Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 28, 2012

Gillman files complaint over school mailer


TRAVERSE CITY — Jason Gillman took his complaint against Traverse City Area Public Schools over a bond issue informational flier to another level.

Gillman, a Grand Traverse County commissioner and Tea Party activist, said he mailed a formal complaint alleging TCAPS wrongdoing to the Michigan Secretary of State Elections Bureau on Oct. 24.

He alleged the eight-page mailer TCAPS sent to 20,000 registered absentee voters this month violated a section of state campaign finance law that forbids the use of public funds and resources to promote or defeat a candidate or ballot question.

TCAPS officials placed a bond request for $100 million for capital upgrades on Nov. 6 ballots within its district. Gillman contends the mailer "crossed the line" when it asked voters "to support the continuation of TCAPS' long-term capital infrastructure improvement play by authorizing a bond proposal."

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said the elections bureau had not received Gillman's complaint by Friday afternoon. Bureau staff will have five business days after receiving it to review the complaint and initiate action or dismiss it, he said.

Local voters will decide the fate of TCAPS request to increase the district's 3.1-mill bond levy by up to 0.8 mill, which would raise $100 million over 10 years.

Superintendent Stephen Cousins disagreed with Gillman's allegation in the complaint.

"Obviously, we don't believe it violated the campaign finance law," he said. "We're asking voters to approve a ongoing long-range capital improvement plan. We didn't tell them how to vote or advocate a "yes" vote."

He said the district has since dropped the word "support" from a bond election postcard that will be mailed to 20,000 regular registered voters before the election. The district spent $20,000 on its first mailing and the second will cost about $5,000, he said.

Most of the cost is in postage, he said. Gillman said in early October that he spent $2,700 of his own money to send anti-millage mailers to 8,546 households to persuade votes to defeat the proposed bond millage hike. He also formed Grow TC Responsibly, a website at "to encourage transparency in local government, encourage citizen participation, and oppose wasteful spending by our elected and appointed officials."

He said Friday he has spent more than $6,000 on his effort.

The 0.8 mill bond request, if approved, will generate $100 million over the next 10 years, school officials said. In addition, another $65 million will come from a bond issue authorized by voters in 2007, for a total $165 million over 10 years available for capital improvement.

Gillman's effort focused on the $26 million TCAPS plans to spend on renovating Traverse Central High School. Of that, $18 million will go to auditorium improvement. The Central High proposed spending makes up about 16 percent of the total $165 million. If the millage request passes, the total $165 million generated over 10 years will be spent in several ways:

n 34 percent will go to complete reconstructions of Eastern Elementary School, Interlochen Community School, Glenn Loomis Montessori and Central Grade schools.

n 28 percent will be spent on district-wide infrastructure needs (plumbing, heating, electric, walkways, windows, exterior doors and other needed renovations or additions.

n 16 percent will go to improvements at Central High School.

n 12 percent for technology infrastructure

n 6 percent for bus replacement

n 1 percent for maintenance and operational equipment

n 1 percent for visual, performing and applied arts

n 2 percent for physical education and athletic facilities.