Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

March 13, 2014

Attorney bills cost TCAPS $4,600

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials spent more than $4,600 on legal bills since state officials launched an investigation of election material that district officials illegally printed and distributed.

East Lansing-based Thrun Law Firm billed TCAPS $4,628 between October 2012 and the end of January 2014, according to records obtained by the Record-Eagle through a state Freedom of Information Act request.

That total should grow as TCAPS officials and Thrun attorneys determine how best to answer a proposed “conciliation agreement” from Michigan Secretary of State officials. The agreement calls for someone -- though it’s not clear who -- to repay the district for the $25,656 administrators wrongly spent to print, mail and later destroy fliers that touted TCAPS’ 2012 bond millage, a violation of state election laws.

TCAPS school board President Kelly Hall said district officials have not decided how they will respond to the proposed agreement.

“We’re still in the process of consulting with attorneys and figuring out the next steps,” Hall said.

Superintendent Stephen Cousins could not be reached for comment.

Robert Dietzel, a Thrun attorney who represents TCAPS, charged the district between $210 and $235-per-hour for email exchanges, telephone conversations, and drafting and revising responses to state officials, records show.

Dietzel was scheduled to meet with school board members in closed session late last week to discuss the state’s proposed agreement, but district officials canceled the meeting.

Dietzel could not be reached for comment.

District officials must decide by May 30 whether to accept the ruling and prove reimbursement, which cannot come from the district’s general fund or other taxpayer-supported funds. Secretary of State officials could refer the case to the state attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution, or hold a civil hearing if TCAPS officials refuse to pay.

A hearing could result in “a civil fine equal to triple the amount of the improper contribution,” according to state statute.

 

 

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