Attorney: WB Area has legal power to hold building referendum

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
Attorney Kim Borland speaks during a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board meeting in a file photo. Borland said this week that the district’s arguments against a voter referendum on the project have been inconsistent and ultimately inadequate. - Times Leader file photo

WILKES-BARRE — Attorney Kimberly Borland, one of the most persistent voices opposing the current Wilkes-Barre Area school consolidation plan, said the district’s arguments against a voter referendum on the project have been inconsistent and ultimately inadequate.

Borland has regularly disagreed with legal opinions provided to the School Board by Solicitor Ray Wendolowski, including court challenges to denials of right-to-know requests. Borland has won several.

The two have also differed on the legality of a referendum on the consolidation of Meyers and Coughlin high schools into a single new building, though when push comes to shove, they agree on one thing: The board has the right to hold a binding referendum.

A non-binding “advisory referendum” is a different matter. Borland points out that, in 2015 when then-Board Member Christine Katsock proposed four separate non-binding referenda on the fate of the three high schools, Wendolowski helped draft language for the motion that would authorize the move. That motion failed by one vote.

After that, Wendolowski said he explored the issue further and determined an advisory referendum would be illegal under state law.

“This has not always been Mr. Wendolowski’s position,” Borland wrote in an emailed response, citing Wendolowski’s earlier effort to help craft such referenda. “Mr. Wendolowski now says that it can’t be done.”

Luzerne County Assistant Solicitor Michael Butera, who oversees legal issues for the county election board, also said an advisory referendum would be illegal. Borland said that Wendolowski and Butera “conceded that there is no statutory prohibition to the board requesting that the issue be placed on the ballot,” but closes his argument by referring to the clear right to hold a binding referendum.

“It is indisputable that the board may place this on the ballot as a binding referendum,” he wrote. “The board can do this, so if it is unwilling to do this on an advisory basis, it should do it on a mandatory basis.”

Save Our Schools, the organization formed in opposition once the consolidation was first approved, is circulating a petition seeking a referendum. Borland has conceded a petition cannot force a referendum, but hopes it gets enough signatures to show the board clear public rejection of the plan. Those interested in the petition drive should contact Lois Grimm via email: [email protected]

Attorney Kim Borland speaks during a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board meeting in a file photo. Borland said this week that the district’s arguments against a voter referendum on the project have been inconsistent and ultimately inadequate.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_TTL042616wba_mg_3.jpgAttorney Kim Borland speaks during a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board meeting in a file photo. Borland said this week that the district’s arguments against a voter referendum on the project have been inconsistent and ultimately inadequate. Times Leader file photo

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish