Monday, March 3, 2008

Preying on Ignorance

The primary purpose of the blog is to help educate the folks of the Hilliard about the economics of funding and operating our school system, not to take positions on political matters which don't affect that pretty directly.

But we have something going on in tomorrow's (March 4, 2008) primary which disturbs me.

As a registered Republican, I received from the Franklin County Central Republican Committee what is called a "Slate Card" - which is a list of candidates that the committee endorses. I was surprised to see a picture of Dorothy Teater on the card as a candidate for Clerk of Courts.

Prior to retiring from public life, Mrs. Teater served in a variety of elected offices in Franklin County, including a stint as County Commissioner. I had a chance to meet and talk with her only once, but felt her to be an honorable public servant, and she received my vote in many elections.

So what is she doing running for Franklin County Clerk of Courts? I didn't know she was going to be on the ballot. "She'll certainly get my vote," I thought when I saw the slate card.

But then I found out what was going on.

We have to remember that the election we're having tomorrow is a partisan primary election. It is the mechanism the political parties invoke to select who will run as their candidate in the General Election this coming November. To some degree, a political party is free to use whatever mechanism it wants to select its candidates for the General Election.

At the national level, the Democratic and Republican parties use a convention approach for selecting their candidate for President of the United States. When voters go to the polls tomorrow, they will tell the poll workers whether they are there to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. If the voter selects Democrat, the voter will have the choice of Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich. If Republican, the choices will be Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. If the voter chooses not to take part in either partisan primary, the voter can still vote on the issues such as the 9.5 mill Permanent Operating levy for our schools.

Wait, didn't most of those guys withdraw from the Presidential election? Yes. But note what the words say on the ballot. We are not voting for the candidates directly, but rather for delegates to the National Convention of our respective parties. So it is perfectly legitimate to vote for a delegate that supports John Edwards or Fred Thompson. But if that delegate is sent to the national convention, the delegate will almost surely change their vote to one of the leading candidates. There is room for all kinds of maneuvering and deal-making at a political convention in the quest to get enough delegate votes to name a candidate. Remember that many of the actual delegates are political office holders, and will not pass up the opportunity to use the power of their vote to broker a political deal within the state delegation (e.g. "okay, I'll cast my vote for candidate X if you promise to support me in my run for County Commissioner")

In other words, it's a lot messier than most voters would like to think. But it's the way political parties work, and that's the kind of system we have these days.

What does that have to do with Dorothy Teater?

Well, it turns out that she has no intention of running in the General Election even if she wins the Republican primary. She will step aside and allow the Republican Central Committee to name a replacement candidate. This is all perfectly legal. Most of us would also say it is pretty slimy.

You see, there is a man named Phil Harmon who would also like to be Franklin County Clerk of Courts. He wants to be the Republican candidate, but apparently the Republican Central Committee really doesn't like him. But their problem seems to be that they don't have another candidate identified.

So they have talked Dorothy Teater into letting her well-recognized name get put on the Republican primary ballot along with Mr. Harmon.

The Republican slate card I got in the mail has Mrs. Teater's picture prominently displayed on the front page, along with a couple of bullet points that I'm sure are designed to remind voters that this is indeed the Dorothy Teater who used to be County Commissioner and member of Columbus City Council. Beneath her picture is a large graphic that says "Republican Endorsed."

But nowhere does it state that she will step aside and let the Franklin County Central Committee name a replacement candidate for the General Election.

In other words, the Republican Central Committee is purposefully trying to trick voters into picking a candidate that has no intention of running. This is both alarming and disgusting.

I have some sympathy for Mr. Harmon. I don't know anything about him, but as a recent candidate for elected office, I know how hard (and expensive) it is to run against the machine (which is the HEA in the case of Hilliard School Board elections). The Republican Party has taken an 'anybody but you' stance, which is their prerogative.

I don't know about you folks, but this kind of stuff is what made me be apolitical for a lot of my life. It's a feeling that there are a bunch of ole boys (and women) in the smoke-filled back room who are really in control, and that my vote means nothing.

When a political organization chooses to operate in this way, they cause damage to the spirit of the voters - the very thing that defines democracy. The result is apathy, and we end up in situations like we have in Hilliard (and indeed all over the country), where the power is held by big-money interests, and not the people of the community.

The 2008 Presidential race is a rare thing, with a selection of candidates who give motivation to Americans who have heretofore cared little about the political process. The turnout should be high.

That means a lot of people will also be involved in the decision on the school levy. My fear is that because our school leadership has failed to implement an effective community education program, the people will make choices that are driven by emotion and not thoughtful, fact-based consideration. That makes the outcome entirely unpredictable, and I'm sure many of us will be glued to our TVs tomorrow night to see how the vote comes out.

See you at the polls!


  1. Great post Paul. I learned something. Posts like this one are why
    I read your blog. (I might ask why the Dispatch doesn't point scams like this out, even if they are "the way business is done".)

    On another point, a co-worker told me he was voting against the levy. I asked if he was worried about re-sale value of home if the schools go south - he said re-sale value is going to get hammered if the property tax keeps going up - who wants to pay the sort of high property taxes that Hilliard is going to have by 2014?

    He makes a good point. I guess that is part of why many people I know are moving out to the ex-ex-exurbs where property taxes are still low. I guess just as people moved away from the inner city, they're now moving away from the suburbs. Will make for a long & costly commute though.

  2. I appreciate the positive feedback.

    Actually, the flow is going in two directions. For families without kids, neighborhoods within the boundaries of Columbus Public Schools (e.g. the huge Dominion development north of Hayden Run between Avery and Cosgray) are gaining some attractiveness. Not only are the home prices lower, but so is the tax burden.

    And for some of the more affluent folks and young singles/couples, the downtown is becoming the place to be. Notice all the loft condo buildings which are now within a few blocks of Capital Square, and the many apartments in the Short North.

    The ex-exurbs (e.g. eastern Madison County) are also gaining attractiveness because the price of land remains lower and the schools are mostly in decent financial shape. Part of that is because those school districts, which were not so good a few years ago, have qualified for all kinds of State assistance. Have you seen the new Jonathan Alder High School on Rt 42 for example? Paid for largely with State funds.

    The I-270 suburbs are caught in a 'tweener' position. Property values are on the high end, residential growth has outpaced commercial growth, the schools are crowded, and the taxpayers are weary.

    These things have a way of sorting out in the free market. The demand for housing in our school district falls off because many potential buyers are scared away by the taxes. The number of people wanting to move to someplace with good schools, but lower taxes, goes up. Both of those things depress home prices. Folks who see the equity in their homes evaporate are much less willing to continue raising their school taxes, and the school enter a period of funding troubles. That further depresses home prices.

    But it might retard growth for a while, and give us the time to get some of this stuff straightened out. I feel badly for the folks who will suffer through this, but each of us carries some blame for choosing to sit in the bleachers instead of getting down on the field and in the game. And that may be a generous analogy - most people didn't even bother showing up for the game.

    So a little struggle might be good for our community if motivates people to show some interest and get involved.


  3. Paul, the Dispatch voter guide and "This Week" newspapers did point out that Teater was a placeholder, but who reads those.. The GOP slate card was quite disgusting.

    Also, the notion that resale values tank because a levy failed is silly. All it does it give the administration a stronger case in negotiations.

  4. FYI: I actually read in the Dispatch that Teater was a "filler" candidate the other day On property values: housing prices are indeed affected by the "state of the school system" BUT the major difference in the Hilliard CSD is the inequality of taxes paid by residents of Hilliard to the residents of other cities who send their kids to Hilliard CSD (e.g. Columbus).. Secondly, we need...NEED...more business investment in Hilliard. Lastly, the school board must recognize that it's cluelss in trying to educate the public on how levies work and they must STOP relying on the homeowner within Hilliard city limits to pay for the education of 60% of children whose parents do not pay Hilliard city taxes.

  5. I voted FOR the levy today, but I'm getting a litte "voters remorse." Why do we continually vote for these levies when neither the school board nor the union have any intention of ever looking for ways to cut down on expenses? Maybe 6% to 8% pay raises (not to mention their base pay rates) aren't really deserved by many or most of the teachers? Like I said, I voted for the levy because I'm afraid what will happen to the quality of education if it didn't pass (no art, music or sports) but I'm tired of being on the wrong end of the levy stick.

  6. BUT the major difference in the Hilliard CSD is the inequality of taxes paid by residents of Hilliard to the residents of other cities who send their kids to Hilliard CSD (e.g. Columbus)

    This is an urban myth!. All residents of the Hilliard school district pay exactly the same school tax regardless of which municipality the property sits in.

    The difference is in all the other stuff you pay for via your property tax.

    If you live in the City of Hilliard, you pay a property tax to fund the Norwich Township Fire Department (0.26% of your property's Market Value), and a property tax to the City of Hilliard for who knows what.

    If you live in Brown Twp, as I do, I pay a township property tax, which primarily funds our contract with the Norwich Twp Fire Dept and the County Sheriff.

    If you live in the City of Columbus and the Hilliard School District, you pay no township tax, but do pay a city property tax.

    But in every one of these cases, the school property tax is 1.29% of the Market Value as set by the County Auditor.

  7. Wow. Looks the levy is getting killed. I'm somewhat surprised, especially at the margin. I guess they (the District) went to the bank one too many times. They may well take away from it that gag-me emotional appeals 'for the kids' work better than the 'good investment' theme they tried this time.

    Also shows that money alone can't buy you love - all the money from companies that profit from the district didn't get Issue 26 passed.

  8. Mrs. Teater won this election, getting twice as many votes as Mr. Harmon. And now she will step aside and let people who few of us know decide who is on the November ballot.

  9. Paul, thanks for your follow up on my "urban myth." Although I find it hard to believe that the taxes are fair, I'll take your word for it. Regardless, I think the school system needs to figure out it's spending structure -- including the contract with the union -- and get City Hall involved to bring in more businesses into the Hilliard School District. Lastly,I know you (Paul) have written and spoken about a small sales or income tax to help relieve the burden on property taxes: has anyone on the school board ever brought that up in a meeting?

  10. I had a brief conversation once with Dale McVey (in a parking lot) about adding an income tax to our funding mix. His objection is that an income tax does not draw any money from the commercial sector, and he's correct in that statement.

    The School Board has not suggested an income tax at any meeting I attended, nor have I seen any comments to that end in their meeting minutes. But then they spend hours in Executive Session discussing who knows what.

    An income tax has two properties that one would think fits well with the motivations of the school leadership: 1) an income tax goes up automatically with the incomes of the residents (and hopefully as fast as the incomes of the school employees!), and; 2) it can be of a form which protects those whose income is from pensions and other retirement vehicles (dislosure: I would be one of those).

  11. Paul, there has to be a community in Ohio that conquered this dragon - some kind of fair income or consumption tax to help relieve the burden of homeowner property taxes. I'll try to do some research and report back.

  12. There is at least one school district in central Ohio that levies an income tax - I believe it is Hamilton Local. I don't know their current rate.

  13. Paul, I tried to find the income tax rate for Hamilton Schools and couldn't find it. In fact, if you go to their financials, the line item for the income tax is blank.

  14. I was mistaken about Hamilton - it's Canal Winchester. This document is pretty helpful. It says Bexley (0.75%, since 2005), Canal Winchester (0.75%, 1991) and Reynoldsburg (0.50%, 1990) all have school income taxes in force.


  15. Wow, it's amazing what you can find on the internet. I found this paper titled "Local School Income Tax in Ohio" at
    There is even a section about how to get an income tax on a local ballot. Another link that you can search to find a Ohio local school income tax
    I tried to find some info on an independent school council but to no avail. I was in Seattle last year (for the Buckeye's game!) and I read a story about an independent school council, but I think it was for a school system with the word "Independent" in the name. I still think the idea of a grass roots organization is good, we'll just have to wing it.

  16. Grassroots....

    ok, how many do we have now? Enough for a Quorum?