The giant school bond referendum that Guilford County voters approved in the May primary election narrowly escaped more scrutiny at a Tuesday, June 7 inquiry by the Guilford County Board of Elections.
The board had to decide whether the bonds passed with the help of illegal support from Guilford County government and Guilford County Schools.
Former Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson, a conservative Republican who’s running this year for the at-large seat on the Board of Commissioners, recently filed a complaint with the county’s election board arguing that the bond referendum should not be certified as passing due to the concerns as to how public support for the referendum was obtained.
In the end, the Board of Elections, after about 45 minutes of deliberation, voted 3-to-2 along party lines that there was not “probable cause” and the complaint should not move forward to a hearing phase.
The three Democrats on the board voted against moving forward, but that narrow outcome can’t stop Branson from filing an appeal with the NC Board of Elections in Raleigh. Just hours after the defeat of his initial complaint Tuesday, Branson said he was discussing matters with his legal advisors and he added that, right now, it did appear as though an appeal to the state board would be the next logical step in the process.
Branson also has the option of taking the matter to court.
Guilford County and Guilford County Schools, as official entities, have a legal right to provide “information” to the public about bond referendums – however, they are forbidden by law from promoting passage of those referendums.
Many people may assume that there is no way something as huge as a $1.7 billion bond referendum could be halted in its tracks once passed, but the truth is that, for years and years, Guilford County officials, when it came to bond referendums that they wanted passed, have walked right up to the line – and sometimes over – of what constitutes providing the public with objective information. The practice dates back to the school bonds of 2008 and the jail bond that same year. Many times over the years, the Rhino Times has asked county officials how a certain very positive spin on bond information did not violate the rule against advocating for passage of a bond.
Though that has been the practice for much of this century, no one ever called them on it until Branson did so this year.
Branson said that, at the hearing this week, there was no real inquiry into the accusations his complaint contains.
The remedy he and his legal team seek is for the vote on the $1.7 billion bond to be deemed uncertifiable, since, the claim is, the passage in May was tainted and occurred with illegal support.
If his effort is successful, the bond would be placed on a future ballot for voters to weigh in on again.
Before the May primary election took place, Branson argued that the school system and county officials illegally supported the bond by doing things such as sending out mailers that were clearly attempting to persuade voters to approve the bonds, as well as posting highly positive information about the bonds on the county’s website while ignoring or downplaying the negatives – like the fact that county taxpayers would be paying back about $2.5 billion over the next 20 years when interest was factored in.
The special June 4 election meeting was supposed to be livestreamed on Zoom, however, about 10 minutes in, there was a glitch in the broadcast that prevented many if not all interested parties from watching the proceedings remotely.