Judge says "'shall' means mandatory' and commission has 'clear legal duty' to put referendum before voters

Circuit Judge Steven Whittington issued an order Thursday that says the Clay County Commission does not have to place a half-cent sales tax referendum on a special election ballot this year as requested by the Clay County School Board.

Whittington's order says state law gives the Clay County Commission discretion in selecting the date for a special election. The commission can use that discretion to place the sales tax referendum on the November 2020 ballot, Whittington said.

Whittington said the County Commission has some discretion, but it is not unlimited. He said the "shall" in the statute "means mandatory and not discretionary. ... A local governing body cannot simply ignore a school board's request and refuse to place a resolution on the ballot."

In the order, Whittington said, "The Legislature did not say the district school boards have the authority to either select the election, or to place one directly on the ballot. What the Legislature did say is that the county commissioners have the duty of placing the resolution on the ballot."

According to the judge, the County Commission stated if the School Board requests a November 2020 election, the commission will agree to put it on the ballot for that date. The County Commission's "stated reasons for doing so are not unreasonable and therefore do not constitute an abuse of discretion."