Tue, Oct. 22

Commentary: Mingus’ greater challenge lies in court of public opinion

‘The legal risk Mingus is taking in a court of law likely pales in comparison to the risk the district is taking in the court of public opinion’

Just when you thought that school district consolidation could not get any more interesting, Mingus Union elevated this fight to a whole new level by legally challenging the merits of the planned November election.

How that all shakes out in the court of public opinion remains to be seen, but Mingus does raise legitimate questions that merit debate in a court of law.

It bears emphasis that what Mingus is doing is neither unexpected nor is it without precedent. For weeks now, the school board has been meeting in closed executive sessions to discuss its legal options concerning consolidation. This lawsuit should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Further, lawsuits such as this are part and parcel to the political process. Legal challenges on the validity of signature petitions happen all the time. Legislative District 6 State Sen. Sylvia Allen, for example, has a free ride in the August Republican Primary because it was determined challenger Brenda Barton did not meet the signatory threshold to legally qualify for the ballot.

Likewise, it is important to remember that this consolidation petition process was the result of a new state law that was rushed through this past legislative session in its waning days and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey. New laws such as this are regularly challenged to ensure they conform to constitutional guidelines. In May, for example, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a new state law prohibiting medical marijuana on Arizona college and university campuses.

It’s also very fair for Mingus to challenge the legality of a petition process that was based on a law that had yet to be approved by the Arizona House and Senate, much less signed into law by the governor.

All of the above goes hand in hand with the political process. It’s all part of our system of checks and balances. The legal questions being asked are legitimate.

What is not so certain for Mingus, though, is how this normal and legitimate exercise in checks and balances will play out in another court, that being the court of public opinion.

At its most basic level, what Mingus is doing is asking a court to not allow you to vote on consolidation. Mingus wants to take away your ability to decide at the ballot box what the best educational model is for the Upper Verde Valley.

Being able to decide a contentious community issue by public vote is something that most folks consider an inalienable American right. Remember, the Mingus Union district was created as the result of a public vote nearly 60 years ago. If the alignment of our school districts merited a public vote more than half a century ago, why should voters today not have that same right?

Further, there is the question of who is paying for this challenge on the legality of Senate Bill 1254 and how much is it going to cost?

In Mingus’ case, it’s not going to cost district taxpayers any more than $24,000. That’s the amount MUHS currently pays to be part of the statewide trust that provides all partner school districts in Arizona with pre-paid legal services.

All things considered, it’s quite a bargain for Mingus, but in the end it’s still taxpayer money being used to potentially keep those same taxpayers from being able to vote on consolidation.

The legal risk Mingus is taking in a court of law likely pales in comparison to the risk the district is taking in the court of public opinion.

Time will tell who is the most-harsh judge.

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