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Opinion: Apparently, opt-out was sneaked through in '02

The Daily Republic is the best source of information concerning the origin, operation and future of the eight-year-old $700,000 school opt out. Confusion exists about the permanent tax increase, approved in April 2002.

During the last eight years new residents have made Mitchell their home. During that time, The Daily Republic has had three publishers, three editors and several education reporters. The best public records are the copies of The Daily Republic preserved in the Mitchell Public Library.

Mitchell resident Ed Potzler went to the school board meeting with questions. Potzler expected honest and complete answers. In the article written by Ross Dolan for The Daily Republic, Superintendent Joe Graves said, "It was always made clear to voters at the time it passed that the opt out was permanent." By Graves' admission, Graves knew it was permanent. When answering a school board candidate's questionnaire from Susan Hoffman of The Daily Republic, Rod Hall wrote, "If the board president would have had meaningful discussion at that final meeting, a five-year limit could have been put in place, then this extra tax would not have gone on forever without any way, now known, to repeal it." Graves is correct: It was made clear to voters, both Graves and Rod Hall.

Did the official notices published in The Daily Republic state that this tax increase was permanent? Did Cory Nelson, who spoke in opposition to the increase, know it might last for 10,000 years? What would Graves' response have been should that lightning strike been uncorked? Would the then editor of The Daily Republic, Kim Dohrer, have allowed that bombshell to go unnoticed?

Years later, Daily Republic writer Ross Dolan quotes Graves saying "It was crystal clear at the time the opt out was being presented to the voters that the law didn't allow for a (time) limited opt out." Does Graves suggest 1995 legislators, Sen. Mel Olson and Reps. Dan Matthews and Deb Fischer-Clemens, under whose watch House Bill 1353 passed, would vote for a tax increase that lasted forever? Where are the words in Sec. 14A that Graves says would not allow a time limit? Councilman Mel Olson makes an eloquent statement when he refers to laws or ordinances that do not do what was intended because the words are not there or words are there. Olson refers to this as "The law of unintended legislative consequences." Mel Olson is an expert on this because in 2002, he and Lou Sebert were representatives with Sen. Ed Olson when SB 182 passed requiring the year or number of years the excess tax levy would be applied.

Where are the words that Graves said made it crystal clear that there could not be a time limit? If those words were there, where are the words in SB 182 repealing them from HB 1353?

It appears that Mitchell's opt out was "sneaked through" by passing it in April. SB 182 was signed February 27, 2002. Had the vote been take after July 1, it was mandatory that the term would be time-limited.

Before Rod Hall left the school board, he asked the state attorney general if this travesty could be corrected. The AG's office suggested starting with the school board at the local level. If this does not succeed, the Legislature could finish correcting its mistake made in 1995 and partially corrected in 2002.

The Daily Republic's Ross Dolan writes that Graves was clearly annoyed by this issue: "The only one not being responsible about how we handled this opt out is Mr. Rod Hall," he (Graves) said.

Rod Hall, of Mitchell, is a former state lawmaker and former member of the Mitchell Board of Education.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to: Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.