A committee to support increasing the sales tax in Hamblen County in the area outside the city limits was formed last night at the Hamblen County Board of Education offices. The committee is encouraging voters to vote FOR increasing the sales from 9.5% to 9.75% on the May 5, 2009, referendum ballot.
The committee was named "Win The Vote."
Hamblen County Commissioner Ricky Bruce moderated the meeting and broke the attendees into five groups (Finance, Advertising, Youth Volunteers, Other Volunteers, and Strategy).
Hamblen County Commissioner Tommy Massey led the Finance Committee. Sitting with Massey's group were Commissioners Dana Wampler, Joe Spoone, Stancil Ford, Herbert Harville, Dennis Alvis, Reece Sexton, Nancy Phillips, Mayor David Purkey, School Board Member Joe Gibson, and School Business Director Traci Antrican.
Massey first proposed raising $10K for newspaper ads, print ads, and posters at every voting station. Massey, noting that Commissioner Lebel had once discussed sending out a letter from commission to voters, asked Commission Chair Stancil Ford about this. Ford gently nixed that idea, responding that there had been some controversy over a previous sales tax letter that had been signed by Mayor David Purkey and himself and sent to voters.
Massey suggested that if each of those sitting with his group donated $100, there would be about $1,000 to start with. Later in the evening, Tish Jones of HC*ExCell and P-16 told everyone that you can't take donations until you have registered as a single-issue committee. Tish supports just about every tax increase.
Commissioner Nancy Phillips and School Board member Joe Gibson said they would get on the phone and try to raise money. Bruce said he would take care of committee registration on Tuesday. Massey said all contributions could be sent to his mailing address (P.O. Box 339, Talbott, TN 37877).
Traci Antrican, Business Director of Hamblen County Schools, was named treasurer of the "Win The Vote" committee.
SB Member Joe Gibson is worried that voters are not going to vote for the tax because of the way it is worded on the ballot (FOR or AGAINST increasing the sales tax). Gibson wanted to promote the sales tax as a "choice"--EITHER vote for the sales tax increase OR there will be a property tax increase. Gibson's remarks brought back memories of the "pick-your-poison" approach that the county commission used in 2002 to trick/blackmail/extort voters to support the Wheel Tax Referendum.
Commission Chair Stancil Ford--of state income tax fame--discouraged Gibson's "pick-your-poison" approach, noting that such a statement would bite you down the road. Stancil knows that voters remember all too well the infamous "pick-your-poison" statement when Commission Chair Maudie Briggs told voters that they could EITHER vote for the wheel tax OR there would be a property tax increase. Then just a few months after blackmailing voters into supporting the wheel tax, Maudie and other commissioners turned around and voted to increase property taxes at the same time!
The Strategy Group report was given by School Board Chairman Janice Haun. The very first strategy she mentioned was a proposal to contact ministers to see if they would be supportive and perhaps put info in bulletins. Even aside from the obvious question of legality, I was very surprised to hear a group propose using churches as part of a pro-sales tax strategy. Her group also proposed lots of social networking through Facebook, MySpace, PTO's, HCEA, E-mails, and phone calls.
The Advertising Group report was given by school system employee Teresa Ayers. She said she would develop a logo on Tuesday and added that she would have flyers printed "here" and ready for distribution on Wednesday. She was also going to develop a Powerpoint for PTO's and PTA's to use.
[Note: There was apparently some discussion after the meeting broke up about Teresa doing her pro-sales tax committee work at the Board of Education building on school/taxpayer time. I was sitting in the parking lot after the meeting and for some reason Teresa came over and knocked on the car window just to let me know personally that actually she was going to work on the sales tax powerpoint "at home" instead of at work. I said you're probably going to work on the flyers "at home," too, and she agreed. I didn't ask, but I expect that her comments also meant that no printing would be done on school equipment.]
The Youth Volunteers probably had the most specific action report. Teacher Cari Swann Ashford assisted the group. The two youth presenters proposed asking parents to hand out sales tax increase flyers at work, encouraging 18-year old students to vote FOR the sales tax increase, putting signs up in schoolyards, designing T-shirts, having student workers at poll sites, and campaigning door-to-door. Signs in schoolyards--except on Election Day--might be questionable. Sort of like Teresa Ayers doing single-issue sales tax committee work on school/taxpayer time with school/taxpayer computers, equipment, and supplies.
The Other Volunteers report was given by Paula Bruce Combs, who is a school principal and Commissioner Ricky Bruce's sister. If I remember correctly, Paula became an assistant school principal right after Ricky was elected to county commission in 2002, and then became a principal shortly after that. Some of Paula's proposals included contacting and seeking support from PTO's, friends and family, faith-based groups, retirees, and Red Hat Society members. She also encouraged making announcements to groups, using e-mail, and seeing if a FOR sales tax message could scroll across the bottom of cable Channel 4 screen.