Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 30, 2013

Gillman wants superintendent to pay out-of-pocket

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — The man who filed an election law violation complaint against Traverse City Area Public Schools wants the district’s top administrator to pay out-of-pocket for the mistake if a fine is levied.

Jason Gillman, a former Grand Traverse County commissioner, also wants TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins to cover the attorney costs he has incurred since he filed the complaint about TCAPS flyers that asked voters to support a $100-million bond proposal.

The state ruled this month the flyers violated Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act by expressly advocating the passage of the ballot question. Cousins took full responsibility for the misstep in a letter to district parents.

“If he’s going to be fully responsible, he’s got to be fully responsible,” Gillman said of Cousins. “Is this just giving lip service?”

Assessing a fine directly to Cousins prevents the public from paying for the district’s mistake and further deters TCAPS officials from violating campaign finance laws in the future, Gillman said.

TCAPS officials, including Cousins, said the district will work with the state to resolve the matter. They declined further comment.

“I will leave it to our attorneys and the Secretary of State to determine what the appropriate penalty is,” said Kelly Hall, president of the TCAPS Board of Education.

Gillman also surmised TCAPS did not get the flyers, which cost about $20,000 to produce and mail, approved by legal counsel.

”(I)t is (Gillman’s) position that Mr. Cousins and TCAPS specifically erred in not seeking such a timely and cost-effective pre-publication legal review, which would have headed off this whole problem,” stated a letter sent to the state by David Bieganowski, Gillman’s attorney.

Cousins confirmed the language in the flyers was not reviewed by attorneys.

The state ordered the district to provide its office with information, including the number of flyers printed and distribution costs, by May 6.

The state and the district will use that information to reach an informal resolution, which can include anything from an agreement to refrain from committing further violations to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams declined to comment on how the TCAPS case will be resolved.

“We take every resolution on a case-by-case basis when determining a penalty,” Woodhams said.

Gillman is also involved in an ongoing lawsuit with TCAPS over an alleged Open Meetings Act violation.

Gillman accused the district of “misleading the public” as to the time and place of a meeting to discuss why the bond millage failed.

TCAPS’ attorneys called Gillman’s complaint “frivolous, without legal or factual basis” in court records.

The case is pending in circuit court before Judge Thomas Power.