Political Action Committee promoting Baker school levy

By Chris Collins May 04, 2011 04:37 pm

By CHRIS COLLINS
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The political action committee organized to urge voters to pass the Baker School District’s $725,000-per-year, five-year local option tax measure has produced brochures and is meeting with district patrons.

Ballots, which arrived in the mail late last week, will be counted on election day, May 17. They must be received through the mail or hand-delivered to the County Clerk’s Office at the Courthouse, 1995 Third St., by 8 o’clock that night.

The Baker 5J Local Option Tax Committee is led by Mark Henderson, PAC president.


Henderson also is running unopposed in the May 17 election for one of the five seats on the Baker School Board.

Other PAC officers are: Sabine Mellmann-Brown, vice president, a parent volunteer; and Jim Tomlinson, secretary-treasurer, retired Baker City Police chief and director of the Baker County Literacy Coalition.

Tomlinson said about 10 volunteers have joined the PAC’s effort to promote passage of Measure 1-54. Mellmann-Brown and Mindi Vaughan, Baker Middle School principal, staffed a table outside D&B Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Betty Palmer, South Baker School principal, handed out brochures from Ace Nursery, which she and her husband, Rob Palmer, own, Tomlinson said.

The group plans to be out again this Friday and Saturday.

Donations are being accepted to help pay for advertising and the distribution of other information.

Henderson printed a brochure that PAC volunteers have been distributing by hand, Tomlinson said.

As of Tuesday, the group had raised $513.08, according to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division. That included one donation of $100 and an in-kind contribution of $11.58. Contributions of $100 or less do not require the donor to be identified on campaign finance reports.

The largest donation — $400 cash, plus a $1.50 in-kind contribution — was made by Superintendent Walt Wegener. Those who contribute more than $100 must be listed by name.

“It’s an important issue,” Wegener said Tuesday of his financial support to the PAC. “It’s the right thing to do for our community.”

Carla Corbin, compliance specialist for the Elections Division, said Oregon election law does not restrict superintendents or other school employees from contributing to the PAC.

“Anyone can make a contribution as long as it’s not done on work time while on the job,” Corbin said.

State law does preclude schools from producing election-related material that is considered promotional rather than impartial.

To that end, Corbin reviewed the two-sided pamphlet that the school district mailed last week to 7,606 households.

“We use factors to determine if documents written by public employees contain impartial information,” she said. “There are restrictions on political campaigns by public employees.”

The Elections Division is guided by ORS 260.432, which details restrictions on public employees and their production of information to be distributed in the community during an election, Corbin said.

Corbin said she received two pages of information from the school district concerning Ballot Measure 1-54 and made “multiple suggestions” to what they sent her.

The district’s print shop produced the pamphlet at a cost of 2.3 cents each and mailed them for 15 cents each for a total cost of $1,340.90, Wegener said.

The information in the pamphlet is intended to help voters understand how the $725,700 collected annually from the five-year local option tax would be used to bolster the district’s general fund, he said.

Tomlinson said the PAC will continue placing advertisements in the local media to promote passage of the measure, and is orchestrating a letter-writing campaign using testimonials from Baker graduates who are working in the community.

“These people got a good education to begin with and wanted to come back to the community,” Tomlinson said.

He hopes their stories will inspire people who ask how they’ll benefit from the local option tax to see that the returning graduates are providing valuable services in the community thanks to the education they received first through the Baker School District.

The PAC has a great deal of latitude in promoting the measure compared with the district.

For instance, the PAC can buy ads and distribute materials that clearly advocate a “yes” vote on the tax levy.

District employees, by contrast, can promote the measure only when they’re not at work, and not using district equipment.

“We know (district employees) have to distinguish between what you can do while you’re working and while you’re not working — we’re very cognizant of that,” Tomlinson said.

The PAC is guided by a 108-page manual that dictates those rules, he said.