Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

May 13, 2014

Cousins to foot majority of bill for illegal fliers

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Cousins agreed to repay more than half of $24,800 in taxpayer money that Michigan Secretary of State officials determined TCAPS administrators misspent during a 2012 bond campaign.

State officials determined school district leaders misspent public funds to print and distribute campaign fliers that promoted TCAPS’ 2012 bond millage. Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act prohibits the use of public money to promote or denounce a ballot question.

Cousins will repay the district $14,800 of the total $24,800 in quarterly installments, with the last installment to be paid by June 1, 2015.

“I said from the beginning of this that the responsibility of the use of the word ‘support’ in our literature was my responsibility, and therefore it seems right that I would take responsibility for the district,” Cousins said.

A revised conciliation agreement between TCAPS and the state allows the remaining $10,000 to come in the form of campaign finance requirements training for district officials.

TCAPS’ attorneys, Thrun Law Firm, agreed to provide the training at no charge, but Cousins said details of the training have yet to be determined.

“That will have to be worked out with Thrun going forward, but the focus will be on issues surrounding bond informational campaigns,” Cousins said.

The district’s legal counsel also has agreed to review future bond information materials at no charge before they are distributed.

A Thrun Law Firm representative could not be reached for comment.

Secretary of State officials began their investigation after former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Jason Gillman filed a complaint with the state against TCAPS and Cousins in October 2012. His complaint alleged the district improperly used taxpayer money by directing voters to authorize the bond proposal.

Gillman said the conciliation agreement doesn’t fully reimburse taxpayers.

“What it means is the taxpayers aren’t getting their money back that they paid in time and cost for this flier,” he said. “What they’re getting is a kick in the behind because the district paid Thrun to defend the case, and they’re only getting a fraction of what they paid out for an illegal mailer.”

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