CPSB refused to answer the public’s questions about the plan in its public meetings held in our schools, opting instead to only make its “Re-invest …” presentation. That presentation was purely “FOR,” and thus certainly not a neutral “dissemination of factual information.”
As dozens of witnesses can testify, throughout this campaign, if you were against the plan, you got stiffed, including even in refusal of your Public Records Act requests.
The Caddo Parish School Board’s petulance and arrogance in quashing all opposition is the smoking gun of the legal case against it. The insult is deepest in that all the CPSB’s illegal and unconstitutional actions were on the taxpayers’ dollar.
* As noted above, here is the case Mr. Pesnell cites. Any who do not care to read all of this summary may read the third paragraph of text to see how directly comparable the two school board campaigns are, and the final two paragraphs to get what the Court says about the matter at hand. Here is a notable phrase relating to the exposure of individual school board members:
” … we have no hesitancy in holding that a knowing violation of an express constitutional provision also subjects a public official to vulnerability to legal action if done with malice or in bad faith.”
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)