Last March 31 the Baldwin County school system had a vote as to whether or not to increase taxes to be used to support a bond issue for new school construction. The vote failed. The school board used public funds to encourage a yes vote. Opinions from the attorney general supported this decision.
State Auditor Jim Ziegler later brought suit, contending that the Attorney General’s opinion was not justified. However, he did not sue the school board, he personally sued four members of the Baldwin County school board as well as then superintendent Robbie Owen, along with Attorney General Luther Strange.
When the school board decided to defend the suit, Zeigler said in a statement, “This is the worst political arrogance I have seen. They are sued for illegally spending taxpayer money in an election campaign, so now they want to spend more taxpayer money defending the individuals in the lawsuit.
“Will wonders ever cease?”
In July, Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin dismissed Zeigler’s suit, agreeing with opinions from several attorney generals that public officials could engage in issue advocacy.
The Baldwin County school board met on Oct. 15. One of the agenda items was approval of paying attorney fees incurred to defend the suit. These amounted to $33,000.
Board member David Tarwater, one of the individuals sued by Zeigler, spoke out forcefully about the auditor’s action that took money away from local students. You can see Tarwater’s remarks here. They begin at the 12:15 mark on the video.
Among points Tarwater made were:
- Board members were sued for following the opinions of the attorney general which the state auditor did not happen to agree with.
- Information on the state auditor’s web site does not show in any form or fashion that Zeigler has the authority to do what he did in Baldwin County. “Since when does the auditor’s role include fund-raising for frivolous law suites against local boards of education?” asked Tarwater.
- Frivolous law suits such as this one keep good people out of public service.
Tarwater summed up his remarks by stating that while on the one hand Zeigler accused the school board of taking money from the classroom–he was guilty of doing the same thing by filing suit.
A suggestion. No doubt some school in Baldwin County will soon hold a fund-raiser and there is a good chance that a dunking booth will be involved. The school board might consider inviting Jim Zeigler to participate.