As one group of citizens filed petitions regarding a $2 million bond referendum for Centralia High School, another is challenging those very petitions.
At issue is the need to either renovate Evers Field or build a new football stadium at the new high school.
The original concrete building, bleachers and press box are currently closed to use after being condemned by the State Board of Education.
The school board had proposed refinancing existing bonds to generate working cash that would allow the school district to address the stadium need. But one group wanted voters to decide the issue.
According to Sue Williams, she took up the petition challenge after an elderly relative living in a supported living center was approached to sign the petition, but was not given the truth behind the petition’s purpose and instead was told it was “to help the school.”
Williams was joined in her efforts by Karen Brothers and Jason Cass. They claim that more than 650 of the 1,800 petition signatures submitted are not valid for an assortment of reasons.
She says the lesson to be learned is to never sign anything if you don’t know what it is for and to always read the purpose of a petition printed at the top of the page before deciding to sign.
Some of the signatures, she says, are of people who are not registered to vote, who are not registered to vote in the Centralia High School district or signed the petition more than once.
Williams says the group had many concerns with the validity of many of the petitions and their signatures. Some petitions were left unattended, with a note nearby asking people to sign. She says when a circulator signs at the bottom of a petition, they are attesting they personally witnessed each person sign.
Norm Shuchmann, one of the petition circulators says that in speaking with their legal counsel, they have been advised there is no reason to declare petitions invalid because they were left at any business.
They do not disagree there are some names duplicated and people who may not be eligible that signed. But that was expected and so they collected additional signatures.
Shuchman says the real issue, however, is the challengers are saying more than 650 signatures are not valid, which means 1,165 are valid. He asks why the school board would want to go against the citizens who signed, saying the voters would like to have a voice.
According to Williams, they have pictures of the unattended petitions. She also says there are questions surrounding who circulated the petitions, as the woman who approached her to sign was not one of the signed circulators of any page submitted.
The trio delivered their challenge Wednesday to Centralia High School Superintendent Chuck Lane, who will then take them to Marion County Clerk Steve Fox.
According to Fox, as chairman he will have no fewer than three, but no more than five days to hold a hearing of the Marion County Election Board, which also consists of Marion County Circuit Clerk Ronda Yates and Marion County State’s Attorney Matt Wilzbach.
If the board agrees with the objectors that the petitioners fell below the required 1,400 signatures, the referendum will not appear on the ballot. However, if the board finds the minimum number of signatures have been met, the bond issue will be placed on hold until the March primary election.
It is possible, explained Fox, to further challenge the issue by filing with the circuit clerk for a judicial review, in which a judge would decide if the petition requirement has been met.
Attempts have been made to get comment from the petitioning group, but our calls have not yet been returned.