BY: Steve Wilson | Watchdog.org

The fight over a possible property tax increase in Oktibbeha County to fund school consolidation is now in the hands of a state-appointed conservator after a petition drive appeared to fall just short of the goal line.

Dennis Daniels, a candidate for county supervisor and one of the leaders of the petition drive to defeat a reverse ballot initiative, told Mississippi Watchdog he’d gathered 2,340 signatures from registered voters in the county school district, with the circuit clerk certifying 1,533 of them in a time crunch. The petition drive needed 20 percent of the school district’s registered voters, or about 1,526 signatures.

But when he and his helpers tried to deliver the signatures to the conservator’s second-floor office before the noon Tuesday deadline, they found stairwells and elevators at the Oktibbeha County School District offices clogged with children in the building for a noon meeting. The school district’s attorney rejected 131 of the signatures, telling Daniels they were just past the deadline, leaving them with 1,402.

“Those 131 rejected were in the office of the conservator by the noon deadline,” Dennis said. “The problem was they brought several busloads of kids in for the 12 o’ clock, parents and all that, so the stairwells and elevator were clogged. By the the time we’d gotten up there, the lawyer looked at his watch and said it was 12:01 and they would not accept them.

“If you go to vote and you’re in line when the 7 o’clock hour hits, you still get to vote, whether it’s 7:30 or 7:45. A petition is a proxy vote and if they’re in the door by the deadline, well then, they should’ve accepted them.”

Under a law passed last year by the Mississippi Legislature that combined the Starkville and failing Oktibbeha County school districts, state-appointed district conservator Margie Pulley was given the power to raise a bond issue for school construction in what’s known as a reverse ballot initiative. Daniels argued the school district office has no way to verify the signatures and he’s hopeful the measure will be put on the ballot.

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