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Middlebury cleared in town office flier flap

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Posted on March 3, 2014 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has found no illegalities with an informational flier that Middlebury officials created and mailed to all local residents explaining the details of a new town office building and recreation center proposal that will be decided by voters on Tuesday, March 4.

Middlebury Selectman Craig Bingham had asked state officials for an opinion on the flier, which he claimed contained false and misleading information, and was not vetted by the selectboard prior to being sent out. Bingham — a vocal opponent of the proposed plan — said the flier understated the true financial impact of the $6.5 million project on taxpayers, and that the document should not have used such terms as “healthy, super energy efficient” in describing the new facilities. Such terms, he said, were tantamount to taking an advocacy position on the project, which he argued the town was not permitted to do in an informational flier.

Bingham had suggested that the town correct the information and send out a new flier.

In a letter of response to Middlebury resident Ron Kohn — another opponent of the project — Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz said, “Based on our review, we have not found any violations of Vermont’s campaign law or local elections law arising out of the town of Middlebury’s flier.”

She said the flier does not constitute an “electioneering communication” pursuant to campaign finance law because it pertains to a public question, not a candidate. Shafritz added the flier is not covered by state statutes governing “improper influence” because it is not “one of the four official documents identified in that section (17 V.S.A. section 2666).”

That statute reads: “Neither the warning, the notice, the official voter information cards, nor the ballot itself shall include any opinion or comment by any town body or officer or other person on any matter to be voted on.”

Asked for his reaction to the AG Office’s opinion, Bingham replied, “It is unfortunate that Vermont has no law that would require a town to take corrective action when it has distributed inaccurate information to the voters.”

Nancy Malcolm, chairwoman of the Middlebury Town Office & Recreation Facilities Steering Committee, said she was confident that state officials would clear the flier that was created by her panel.

“I had no question that what we did was completely accurate and was following protocol,” Malcolm said.

“I think Craig Bingham owes an apology to the selectboard, the steering committee and the community for putting Middlebury in a bad light unnecessarily.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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