Officials: Hurdles still remain to finalize school bond referendum

Published 12:58 am Tuesday, April 4, 2017


NATCHEZ — One county election official said he met briefly with the Natchez-Adams School District about a specially called election, while another said the only communication he has received was an envelope shoved under his office door.

Circuit Court Clerk Eddie Walker said Monday he met with Jackson Attorney Tony Gaylor, who is the school board’s bonding attorney for the project. Adams County Election Commissioner Larry Gardner said the hurdles are significant and if not done timely and correctly could bring issues that could have the election challenged.

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The school board passed a resolution in March to call a special election on May 23 for voters to decide on a referendum to allow the district to seek $35 million in bonds for a building program that would result in increased property taxes.

Gardner said someone dropped an envelope off under the election commission’s door Friday, but Gardner said neither the school board president nor any witnesses had signed the document.

Gardner said he did not believe this gave him authority to seek an election because anyone could slide a document under his door.

“I don’t have the authority to spend taxpayer money,” Gardner said. “Someone has to give me an order.”

The normal procedure for calling a special election is to give 60 days’ notice, Gardner said. Gardner said ample time has to be given because many steps exist in an election.

“It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be easy,” Gardner said. “If it was that easy, then it would be easy for someone to alter. An election has to be done legally and protected.”

Gardner said 60 days’ notice allows two weeks to print ballots, so that absentee ballots can be ready 45 days before an election.

Gardner said Friday is 45 days before the election.

For ballots to be printed, Gardner said he would have to hire a company to program the election.

While more steps exist to getting a ballot ready, Gardner said at the very least the hired company is unlikely to be able to drop everything and program a ballot by Friday.

“There is no way absentee ballots will be ready by Friday,” Gardner said.

If absentee ballots are not ready by Friday, Gardner said it sets the election up with a potential issue — someone could challenge the results and would have a solid legal argument.

“I’m not saying someone would challenge the election, but you don’t want to get yourself into a situation where that could happen,” Gardner said. “You want to give yourself enough time so you can follow the rules so the election does not get contested.”

Gardner said another concern was some polling places are in the schools, which he believes could be a conflict of interest. Gardner said he might have to seek an attorney general’s opinion to see if the polling places in schools need to be moved.

Gardner said time would exist if the board waited until the Nov. 7 for the election, when three items are on the ballot: election commissioner in district five, county prosecuting attorney and southern district justice court judge.

Gardner said Board of Supervisors Attorney Scott Slover would seek to contact the school board to determine the statue being used to order a special election. Gardner said once Slover is satisfied he will begin acting.

Slover said he assumes at this point the document has been signed and that the school board is allowed to order an election to approve a bond.

“I assume they did it all legally,” Slover said. “We just want to go through the logistics of everything and make sure timelines are met, etc.”

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher could not be reached for comment.