On Friday, April 26, the Bethel Schools weekly emailed newsletter contained what some in Town have interpreted as a call to support passage of the referendum, which Schools Superintendent Dr. Carver, identified as the message author, strongly denies.
The emailed newsletter from the Bethel Schools began "Dear Parents, Guardians, and Staff, At the Town Meeting on April 24th, the revised Town budget was moved to a referendum vote on May 7th. The Town budget contains our maintenance account, school debt for renovations and capital non-reoccurring (band uniforms and resurfacing of track). It is important to remember that the town budget in many ways also supports the schools."
The Bethel Community Gazette has learned that the taxpayer advocacy group Bethel Action Committee has filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
"A concerned resident alerted us within hours of the newsletter's publication," explained founding member Billy Michael.
The BAC has since filed a complaint with the SEEC, citing Superintendent Christine Carver, as well as the 9-member Board of Education. "There are two potential violations here," says former BAC chairman and Bethel Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale. "One is the laudatory language prohibited by statute, but the other is a violation of Public Act 13-247."
Public Act 13-247 states that "only community notification systems -- not systems that reach only a subset of the entire community -- are permitted to be used for the limited purposes of reminding voters of the time and location of upcoming referenda."
State laws restrict the kinds of electioneering that can and cannot be done using municipal resources, including email, once a referendum has been called. Except in very limited circumstances, such as an emailed reply to a specific individual, it is a violation to use municipal resources to encourage votes for or against a referendum.
Bethel Town and School District officials have been cited by the SEEC for violations of state statute seven times since 2002, and have paid several thousand dollars in fines. The current complaint also refers to a 2011 judgment against then Superintendent Dr. Gary Chesley, where he signed the consent order on behalf of the Board of Education, rather than as an individual.
When asked to comment about social media complaints about Friday's e-mailed newsletter, Superintendent Dr. Carver responded "It was not my intent to influence the vote in any way at all. Merely to provide information about the relation between the Town budget and the School's."
The Town heads to the polls on May 7 to consider the Town budget and capital request. Please see the related article on page 3 that includes the revised line-by-line Town budget and capital budget proposals, as well as voting locations.