Traverse City Area Public Schools ran afoul of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act during the last election, according to a letter issued Thursday by the Secretary of State. It says a district mailer advocated a “yes” vote for a school bond proposal. The district is not allowed to do that with taxpayer funds and other resources.
“We didn’t intend to violate the act or mislead folks and I think I need to apologize to Mr. Gillman, to our parents and our staff and community for any confusion the mailer caused,” says TCAPS Superintendent Steve Cousins.
Former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Jason Gillman filed the complaint. He also has a separate lawsuit pending over an alleged open meetings violation by the district.
The TCAPS bond proposal was defeated by voters last November. It was seeking a hundred million dollars from voters in a bond proposal for new buildings and other improvements. He was not immediately available for comment Friday.
The school is now surveying community members about the failed bond and deciding whether they would have better luck with voters this year.
The Secretary of State is asking the district for detailed information by May 6th on the costs associated with the mailer and the number of mailers that were printed. The letter says the goal is to resolve the matter informally. If that is not successful, it will be referred to the state attorney general for enforcement, the letter says.
From the letter issued by the Secretary of State:
“The flyer state that TCAPS ‘is asking voters to support the continuation of TCAPS’ long-term capital infrastructure improvement plan by authorizing a bond proposal on November 6, 2002.” This flyer urged voters to take specific action on November 6, 2012 – namely, to authorize the bond proposal. The only way that a voter could ‘authorize’ the bond proposal would be for the voter to vote yes on the proposal that was on the November 6, 2012 ballot. The flyer expressly advocates the passage of the ballot question, which places it squarely within the [Michigan Campaign Finance Act’s] prohibition of the use of public resources to make a contribution or expenditure.”