Local Views: Why I Won’t Be Supporting O’Loughlin for Minnesota House Representative in 39B

Stillwater school board member, Paula O’Loughlin, is running for Minnesota House Representative in District 39B. Here’s why I won’t be supporting her:

In May 2015, the voters of Stillwater passed a $100 million school bond which promised, among other things, improvements to every district elementary school. A few months later, the district proposed to instead close three schools. They called this plan BOLD (Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover).

Soon after the announcement of the district’s BOLD plan, I posted a thank you on Facebook, listing a few Main Street businesses that had made public declarations against the plan. Minutes after that became public, people began sharing my post far and wide.

My inbox exploded with messages from other local businesses, all asking to be added to the list. In a period of a few short weeks, the list grew to about 100 businesses, all joining hands to oppose this plan that would change our community forever.

Some businesses made donations of money or goods to help with the legal fight opposed to the closures, but that was not a requirement to be on the list. The list was simply supportive business owners who did not agree with this hurtful plan.

On February 26, 2016, I received an email from school board member, Paula O’Loughlin. This is what she said:

I have received several inquiries from parents and community members who are very confused as to where the funds raised from the 3/5 event will indeed be going. Someone has sent me a screenshot in particular that notes that the monies raised (and this includes from any donations from local businesses) will be going to the legal funds to support the lawsuit against the district.

Many community members and business owners are understandably confused and concerned that their business, vis a vis a donation and your list, are being attached with a potential lawsuit to sue the district. This is not how they want their monies spent and it is certainly not how they want taxpayer dollars money spent. Community members have also contacted me for the list of businesses so they know which places to boycott until they receive clarification.

Furthermore, businesses have asked if their donations qualify as a tax deduction and want to know if your organization is a qualified charitable organization with 501(c)3 status. Again, several are under the impression that their donation and use of their establishment’s name and reputation is supporting students in all schools, not a lawsuit for private citizens.

I’d appreciate any clarification you could provide.

Thanks so much,

Paula

I felt threatened, receiving this from Paula. This was in February, and she was supposed to be neutral at that point, with an open mind, prior to the board vote on BOLD scheduled for March 3, 2016. Yet she seemed to be willing to help facilitate a massive boycott of our supportive local businesses community.

“Community members have also contacted me for the list of businesses so they know which places to boycott until they receive clarification.”

The list included almost all Main Street businesses. I was never contacted by any businesses that were “confused” about how the funds were to be used. I feared such a boycott could have devastating financial consequences for Stillwater’s treasured downtown.

I felt threatened because Paula seemed to be accusing me of negligently informing businesses what their support meant. This wasn’t true. I also felt threatened because it seemed Paula was implying I could be responsible for possibly contributing to a devastating financial boycott of main street businesses.

And why — just because they had expressed their first amendment right to voice their opinion on an important community matter?

In fact, the district’s own survey showed over 60% were opposed to the school closure plan. It seemed so irresponsible and inappropriate for a public official, who now is asking voters to support her for higher office, to assist with harming our local economy.  Isn’t that the opposite of what an elected official should do?

Fortunately a boycott never materialized. In fact, the community supported our local businesses in droves. Our elected leaders should do the same.

Jenna Weiss