Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

March 4, 2014

UPDATE: Ruling will force someone to reimburse TCAPS for violation

TRAVERSE CITY — It’ll cost someone $25,600 to rectify the distribution of an illegal Traverse City Area Public Schools campaign flier, but who’s on the hook for that money remains unclear.

Michigan Secretary of State officials determined district administrators misspent $25,656 in taxpayer funds to print and distribute fliers that touted TCAPS' 2012 bond millage in violation of state election laws.

Now TCAPS officials face an ultimatum: Prove someone repaid that money to district coffers, or risk becoming the targets of a criminal probe.

School board President Kelly Hall said TCAPS officials and the district’s attorney need to discuss who — if anyone — should ante up.

“We’re trying to figure out these questions as I speak,” Hall said this morning.

Grand Traverse County resident Jason Gillman filed a complaint against TCAPS and Superintendent Stephen Cousins with the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections in October 2012.

Cousins in April 2013 said he took “full responsibility” for the illegal election literature after state officials ruled it violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act’s prohibition on the use of public money to promote a ballot question.

“I think that answers who’s going to pay the bill, or at least who should pay the bill,” Gillman said.

Cousins reasserted his responsibility for the illegal fliers this week. He said part of that responsibility required fixing the flaws that prompted the fliers, and he said he did so.

“In regard to the obligation of the payback to the district, that’s a conversation we have to have with our attorney,” he said.

The reimbursement total of $25,656 includes the costs of designing, distributing and mailing the fliers.

“In effect, the taxpayers of Traverse City Area Public Schools subsidized the cost of a campaign ad that urged voters to pass the bond proposal,” state Bureau of Elections employee Lori A. Bourbonais wrote in a letter to TCAPS’ law firm. “This activity plainly violates MCL 169.257.”

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