Five Jordan Board of Education incumbents are getting extended terms. One will serve eight years without having to face voters, and 31 challengers are about to be sent packing because of a brand new law on splitting school districts.
That's according to a Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office opinion on the effects of SB71. The opinion was sought by Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who shared it with the Deseret Morning News Friday.
Letting people elected to a four-year term serve up to twice as long is perhaps unprecedented.
"I've never seen it," Swensen said. "This is an unusual case."
It's a byproduct of the law that SB71 sponsor Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, didn't anticipate.
Nor did candidate Roy Harward, who was challenging school board President J. Dale Christensen. Christensen's term will be extended another four years, to eight, under the new law.
"I just don't think it's right. Basically, he has a longer term as a school board (member) than any other office in the land," Harward said. "That doesn't sound like it's very reasonable."
Christensen could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
The Jordan Board of Education race is unprecedented on many levels.
It's the first after Utah's premiere school district division. Voters on June 24 will elect two new seven-member school boards: One, for the new east-side Jordan District; one, for the remaining west-side Jordan District.
One hundred people threw their hats into the ring for those 14 seats — an interest atypical of school board races, where people often run unopposed.
And now, SB71, mixed with Salt Lake County Council action, ensures this will be one for the record books.
The bill makes it so the current Jordan Board of Education will automatically get seats on the new east- and west-side school boards without having to run for re-election, Jason S. Rose, deputy district attorney in the civil division, said in his opinion about SB71.
Legislators were trying to keep some institutional knowledge on the brand new boards.
But when the candidate filing window opened March 7, the governor had not signed the bill. That stroke of a pen came a week later.
So, Swensen urged anyone who wanted to run for the school boards to file, just in case.
But now, it's clear no one can challenge the incumbents for at least another two years.
"For those candidates that have filed to run in either the new east-side district or the remaining west-side district, SB71 effectively eliminates the election in those precincts that house a current school board member," the opinion states.
Swensen's office will start sending e-mails or letters to the 31 candidates, "letting them know, according to that legislative action, there isn't a seat available for election this time around" and they'll get their $25 filing fee back, she said.
"I am sure some of the candidates who wanted to run for these positions will be disappointed, but we had no choice but to allow candidates to file for the offices since (SB71) was not the law and had not been signed by the governor when the filing period opened," Swensen said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News.
Meanwhile, the County Council, as directed by a 2007 state law, drew precinct boundaries for the new school districts after last November's split vote. It staggered the terms so not every school board member would be up for election at the same time. So, to begin with, the seats in even-numbered precincts will be two-year terms; those in odd-numbered precincts, four-year terms.
But when SB71 was signed, that ended up grandfathering incumbents' four-year terms.
Randy Brinkerhoff, Peggy Jo Kennett, Ellen Wallace and Sherril Taylor will get an extra two years. So, they'll serve six years, although they were elected to serve four, under the new law. Christensen will get an extra four years, serving a total of eight. Only Kim Horiuchi and Tracy Cowdell will receive no term extension. Elected in 2006, they will be up for re-election in 2010.
Brinkerhoff, a Riverton City Councilman, wasn't planning on a six-year term but is happy to serve.
"Although I thought my time was up and I was ready to pass that torch on to someone else, I'm convinced that because of the background and knowledge I have now, it would be like abandoning ship if I left right now," Brinkerhoff said.
Brinkerhoff had eight challengers.
There's a twist to all this.
Board member Wallace wants to resign, but not until July 1, 2009, which is "independence day" for the new districts. But because she's been grandfathered into her seat and no one can challenge her in June, the board will appoint her successor. That appointee will serve through 2012.
Sen. Walker didn't know about the legal opinion, or the affect of the law in extending terms so long. "As you know, that was not my amendment, and I had some resistance to that amendment," she said.
SB71's House sponsor, Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who amended the bill to grandfather incumbents on the new boards, did not return messages seeking comment late Friday.
Walker wonders whether a special session of the Legislature might be needed.
"I'm going to let the dust settle and see," she said. "If there are questions, we could clarify it in a special session, and I could talk to the governor about that. If there is no uproar ... we may not need to do anything."
But if you ask Harward, a special session is in line.
"It's kind of a fiasco," he said. "Realistically, there should be some representation and accountability, and we just gave (one board member) ... an additional four years."