When Mandan resident Justin Gerhardt received a phone call on June 8 from a woman urging him to vote yes to approve a sales tax to fund a new sports facility in his community he wondered how the woman had gotten a hold of his contact information.
“She stated that I had a child in youth tennis which is run by the parks and rec,” Gerhardt told me in an email.
Gerhardt said the woman didn’t give her name nor did she say if she was affiliated with any group or organization, but she did want him to vote yes on a three quarter percent sales tax increase to pay for a $22 million sports complex which would be run by the Mandan Park District.
In a phone interview, Gerhard expressed concern that the Park District was handing out his private contact information. “I thought it was strange they were handing out parent phone numbers,” Gerhardt said.
Contacted for comment, Mandan Parks and Recreation Director Cole Higlin told Watchdog that’s exactly what happened.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Yes, we did provide information to the Citizens 4 Mandan Sports Complex Committee as we would have provided if requested to the No folks,” Higlin said in response to an emailed inquiry. “There was no group actively campaigning against us.”[/mks_pullquote]
“Yes, we did provide information to the Citizens 4 Mandan Sports Complex Committee as we would have provided if requested to the No folks,” Higlin said in response to an emailed inquiry. “There was no group actively campaigning against us.”
Asked if the Mandan Park District had any policies concerning the distribution and use of personal information collected from citizens Higlin provided the text of the Park District’s privacy statement. “The data we collect will only be used for the purpose of supplying you with the requested products or services, company marketing purposes or for other reasons for which you have given your consent, except where otherwise provided by law,” that policy states.
Higlin said that nobody in the Park District’s database of contacts was notified that their private information was being shared with the political organization supporting a yes vote, nor did anyone give their specific permission to have that information shared.
Higlin also said his office did not seek a legal opinion before providing the information.
“We apologize if we made a mistake,” Higlin said. “We weren’t trying to accomplish anything negative.
But some felt it was a mistake.
“I’m close friends with many of the people on the vote YES group, they and the Parks are good people,” Mandan resident Will Gardner told me. “But between some with Mandan Parks appearing to be pushing hard to vote yes at every presentation and the sharing of contact info with only the vote YES group, it felt like our own public resources were being used to get the sales tax passed.”
The tax increase did ultimately passed this week with 56 percent of voters saying yes. The increase will move Mandan’s combined state and local sales tax to 7.25 percent, the 6th highest in the state and higher than the 6.5 percent tax shoppers on the east side of the Missouri river in Bismarck pay.