Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

August 24, 2022
‘For the sake of our free way of life’

On the evening of August 9th, I attended the Truth in Taxation hearing conducted by the Tooele County School District School Board. Its purpose was to present the Board’s proposed budget for next year, which called for a sizable tax increase, again, and to explain the arithmetic gymnastics the state legislature and the school board indulge to arrive at the confusing numbers. The meeting proved to be a concerning, eye-opening experience in many ways.

Of all the things that could be constructively written about that meeting, one stands out in particular that should be of interest to anyone who has even a modicum of understanding of the democratic process. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

At the conclusion of the Board’s Power Point presentation, members of the audience were invited to come to the podium to speak their minds about the proposed budget and tax increase before the Board voted whether or not to approve the budget. Moments before the first person at the podium began to speak, Board president Melissa Rich announced that speakers would not be allowed to ask questions and board members would refuse to comment or otherwise respond to opinions, issues or concerns expressed by those at the podium.  In disbelief the room went quiet.    

When my turn came at the lectern, I asked Ms. Rich if I understood her directive correctly; I would not be allowed to ask questions. She affirmed her statement; I must not ask any questions of the elected government officials who sat before me and who were on the verge of raising my taxes. I’ve been attending public meetings for nearly 50 years and in that time I have not felt such intimidation, exclusion or been so marginalized by having been denied my rights of participating in the democratic process of representative government as happened that night.  It was a shameful display of misguided authority and posed an existential threat to the cherished experience of our political process.

In spite of the board’s demand for limited audience participation, the people spoke their minds plainly and forcefully, leaving no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding; an increase in taxes at a time of seriously rising inflation was not acceptable.

The meeting ended with a vote to approve the lesser of the two tax rates, still requiring a tax increase, resulting in a budget totaling $358,158,418, by far the largest in the county.

The alarming component of this story is the School Board’s poor management of parliamentary procedure and the democratic process.  Whenever the government insulates itself from the body politic by refusing open, public scrutiny of itself, it immediately becomes dangerously isolated from the stabilizing effects of personal accountability, and so then governs from the spaces of unenlightened darkness. It is the stuff of tyranny and while we are talking only of one small school district in one sparsely populated state, the principle is the same as if we were talking about the nation as a whole. Freedom never ends in a single moment, but slowly collapses under the weight of laziness, disinterest and inattention which should never be tolerated for even an instant.

There is no state law that justifies the Tooele County School Board forbidding itself from explaining its decisions and behavior to the taxpayers during public meetings. This is a policy crafted by the Board itself and should be vacated posthaste. I can imagine the excuses the Board would suggest for the policy’s survival, chief among them being the avoidance of angry, prolonged debate. And an earlier exit for home. But that’s all that can be offered; excuses; no genuinely supportive reasons. Any imagined objections to thoughtful scrutiny of Board members during open, public meetings can be overcome by intelligent planning and careful execution. Every problem has its solution.

And so it should be, for the sake of our free way of life.

Richard Ewing Davis

Stansbury Park

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