The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, September 17 – Conroe Independent School District (CISD) in another desperate attempt to pass the unpopular $677 million bond, with a 4 cent tax rate hike that goes along with it, sent at least four e-blasts to parents through the school district’s servers and to their private parent email addresses in order to advocate for the bond package. All of the illegal e-blasts occurred on Monday, September 16, 2019.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, received more than three dozen complaints from parents, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal against their children, about the fact CISD used their private email addresses given to the school for education-related communications. The parents all had children attending Grand Oaks High School or other schools within the Grand Oaks “feeder zone.”
The electronic communication was a political advertisement without any disclaimer in violation of Chapter 255 of the Texas Election Code.
What is most troubling, however, about the political ads is that fact that CISD is using public funds to pay for them out of the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Budget, which included $15 million “to support the 2019 bond.” The e-blast clearly contains political advocacy in violation of Texas law, because there is that false statement, “NO TAX RATE INCREASE.”
In reality, the $677 million bond package forced the 4 cent Debt Service tax rate increase, which CISD already had approved. Unlike the $807 million bond package, which would have had a 3 cent tax rate increase and which voters rejected on May 4, the $677 million bond package has a larger 4 cent Debt Service tax rate increase.
Texas Election Code Section 255.003 provides in part:
Sec. 255.003. UNLAWFUL USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR POLITICAL ADVERTISING. (a) An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a communication that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the communication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure.
(b-1) An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for a communication describing a measure if the communication contains information that:
(1) the officer or employee knows is false; and
(2) is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.
(c) A person who violates Subsection (a) or (b-1) commits an offense. An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Texas Ethics Commission has rendered a number of opinions concerning what statements in political mailers constitute unlawful “advocacy.” A number of statements in the CISD’s mailer easily cross the line and constitute violations of the Texas Election Code:
- The Texas Ethics Commission provided an example of a communication which is illegal, “The [School District] and Board of Trustees believe this rate increase is vitally important.” CISD has falsely stated that there is “no tax rate increase” associated with the bond, when, in fact, there is a substantial tax rate increase.
- Section 255.003 prohibits information “that…the officer or employee [of the school district] knows is false…” The mailer falsely tricks voters into believing that there is no tax increase, when, in fact, the tax increase under the $677 million bond of 4.5 cents, which CISD has already voted to implement, is larger than the 3 cent tax increase which CISD had pinned onto the $807 million bond.
The political advertising – the signs, stickers, and flyers – all violate other campaign finance laws in addition to Section 255.003 of the Election Code (set forth above) as follows:
- The advertising fails to include the required disclaimer that none of the signs may be in rights-of-way, in violation of Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code, a Class C misdemeanor. Actually, several of CISD’s signs are already in rights-of-way.
- The communication fails to identify the true source of the communication, in violation of Section 255.004 of the Texas Election Code, a Class A misdemeanor.
- The communications fail to include the required political disclaimers of Section 255.001 of the Texas Election Code, with potential civil penalties of up to $500 per violation.
There simply seems no limit to what CISD is willing to do to lie and cheat its way to a victory in the bond election to feed its ever-hungry vendors.