An education campaign about education campaigns

According to the city’s top legal man, the group petitioning to stop city officials from “educating” voters about ballot issues is up against a Supreme Court ruling.

The group argues that the city’s effort to educate is really an attempt to sway the vote. City Attorney David Pfeifle, however, said that state law and case law allow such education efforts in the run up to an election.

The citizen group took out a petition last week and hopes to put the matter to a vote this fall. 

"I fail to see how this petition could be upheld," Pfeifle said.

The Supreme Court says government officials have a right to free speech and the ability to educate the public, he said. That could mean giving presentations, posting information to the web, or distributing pamphlets explaining what council would do if measure is adopted or if it’s not.

“You are putting a gag order on city government from even expressing educational information,” he said.

Some have been critical of the city parks and recreation department’s recent presentations about the Spellerberg pool. Voters will be asked this April if they support spending $7.5 million for a new outdoor pool at Spellerberg Park. City officials have been pushing for an indoor pool there instead.

When the city spent $46,000 to draw up pretty plans for both indoor and outdoor pools, the outdoor supporters weren’t happy. Some felt the city was trying to lure voters to their side by showing the grand design for an indoor pool.

“Has the city really been just fact oriented?” Councilor Kermit Staggers asked, noting that the ballot question is about an outdoor pool. “Why are we talking about an indoor pool?”

Councilor Michelle Erpenbach is concerned about what would happen if voters approve the ban on city education campaigns.

“It’s going to put the city in an expensive position, because if that becomes law here we’re violating the Supreme Court decision,” she said.

If this measure makes the ballot, it will make for one interesting campaign from the city – an education campaign about about stopping education campaigns.

Which, by the way, concerns me as a journalist. If the information holders at City Hall are afraid that anything they say or any document they provide would be considered an education campaign and an attempt to sway the vote, are they going to stonewall every question and lock away project plans until the election is over?

The city’s information is public information. It’s up to us journalists and voters to learn all we can about the issue and its implications and make our own responsible decisions.

Here’s what our own Mr. Lalley had to say about it in his Sunday column: http://www.argusleader.com/article/20140209/COLUMNISTS0111/302090028?gcheck=1&nclick_check=1