GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Former Guilford County Commissioner Jerry “Alan” Branson is not going to let the passage of a school bond referendum go forward without a court fight.
Twice denied by elections officials and told there is insufficient evidence to order the new election that he has sought, Branson on Friday announced in a press release he had formed a group called “Taxpayers for Honest Elections” and filed a notice of appealand requested a stay to protest the voters’ approval on May 17 of the $1.7 billion bond referendum to repair, rebuild and replace the county’s crumbling schools.
Both the Guilford County Board of Elections and the North Carolina Board of Elections voted, 3-2, against Branson, whose complaint was that the county and the Guilford County Board of Education had used taxpayers’ funds to endorse the passage of the bonds in a variety of communications with voters.
The state BOE on June 30 first declined to remand the matter to the Guilford County Board of Elections, which had rejected Branson’s complaint earlier this month, and then dismissed the matter entirely because members felt that there was insufficient evidence that would change the outcome of the election.
In discussions of the motions, the two NC BOE members who voted to hold more hearings on the matter agreed that there was likely insufficient information to suggest that the margin of the election would be affected. The bond issue passed by more than 16,000 votes, but an attached referendum to approve a sales-tax increase failed.
Julie Smith, spokesperson for Guilford County, said at the time that Guilford County voters overwhelmingly approved the use of General Obligation bonds to make improvements to Guilford County Schools facilities and we are ready to get to work delivering improved schools to the community as authorized by the voters in May.”
Branson’s court filing serves to delay the Guilford County Board of Election’s certification of the vote. It’s unclear how this action would affect the Board of Education, which already has started the process for spending the bond revenue and announced plans to provide routine updates.
“The countdown for his appeal is actually based on his date of service of the decision, not just the board’s verbal vote,” Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt wrote in an emailed response to a question from WGHP. “I don’t think he’s officially received it at this time [Monday].
“Once he does, he has 10 days to get a Superior Court Judge to issue a stay. It’s not just file an appeal, but get a stay.”
Branson did not respond earlier this week to questions from WGHP about his plans and to reports that he was trying to raise money to fund the court case.
In the release Branson, who is an at-large candidate to return to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, said that the boards of election “have both turned a blind eye towards the unlawful actions of these government agencies because they didn’t believe their abuses affected the outcome of the election. However, I am not willing to turn a blind eye to misuse of taxpayer funds, especially not when it leads to dishonest elections.”
One issue that Branson has not addressed – but election officials have – is how the bond referendum passed but the sales tax increase did not. Both were mentioned in his original complaint about the publicity in question.
The Taxpayers for Honest Elections group is a fundraising effort that the release said was launched the three attorneys who have helped pursue this case. They posted a page on Facebook and a GoFundMe account to generate support, the release said.
One of those attorneys, Steven Walker, said, “This case is a no-brainer. Regardless of the outcome of the election, we should not be willing to allow our government to act outside the bounds of the law.”
Collicutt said that election officials have “counted and approved the final tally of results [and are] just holding off on the official certification. We do have the ballots locked away, but that’s not really the issue in this particular case.”