Door-to-door campaigning needed to win tax vote, Swedeborg board told
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Many Swedeborg residents said they're not happy board members didn't speak with them personally to ask for their votes on a proposed tax increase.
SWEDEBORG, Mo. (April 13, 2010) — While door-to-door campaigning is dead in much of Pulaski County, many people who attended a special public meeting to discuss failure of a vote in the Swedeborg R-III School District to pass a tax levy increase said not campaigning door-to-door was a major mistake.
“Is the school board going to go around and talk to the people?” asked Libby Paulson, who nearly defeated incumbent board member Greg Black by tying him in a 89 to 89 vote, with recently appointed board member Judy Moss receiving 108 votes.
Paulson lost a coin toss which saved the district the expense of a recount or a new election.
Paulson said board members lost votes because they didn’t explain their reasons for seeking a tax increase.
“The school board is supposed to be here to support the school and the children and not one of them came and talked to me about this election,” Paulson said. “Explain to the people. There are several people here that do not understand what is going happen if this school closes down.”
Board President Jaimie Alexander said board members had public meetings to explain the tax levy which were widely publicized.
“We had three levy meetings in which we advised everyone. We’ve never seen this many people for this purpose in this building at one time,” Alexander said. “We tried to say all along that this is dire. There were posters everywhere, it gone from person to person. Just one word spreads so quick in this town that we sent out letters, there were newsletters went to everybody. If you’ve got a child in this school something went out inviting you to every meeting.”
That’s not enough, Poulson said.
“What about the elderly people that can’t get out?” Poulson asked. “They don’t understand what’s going to happen. They don’t understand if the school gets annexed into Richland or Crocker that our taxes are going to be increased and they’re going to have to pay more in taxes.”
Poulson’s own relatives are in that category, she said.
“Not a single person from the school board talked to them,” Poulson said. “That is your responsibility as a school board member.”
Alexander and other board members were surprised, and explained they chose the route of public meetings so everybody present would get the same information.
“You believe that our responsibility as a school board member is to go to each door and talk to you about this levy?” Alexander asked.
“Yes, I do!” Poulson emphatically replied.
Others agreed, including former board member Steve Rees.
“I would go with anybody to anybody’s house and spent five minutes and talk to them. I would rather somebody come and talk to me and say, ‘Look, we need your help, here’s what’s going to happen,’” Rees said. “If you’ll come, I’ll go talk, I’ll go with any of y’all, anytime, anywhere, all day, all night, I don’t care. I will go with you, because I’d rather somebody come and sit down and show a little bit of interest in me and explain what we’re trying to do, and a letter ain’t gonna cut it.”
Kevin Bonebrake said his experience with a failed vote to increase the tax levy for the Crocker Rural Fire Protection District, which includes Swedeborg, convinced him that door-to-door campaigning is crucial.
Those on fixed incomes need to be persuaded personally, Bonebrake said.
“There’s a lot of retirees that can’t come here to these meetings to voice their opinions. They don’t have a cow to sell, they don’t have nothing other than their house and their land,” Bonebrake said. “Those are the people you’ve got to convince. I mean us farmers that can sell something, yeah, we can sell something to pay our taxes.”
“I believe that, I absolutely believe that,” said board member Chris Black.
“If the school board gets out and works, you’ll probably get your levy, but if you want to sit on your butts and be martyrs, go for it,” said resident Earl Brandon.
“If the public cares they’ll get out and vote yes; if the public doesn’t care, they’ll vote no or they won’t vote and it’ll close,” Black said.
After hearing the concerns of Poulson, Rees and others, Alexander agreed that door-to-door campaigning may be needed.
“I’ll go to anybody’s house if that’s what it takes. My apologies, I guess, for not seeing that was a need. I don’t think anybody on the board anticipated that was a need,” Alexander said.
“If that’s what you would like, I will personally go to your house and your mother’s house if that would make you feel better,” Alexander said to Poulson. “We didn’t intend to keep anyone out, and we would not. We wanted this word to get around to everyone, not just people in particular, every single person, and we tried every effort, our best effort that we knew how, to get the information out and try to be completely transparent with everything that has happened thus far.”