Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

August 18, 2013

Editorial: NMC must first learn how to talk to voters

In the follow-up to the decisive Aug. 6 defeat of Northwestern Michigan College’s millage request, NMC officials have been as short on specifics as they were before the election.

And as lots of other taxing entities have found out over the years, being short on specifics is no way to convince savvy voters there is a compelling need for more money, that it’s going to be spent wisely and there will be tangible results.

College leaders have said they were following attorney advice that being too specific about what the college wanted to do with the money would somehow violate state law. Why that would be was unclear then and is just as unclear now.

What’s obvious, however, is that NMC’s failure to articulate a compelling need for an additional $30 million over 15 years had a lot to do with the demise of the ballot issue.

Demise may be too tame a word. Voters didn’t just say “no.” They said “NO.” A robust 66.9 percent of those who voted (7,855 to 3,901) rejected the request. It’s hard to say that was a mandate, since turnout was a measly 16.8 percent of registered voters.

But NMC officials chose an August election. In fact, trustees said they wanted the college’s request to stand out from other millage issues coming in November and beat them to the punch.

An August election cost taxpayers $68,000; balloting in November wouldn’t have cost anything extra. Some voters didn’t appreciate that extra cost, or that the college wrongly claimed an August election was necessary to get new taxes on the winter tax rolls. Turns out that could have happened with a November election, too, something NMC President Tim Nelson knew but forgot to tell the board.

In the end, though, it was the near-total lack of details that mattered most.

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