The good folks of Athens, county seat of Limestone, will have a property tax vote for education on August 25. But not without controversy. According to the Athens News Courier, a group called The Stop the Athens Small Business Tax political action committee objected to remarks school superintendent Trey Holladay made at a freshman orientation Wednesday night.
According to the newspaper, Holladay said students and parents were “encouraged” to attend the orientation program, but were not required to be there.
“We’ve got to be transparent and let the people know all about our school system, including why this capital plan is so important for our students,” Holladay purportedly told those in attendance. “We look forward to continuing to share this information with parents and others in the community.”
During the event Holladay made comments in support of approving the tax.
The anti-tax folks were quick to respond saying Holladay’s comments were “a clear and flagrant violation of Alabama Law sections 17-17-5 (Class A Misdemeanor) and 17-17-4 (Class C Felony). These laws explicitly prohibit any city employee from campaigning on any political issue unless a formal leave of absence has been granted.”
They added that the superintendent’s behavior was “reprehensible” and should not go “unaddressed.”
Chuck Robinson, who owns All-Star Plumbing in Athens, said he is in favor of the tax, because it would help his business. He employs 45 people, most of whom perform plumbing work in Madison and Huntsville.
“We do build houses in Athens, but they don’t generate the sales like in Madison,” he said. “From all the homeowners I’ve talked to, it’s about schools. If Athens had new schools, we’d be able to draw people moving to the area based on new industries. … It’s a no-brainer.”
The Alabama Association of School Boards came to the defense of Holladay saying that it is permissible for school leaders to use “public funds, time or property to advocate for matters that have been determined to serve a public purpose. One of the examples AASB cited was a Montgomery judge’s recent dismissal of a law suit in which State Auditor sued the Baldwin County superintendent and school board over their support of a tax votes last March.
Judge Greg Griffin’s ruling states, “If political activity includes all issue advocacy, then the Governor could not propose a tax increase or tax decrease to the Legislature and urge its approval, the Attorney General could not propose and support a crime bill, [and] the Secretary of State could not propose and support changes to the State’s voting laws.”
Even though we often shake our head at the actions of some and oft know there are unseen agendas at play, this is the way democracy works–and thankfully so.