Review finds more valid signatures, but teacher pay raise initiative still falls short in Oklahoma City
If they can't reverse a ruling by the Oklahoma City clerk's office, advocates of a local income tax for teacher pay raises will "stand up, brush ourselves off and keep fighting," says Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid.
A review this week produced 1,731 additional valid signatures on an initiative calling for a vote on the income tax proposal, but organizers of the petition drive were still short of number of signatures they needed.
Advocates needed 11,991 valid signatures to trigger a vote.
The clerk's office announced Thursday afternoon they had 10,821.
The initial, two-week examination of signature sheets turned up 9,090 valid signatures.
Clerk Frances Kersey said Monday the "preliminary determination" would be followed by a review this week that included logging each of the 1,780 signature pages in a spreadsheet.
This week's review found 1,731 signatures that were initially ruled invalid because it appeared the person who circulated those signature pages failed to provide his mailing address.
The clerk's office said it turned out the person who gathered those signatures had provided his mailing address on one verification form, so all of his signature pages were found to be acceptable.
State law requires that a signature-gatherer verify his or her mailing address, referred to on official forms as the "post office address." Each 10-line signature page is accompanied by a verification form to be signed by the signature-gatherer, or "circulator."
In guidance to the clerk's staff, city attorney Kenneth Jordan said the standard under the law for concluding a signature is valid is "substantial compliance" with all the rules set out in statute by the Legislature.
Kersey's finding Thursday that organizers failed to reach the signature threshold is known as her "final determination."
Organizers can request a hearing before Kersey on the finding that they fell short of the required number of signatures. Any appeal of her ruling after a hearing would be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
"If we find something that gets us to the number, great. If we appeal and that gets us to the number, great," Shadid said. Otherwise, he said, "we're going to go right out" and try again.
Leaders of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs filed a protest to the petition Monday, alleging a variety of shortcomings, and Kersey will schedule a hearing later on their complaints.
Shadid labeled the OCPA protest "frivolous," and a delaying tactic to drive up costs for initiative proponents.
Initiative organizers proposed a 0.50 percent, temporary local income tax, to sunset in four years or less, for pay raises for public school teachers.
They estimated the tax increase would bring in as much as $50 million per year for grants to pay stipends to teachers, school nurses and support personnel, and were hoping for a vote as soon as April.
Grants would be administered by the city of Oklahoma City and the money would be shared proportionally, based on enrollment, among the 24 school districts that enroll students who live within the Oklahoma City limits, they said.
It was estimated 70 percent of the proceeds would flow to I-89, the Oklahoma City public schools district.