AMERICAN FORK Alpine School District has been accused of violating state law by using district resources to campaign for a proposed $230 million bond issuance and an increase to the voted leeway to generate $4.6 million in extra funds.
Alpine District spokeswoman Jerrilyn Mortensen said Monday that Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who oversees elections in Utah, has talked with district officials about concerns that had been expressed about the district's distribution of campaign signs and other promotion material.
On Monday, Mortensen acknowledged Monday that some mistakes were made as employees and district leaders tried to put out the word about the proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot. Mortensen said the district is working to correct any issues that were created as a result of the efforts.
The complaint was filed by Utah Valley State College professor Dennis Lisonbee, who said he saw district employees using district vehicles to take campaign signs to UVSC property on Geneva Road on Oct. 17.
Lisonbee, who is against the bond and leeway proposal because he advocates an eventual division of the Alpine District, said he saw the district workers post a sign advocating passage of the bond and leeway.
Lisonbee said he researched state law and believes the district employees violated statutes prohibiting public entities and their employees from spending public money to influence an election.
Lisonbee also questions whether a mailer sent by the district that features an illustration of a ballot with a check next to the word "Yes" violated campaign laws.
"We're really concerned they're using public funds to promote a bond (passage), especially in a time when we're trying to create an Orem school district," he said.
Lisonbee specifically worries that a division of the Alpine District, if ever accomplished, would become more complicated if the voters authorize the district to begin issuing more bonds. Bond money would be used to build new schools and renovate existing ones.
If passed, taxes would increase about $60 a year on a $200,000 home.
Lisonbee e-mailed his complaints to the lieutenant governor and Utah Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, also president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, who forwarded his comments to Herbert's office.
Herbert's chief of staff, Joe Demma, confirmed that the office received the e-mails and that the lieutenant governor spoke with the district.
Demma said the office also would forward the complaints to the Utah County Attorney's Office and the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson and Utah Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts said they had not received the complaints Monday afternoon and could not comment on any alleged violations of the law.
At UVSC, the campaign sign was removed. The college is officially neutral on political issues, college spokesman Chris Taylor said.
The two school district employees who posted the sign were not on duty, Mortensen said, and the law protects their First Amendment rights of free speech. Their mistake was in using the school district vehicles, she said, and the transportation department will be reimbursed the milage.
The district by law has to provide information to the public about proposed bond projects. But the ballot illustration in an employee newsletter crossed the line into advocacy, Mortensen said.
"The law says we have to provide rebuttal from the opposition," she said.
As a result, the opposition will be provided by Barbara Petty, another advocate of the creation of an Orem school district. Petty did not return messages from the Deseret Morning News on Monday.
The rebuttal will be sent before the publication of the next newsletter, which comes out after the election.
E-mail: [email protected]