Legislative leaders are asking the Salt Lake County Council to clean up their mess.
At issue is a bill with "unintended consequences" that ended up giving five Jordan Board of Education incumbents extended terms without having to face the voters. And without any changes, one board member will serve eight years without a re-election campaign.
On Friday House Speaker Greg Curtis and Senate President John Valentine sent a letter to the Salt Lake County Council asking for a quick fix.
Now, instead of staggering all the school board races in the current Jordan District and the new east-side district, legislative leaders want the council to give all incumbents a 17-month term. The other seats, filled by newcomers, would be staggered with either 17- or 41-month terms.
The council put off a final decision on the redistricting Tuesday, but is leaning toward following legislative leadership's recommendations. A vote on the matter could happen as soon as next week.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who amended the bill to grandfather the incumbents on the new boards, said there were some "unintended consequences with making sure we had some continuity on these boards.
"We felt that moving forward, because it's such an important step forward, that these board members in their capacities have something to bring forward to the new board," Hughes said.
The County Council already drew precinct boundaries for the new districts after last November's school district split vote. The council staggered the terms so not every school board member would be up for election at the same time. So, to begin with, the seats in even-numbered precincts will be two-year terms; those in odd-numbered precincts, four-year terms.
But when SB71 was signed, that ended up grandfathering incumbents' four-year terms.
Randy Brinkerhoff, Peggy Jo Kennett, Ellen Wallace and Sherril Taylor ended up with an extra two years. So, they'll end up serving a total of six years, when voters only elected them for four. School board president J. Dale Christensen got an extra four years, serving a total of eight. Only Kim Horiuchi and Tracy Cowdell received no term extension under the new law. Elected in 2006, they will be up for re-election in 2010.
Salt Lake County Councilman Jeff Allen followed legislative leadership's recommendation, and pitched a proposal that will change all of that and extend the terms of all the incumbents by a maximum of 17 months. The other seats will be staggered.
However, Allen is still waiting on a legal opinion to find out if it's OK to stagger some, but not all, school board seats. There is some confusion on the council whether that is legal.
"There is still some questions about the legality of what we can and cannot do," Allen said.
Since an official, written legal opinion was not ready by Tuesday's County Council meeting, the council put off a vote. However, council attorneys are crafting a redistricting resolution so once the opinion in ready, the county can move quickly on the matter. A decision must be made by May 5, when SB71 goes into effect.
"Everybody wants to get it fixed," Allen said. "Nobody wants it how it is."
Voters on June 24 will elect two new seven-member school boards: One, for the new east-side Jordan District; one, for the remaining west-side Jordan District.
More than one hundred people threw their hats into the ring for those 14 seats, as the law was unclear whether incumbents would have to run for re-election or not. A recent legal opinion by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office said incumbents were free from a re-election campaign, which sent 31 candidates packing.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen refunded the $25 filling fee for all 31 candidates.
One remaining candidate is Teresa Curtis, the House speaker's wife, who is running for a spot on the east-side district board.
Councilman Joe Hatch said the whole thing was an "inappropriate" and "appalling mess."
He said he's eager to fix the problem, but is unsure whether Valentine and Curtis' recommendation is legal."I want to correct the problem but I have to make sure I have the legal tools to do that," Hatch said.
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