Riverside millage vote results in lawsuit
Town Crier News Staff
Jason and Rhonda New of Caraway have filed a civil lawsuit protesting a 9-mill property tax increase for the Riverside School District. The millage increase passed by a vote of 596 to 531 on Sept. 18.
The suit was filed in the Craighead County Eastern District Circuit Court in Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 10, by New's attorney, Mike Bearden.
The defendants named in the complaint are Riverside Board of Directors Mike Hook, Lynn B. Nall, Mike Brickell, Kenny Weathers, and Mike Brown, and Craighead County Election Commission members Benton Smith, Brandy Brown and Jeanette Robertson.
Issues raised in the election contest include:
*Board of Directors for the Riverside School District authorized a survey to be sent from the school district administration to each qualified elector of the Riverside School District, using school district employees to send out said surveys. The facilities used to send out survey were public facilities owned by the Riverside School District and the property used for preparation and distribution of surveys were done at public expense including, but not limited to postage, labor, public buildings and public personal property.
*Prior to the Sept. 18 election, 5'x5' signs stating "Vote for the Millage Increase" were placed on the school grounds at both Lake City and Caraway. The signs were constructed and placed on school grounds by employees of the Riverside District during school hours and using public funds, buildings and other personal property in violation of ACA Section 21-8402 and ACA Section 7-1-103 et seq., for using at public expense materials, money, buildings and other personal property which were provided by public funds.
*Letters were sent home with students prior to the Election Day "soliciting support of the millage increase." Letters were circulated at both the Caraway campus and Lake City campus and were given by a staff member of the school district during regular school hours to every student in the Riverside School District to take home to their parents.
*A sign was placed on a Lake City fire truck stating, "Vote Yes for Our Kids," and the fire truck and firemen used a loud speaker to solicit votes for the millage increase.
*Riverside Superintendent Tommy Knight allegedly was allowed to leave a polling place with election materials and returns in violation of election law. The suit states ballots should have been delivered to the County Board of Election commissioners by the election officers.
*The suit claims at least seven people and other unknown at this time were allowed to cast ballots and did not live in the school district and were not eligible to vote in the election.
*A school employee went throughout the schools in the Riverside School District during school hours raising money to support the millage increase, all in violation of state law.
*The actions complained of hereinabove violated the rights of the electors opposed to the millage increase under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 2, Section 2 of the Arkansas Constitution in they were denied equal protection under the law.
*The district sent two documents to voters, allegedly using public funds and property as well as public employees during working hours asking electors to support the millage increase.
"The violations of the law are sufficient to void the entire election because it was not fair and equal," Attorney Bearden said. "If the election is allowed to stand as valid, the citizens who were opposed to the millage increase were denied equal protection under the law as a result of having to oppose the tax without the benefit of public servants, facilities and public funds."
The lawsuit concludes requesting the Court to enter an order declaring the entire election in connection with the millage rate increase be void and of no force and effect; the Plaintiffs be awarded a reasonable attorney's fee and their costs; and the County Clerk, County Collector or other public official authorized to collect said tax be enjoined pending the outcome of the case on the merits; and for all other proper relief.