City officials in Ammon, Idaho, used taxpayer money to advocate for controversial school bond issues set for next week’s election ballot.
Ammon City Administrator Ron Folsom told IdahoReporter Wednesday the city printed a letter supporting District 93’s $55 million school bond and sent the message to residents with monthly utility bills.
“As city leaders we urge the community to come together,” the letter says. “The current bond is a reasonable compromise, and an answer to continuing the tradition of academic excellence District 93 has provided our constituents. As a Mayor and Council we, each personally, support the high school bond set for November 3.”
Folsom confirmed the city paid for the letter’s printing, but he didn’t offer details on cost. Asked about the appropriateness of using city resources to advocate for a tax hike, Folsom declined to comment.
“You’d have to ask the mayor or the city attorney about that,” Folsom said.
Calls to Mayor Dana Kirkham and attorney Scott Hall were not returned.
District 93 will ask taxpayers for more cash a third time after losing two prior attempts. Officials want two separate bonds, including the jumbo $55 million request to fund a new high school, plus another $8.2 million to pay for athletic facilities.
School officials say the bonds must pass to improve education, but opponents suggest proponents aren’t dealing straight.
Regardless of the positioning, Ammon officials may have violated Idaho’s Constitution by using taxpayer cash to lobby for the tax hikes.
In a 1996 legal opinion written for the president of Idaho State University, deputy attorney general Kevin Satterlee said Article 7, Section 10 of the Idaho Constitution strictly prohibits public employees from engaging in this kind of activity.
“State employees may not use state time or resources for any purpose not authorized by law and certainly not for use in political or campaign-related activity,” wrote Satterlee. “Thus, as with the prohibitions above, it is illegal for a state employee to use state resources, such as the computer and the state’s Internet services, for political or campaign-related purposes.”
Using taxpayer resources to lobby isn’t uncommon in Idaho. In 2011, a school superintendent used his district’s website to advocate against a particular bill in the Idaho Legislature. That same year, teachers in the Meridian School District -- now called West Ada -- used their taxpayer-funded emails accounts and computers to organize opposition to three controversial school reform laws.