Big Timber man files complaint with state over SD2 bond election

2013-12-12T17:15:00Z 2013-12-13T21:41:07Z Big Timber man files complaint with state over SD2 bond electionBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A Big Timber man has filed a formal complaint with the state suggesting School District 2 officials broke Montana law in the lead up to November's successful $122 million bond election. 

Jonathan Motl, the state Commissioner of Political Practices, informed SD2 on Tuesday that a complaint had been filed by Jerry Hansen.

Hansen, a CPA who now lives in Big Timber, was once a Billings resident and was known for frequently addressing the City Council and for his involvement with SD2 committees. He unsuccessfully ran for the school board in 2001. 

He also complains regularly to the Political Practices Commission and the Yellowstone County attorney's office about SD2 politicking. 

He did not return calls from The Gazette seeking comment. 

"This is the fourth or fifth complaint Jerry has advanced in one from or another," said Jeff Weldon, attorney for School District 2. "His complaint has no merit."

His previous complaints were either ignored or dismissed, he said. 

The letter SD2 officials received on Tuesday simply notifies them that a complaint has been filed and that they have until Jan. 5 to respond. At that point Motl will decide if an investigation is warranted.

Superintendent Terry Bouck and SD2 board clerk and CFO Leo Hudetz have reviewed the complaint, as has Weldon.

All three are confident the district broke no laws in how the bond was presented to the public.

"I have every right to go out and explain the facts," Bouck said.

Which is what Bouck and many other district officials did in the months leading up to the campaign. Officials attended or sponsored scores of meetings to explain the purpose of the bond and how the money would be spent. 

Every Wednesday in October, the district set up displays in the Lincoln Center board room that detailed the projects that would be undertaken with the passage of the bond. 

"It was all informational," Hudetz said. "We're just very cautious."

State law allows school district employees to explain to voters what is in a bond and how it will be used. They can encourage people to vote, although they can't tell them how to vote, Weldon said.  

Whether or not state officials pursue an investigation, the outcome of the election will stand. Voters approved the $122 million bond 17,879 votes to 15,459 votes.

Should the state find the district violated election laws, it would impose a fine. 

"This does not impact the bond in any way," Bouck said. 

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