Opponents' identities questioned in override pamphlet

When voters receive their informational pamphlets for the upcoming Scottsdale Unified School District maintenance and operations budget override election, they will have a chance to read arguments for and against continuing the override.

As mandated by state law, the Maricopa County Superintendent included arguments for and against the measure in the pamphlet.

But some Scottsdale residents are questioning the veracity of some arguments.

“I got my ballot pamphlet in the mail yesterday for the SUSD override. As far as I can tell (besides Loyd Eskildson) the other ‘against’ writers appear to be fictitious,” Rose Finocchiaro Smith wrote to the Progress.

No one verifies the legitimacy of the arguments.

“Our office does not verify the identity of individuals who submit arguments for the publicity pamphlets. Current statute does not require or authorize us to verify the identity of individuals (e.g. notarized documentation),” said county schools superintendent spokesman Shane Wikfors.

While state law mandates that the pamphlet include arguments, it says nothing about verifying the authors’ identity – meaning anyone from anywhere in the world could submit an argument under a false name.

Finocchiaro Smith and others who have spoken with the Progress believe that is just what happened with five of the six “against” arguments in the informational pamphlet in the SUSD election.

County voting records give that suspicion some credibility.

The five arguments in question were signed by Samantha Cartier, Hector Carrillo, Cynthia Majinsky, Jen Lopez and Sandra Lacey.

The sixth argument against was written by Loyd Eskildson, a former chief deputy with the county school superintendent’s office and a vocal override opponent.

The arguments signed by Majinsky, Carrillo and Lopez were all recorded by the county superintendent’s office at the exact same time, 1:51 p.m., on July 17.

County voter rolls show are no registered voters in the entire county named Samantha Cartier, Hector Carrillo, Cynthia Majinsky, Jen Lopez or Sandra Lacey.

There are 60 individuals named Jennifer Lopez registered to vote in Maricopa County, two within Scottsdale Unified boundaries.

The Progress was unable to contact those two individuals to determine if they submitted the argument against.

      If the authors of those arguments are not Scottsdale residents, it is unclear who submitted them.

The arguments in the pamphlet include no further identifying information beyond a general description of the individual’s profession such as “architect” or “sales.” Additionally, the superintendent’s office redacted identifying information such as email addresses and physical addresses on copies of the original submissions provided to the Progress.

SUSD Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg, who supports passage of the override, decried any attempts to include false statements in the pamphlet.

“It is a shame that an individual or individuals have resorted to providing the (Office of Maricopa County School Superintendent) false statements in an attempt to harm our community, and I hope that they reconsider their own position on the matter and vote ‘Yes’ instead,” Greenburg said.

The state law governing school district override elections says nothing about verifying the identity of those making the arguments.

According to A.R.S. § 15-481, the county superintendent is only required to fact check the arguments.

“The names of persons and entities submitting written arguments shall be included in the informational pamphlet.  The county school superintendent shall review all factual statements contained in the written arguments and correct any inaccurate statements of fact.  The superintendent shall not review and correct any portion of the written arguments that are identified as statements of the author's opinion,” according to the stature.

However, several of the ballot arguments in question do include statements indicating the writer is a voter or resident within  SUSD boundaries.

For instance, the Majinsky argument included the sentence "I’m voting no and I hope you will too."

The county superintendent’s office did not return a request for comment as to whether that statement falls under its fact-checking responsibility.

Melinda Gulick, co-chair of the Yes to Children campaign that is supporting passage of the override, said she believes most of the community supports the override.

“We respect the right of individuals in Maricopa County to express their opinion,” Gulick said. “The opinions that matter most to us are the registered voters in the school district –– the majority of whom are supportive of the SUSD M&O Override.”

Greenburg stressed that he believes the override is an important resource for the district to continue funding programs at existing levels.

“Renewing SUSD's Maintenance and Operations Override will continue to provide critical funding for our students’ education…” Greenburg said., adding:

“It is supported by many wonderful leaders in our community, including state senators, mayors, city council members, former and current school board members, teachers and, most importantly, students and parents. Losing this funding would result in significant cuts which would directly impact the lives of our children and families.”

Late Monday the county superintendent's office released a statement that said:

"Our office publishes the pro and con arguments as we receive them, and we are happy to do so for those who are exercising their First Amendment rights. We do not require any identification of the person submitting the argument other than what is required by aw, which is that the arguments submitted are in writing and signed by the person. As the law requires, we do review all statements for factual errors, but we do not review anything that is considered the author's opinion.

 "These pamphlets are published according to the law, to give voters information they can use, in addition to information they have from many other sources, to make a decision when they vote their ballot. We are confident that the voters will consider all the information they receive and weigh the arguments in order to make their choice on the ballot."