Report by Paula Antolini, May 24, 2019, 2:57PM EDT
In a letter dated May 16, 2019 to the Bethel Action Committee (BAC) members Cynthia McCorkindale and William (Billy) Michael, from Legal Investigator Alfonso Vazquez of the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Committee (SEEC), information indicated the SEEC voted to move forward with the investigation of issues brought up in the recent BAC complaint.
The meeting minutes of the regular SEEC meeting on May 15, 2019 state that the Commission voted to authorize an investigation into the April 28, 2019 complaint by the BAC, against Bethel Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christine Carver and the Bethel Board of Education (BOE), as per File number 2019-092, regarding text written in the Bethel Public Schools E-News about the May 7th referendum vote.
The SEEC May 15, 2019 meeting minutes read:
“The Commission took the following action:
Recommendation of Counsel: Necessary to Investigate Determination pursuant to General Statutes §9-7a, as amended by Public Act 11-48 §300
Attorney Smith summarized the Recommendation of Counsel dated May 3, 2019 and requested that two (2) matters be moved to investigate File Nos.: 2019-046 and 2019-092. So approved by the Commission 5-0-0. So voted.
The April 28th Bethel Action Committee original complaint:
“On Friday, April 26, the front page of the Bethel Schools E-News, a weekly mailing sent to a select group, contained what we interpret as a call to those on their mailing list to support passage of the budged slated for May 7th’s referendum.
“We Believe that Superintendent Christine Carver as well as the 9-member Bard of Education have committed two separate violations as follows: 1. CGS Sec. 9-369(b) by way of laudatory language prohibited by statute, and 2. A violation of Public Act 13-247 as the e-newsletter was sent out to a subset of the community i.e.: the school’s own parent/guardian email list. The language in question is, “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 capitol non-reoccurring (band uniforms and resurfacing of track). It is important to remember that the Town budget in many ways also supports the schools.
“You may be aware that there have been judgements in the past against Bethel town officials who participated in this type of electioneering. The SEEC has cited Bethel Town and School District officials for violation of state statutes seven times since 2002, and judgements included several thousand dollars in fines.
“We believe that there are deeper implications with this violation due to a 2011 judgement order against then Superintendent Gary Chesley, where he signed the consent order on behalf of the Board of Education, rather than as an individual, as it was originally filed.
“Thank you for your time.
“NOTE: Both complainants are part of the Bethel Action Committee, and organization that not only advocates on behalf of taxpayers but are also committed to shining a light on the process to ensure compliance with statutes and laws associated therein.”
The Vazquez letter also states that pursuant to General Statutes Sec. 9-7(b), the SEEC Commission has one year from the date the complaint was received, to resolve this matter. The deadline to resolve this complaint will be May 1, 2020. The deadline may be extended due to certain circumstances outlined in the Commission’s enabling statutes. Should recalculation be necessary and there is any change in the one year deadline, the complainants will be notified.
View the Bethel Advocate original article below:
Editor note: We have messaged the BAC, Dr. Carver and the BOE and we will add their comments once we receive them.
UPDATE May 24, 2019, 5:36PM EDT:
We received a comment from Cynthia McCorkindale regarding the SEEC development. McCorkindale said, “I’m pleased, but not surprised that they are moving forward. We never file a complaint that is not on solid footing. Sadly, this type of violation happens way too often in Bethel. I wish the penalties were harsher, so that it would deter repeat behavior. A soft landing for the offender sends the message that these regulations are pesky and not very important.”
We also received Dr. Carver’s comment. She said, “Yes, this week, we learned that the SEEC will be investigating a complaint. We feel there was no violation of the law. We will cooperate with the investigation.”
Billy Michael’s comment: “The fact that the complaint was not dismissed reflects the legitimacy of our concerns as taxpayer advocates. The town of Bethel seems to be a serial offender when it comes to complying with statutes differentiating objective information from advocacy during budget referendums.”