Has the win at any cost, open warfare in the United States Congress infected Eugene? Before you dismiss what is to follow with the old “that’s just politics” saw, pause for a moment: has civility and the notion of winning hearts and minds through merit and planning prevailed, or has the more expedient approach of winning hearts and minds through disinformation, hyperbole, obfuscation and the equivalent of “dirty boxing” prevailed? Ask either of the main combatants in the City Income Tax (Temporary City Income Tax For Schools) debate and they’ll both tell you the latter is the prevailing tactic of the other party. Now does it sound familiar?
In January the City council agreed to put the City Tax on the ballot for voter consideration. It was discussed earlier that month, and likely earlier than that. The impending school budget crisis begged a response and the proposed temporary tax was one component aimed at helping remedy a very serious situation.
Opponents of the tax attempted to prevent the city from calling it the “Temporary City Income Tax For Schools” in the May Election contending that it was misleading – the Judge did not agree and the effort was quashed. Then supporters of the tax filed a lawsuit over a rebuttal statement that was included in the Voters pamphlet contending that the quote used in the rebuttal was misleading as to the Mayor’s position on the tax. A controversy has ensued over the lawsuit only naming one of the three official city volunteers who drafted the rebuttal. Mark Callahan, the sole defendant thinks he knows why he was singled out: he is running for a position on the 4J school board.
Today the thermostat went up again as Mark Callahan issued a press release announcing his filing an Anti-SLAPP lawsuit in answer to the lawsuit filed by Strong Schools.
SLAPP = Strategic lawsuit against public participation
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. The difficulty, of course, is that plaintiffs do not present themselves to the Court admitting that their intent is to censor, intimidate or silence their critics. Hence, the difficulty in drafting SLAPP legislation, and in applying it, is to craft an approach which affords an early termination to invalid abusive suits, without denying a legitimate day in court to valid good faith claims.
Here are the lastest documents in the latest round:
The Press release can be seen here: Callahan Press Release
The Countersuit can be seen here: Defendant’s Special Motion To Strike
The Motion to Strike can be seen here: Defendant Memo In Support of Special Motion To Strike
While this has been going on, the efforts in support of the tax have increased including the use of PUSH calls, I received one while working on this article. A “Push Call” is intended to sway the listener to the caller’s side usually by appearing to be a poll but is actually a political ad “pushing” the calling sides issue. We’ve all received them from the various political parties during campaign seasons, it has become part of the process. In the phone call I received, the female voice asked if I intended to vote in favor of the proposed City Tax. When I selected the undecided option, the voice went on to the second “question”, and began to inform me of the benefits of the tax including the statement that “the only people who will be paying the tax will be households who earn $250,000 or more.” This matched the information I received in a Eugene School district mailer just a day or so before.
Now it seems the information in the mailer contains some errors, or is misleading depending which side you ask. Now that things are at a boil, you have to wonder, is somebody going to sue over this? Its going to be an interesting election, and post-election, but I’ll wager that most of us long for a little less acrimony and a lot more honesty going forward.