School board turns down recall petition
TRENTON, Nebraska -- Despite a county clerk's certification of signatures on a petition to force recall elections for three Hitchcock County school board members, the same board voted 5-1 Monday evening not to call the recall elections.
The vote was based on legal advice they received from school attorney Karen Haase, according to one school official.
Haase told the Gazette today that her advisement was reportedly based on the circulator, Shane Rippen, signing the petition documents as a sole circulator but reports were received from numerous sources that he did not gather all of the signatures himself.
Haase also said reports were received from some signers that they were told the petition was to save an old school building from being torn down, and from others who were led to believe the petition was to reduce their property taxes.
Haase said she represented Hitchcock County Schools as an entity and has no stake in who was on the board.
She explained that the board could have still called the election, but she advised them against it. Haase believed that doing so would open the school district up to multiple lawsuits from school board members and subject it to the potential for even further harm.
Haase also said that Rippens actions could result in felony criminal charges, but said she did not believe it was the intent of the board to push the county attorney for that. "The board believes the petitions were improperly circulated," said Haase, who added that the petitioners could administer the petition drive again and submit it to the school board.
Rippen told the Gazette Wednesday morning that he followed the directions given to him by County Clerk Margaret Pollman, which established him as the main carrier.
He said there was supposedly a mishap in how something was notarized or signed but it didn't change the validity of the signatures.
Pollman was not immediately available for comment Wednesday morning, but Haase did say that the county clerk's only responsibility was to validate the signatures and confirm they were registered voters, "not ensure the petition is administered properly."
Rippen also said he disagreed with the boards vote and added "I am still not sure how they can turn down more than 200 people. This is their constitutional right and it was denied."
Several Nebraska petition laws were challenged recently and some were struck down, with one judge ruling they made the process too difficult. According to the Houston Chronicle, U.S. District judge Joseph Bataillon ruled in August that the state's ban on out-of-state petition workers unfairly infringed on organizers' constitutional rights and made it harder to conduct a petition drive. Bataillon also threw out a requirement that local petition sponsors be residents of those cities.
He upheld requirements that petition circulators be at least 18 years of age, that petitions identify paid circulators, and the ban on paying circulators by the signature.