GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — In the mailbox and hanging on doors across Grand Haven, people have found flyers encouraging them to vote no on a school bond proposal. But the mailers are possibly illegal and the superintendent says some of their claims are false.
When Grand Haven-area parent Becky Becker got the flyer in the mail last week, she knew exactly what to do with it.
“My reaction was, ‘Oh, this is going right in the recycle bin!’” she told News 8.
Grand Haven voters are set to go to the polls on May 2. The mailer encourages residents to vote no on a $155 million bond proposal for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.
It’s a mystery who paid for it and where it came from.
“Who knows,” Becker said. “It’s paid for U.S. postage out of Hebron, Kentucky. So I don’t know. Who is that? Why are they interested in a school bond in Grand Haven, Michigan?”
If the bond proposal passes, the school district says improvements would be made to all 11 buildings. A new middle school would be built, replacing Lakeshore Middle School, which was constructed in 1953. That school’s principal, Amanda Sorrelle, said the building has old heating and plumbing and cramped classrooms.
Becker’s child goes there.
“It’s a very, very old building,” Becker said. “It just doesn’t make sense to pour more money into.”
The school district says if the bond proposal passes, it wouldn’t raise the current tax rate.
In a letter to parents sent last Thursday, GHAPS Superintendent Scott Grimes rebutted several of the claims made in the flyers.
“We want to make sure our voters have all the information necessary to make an informed decision on the future of our school system,” Grimes said. “We hope you take the time to learn more about our proposal over the next week and a half.”
The mailer says the district would spend $30 million on a multi-purpose building. The superintendent said it would actually cost just under $15 million to add an all-purpose building at the high school. A door hanger given out claims 50% of the district’s students under-perform at reading and math. The superintendent says students consistently rank above county and state averages in both subjects.
“It’s pretty convenient to drop some half-truths maybe with no accountability and sow some discord and distrust in the school,” Becker said.
She fears the flyers could sway some voters who live in Grand Haven but did not receive or see the superintendent’s email.
“I’m concerned the people are going to believe this,” Becker said. “It’s pretty convenient to put out a bunch of disinformation with no way for anyone to follow up and ask any questions.”
“This affects all of Grand Haven Public Schools voters, not just people who have kids in schools so there are lots of people who are not getting these email blasts,” she continued. “So I’m concerned there’s one side of information that’s being widely made available and then another set of information that’s truthful and is coming directly from the school that isn’t quite readily available.”
GROUPS SENDING MAILERS MUST BE UPFRONT
The flyers could also be illegal, Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told News 8. Roebuck said any individual or group spending more than $500 supporting or opposing a candidate or ballot proposal must file as a committee.
“Generally when a large mailing goes out, you’re going to incur more than $500 in cost,” Roebuck said.
The sender’s name, address and contact must be printed on the flyer, too. Failing to do so is a misdemeanor crime carrying up to a $1,000 fine, Roebuck said.
“That’s the time where we get a lot of phone calls or questions saying, ‘Is there a committee that exists that’s supporting or opposing this issue?’” Roebuck said. “That’s kind of what we had last week as a lot of these flyers went out.”
There’s no law requiring truthful advertising.
“Those mailings can have any information the person chooses to put on there under the First Amendment,” Roebuck said. “There’s definitely no policing of that end of the issue.”
Roebuck said the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, which investigates these cases, likely won’t have enough time to find out who the fliers came from before voters go to the polls.
“They certainly do follow up on those complaints but it may take some time,” Roebuck said.
The county clerk also said it can be difficult to track down who is behind the flyers.
“It’s challenging because there’s very little we have to go on,” Roebuck said. “How do you really track down someone in the community who’s spent money and hasn’t disclosed it? It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s difficult to determine exactly how much money was spent.”