Construction firm paid for flyers supporting school renovations
GOFFSTOWN - Literature circulating in town, promoting passage of $14.5 million in renovations at Goffstown's two elementary schools, was paid for and created by the construction company that stands to benefit from voters approving the bond.
The brochure does not identify who paid for it, which some say may be in violation of state laws concerning political advertising. Plus, observers contend, it is one-sided and should not have been presented as fact when it's opinion.
The six-page, color brochure titled, "If Not Now, When? A Proposal for Outstanding Elementary Education in Goffstown," was donated to the school district by Harvey Construction of Bedford, the construction manager that will renovate Maple Avenue and Bartlett Elementary schools if voters approve the expenditures on March 12, according to School Board member Keith Allard.
When asked who paid for the flyer, Allard said he thought Harvey Construction's name was listed on the back of the brochure. It isn't.
"They made an investment, knowing if it passes, they'll get the contract." He characterized it as generous.
School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast and SAU 19 Superintendent of Schools Stacy Buckley could not be reached for comment.
Rob Prunier, executive vice president at Harvey Construction, said the company often provides informational flyers on behalf of clients, and that the Goffstown materials aren't anything unusual.
"It's part of the service we provide, to offer that kind of support," he said. Prunier said Harvey Construction's name isn't on the flyer because the project is more about the school district and less about the company, but acknowledged that the company will benefit if voters pass the bond.
"Part of our job is to support the district in the delivery of their message," he said. "It's not Harvey's message, it's the district's."
Prunier, who designed the brochure, said it was put together with information from the school district, approved by school district representatives and cost about $300 to produce 500 copies.
"I look at it as a contribution to the process," he said. "We're already on board, it's not like we're trying to buy a job."
State law, in part, defines "political advertising" as "any communication ... which expressly or implicitly advocates the success or defeat of any party, measure or person at any election." This includes posters, cards, pamphlets, leaflets, flyers or other circulars. They must include the name and address of the candidate and his fiscal agent or chairman or, if it not from a candidate campaign; the name and address of the treasurer of a political committee or person responsible for the advertising.
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards, who was given a copy of the brochure, said, "I agree that on its face, this document does not meet the requirements of RSA 664:17 but I do say that with caveats ... If this were provided to us as a complaint regarding a potential violation of the elections law, we would review it to determine the answers to these questions."
She said case law does allow anonymous campaign literature "under certain circumstances in order to protect the First Amendment right of free speech for the creator of the literature."
State Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, also a Goffstown Budget Committee member, said, "I believe that would be a violation, but I wouldn't know 100 percent without looking at it," he said. "I do know that the school board abuses the right-to-know law terribly, so am I surprised that they did this? No."
Burt said he would be shocked if voters approved the bond on election day.
Resident and former State Rep. Pam Manney said the flyer should have identified who paid for it. "It's not an objective opinion, it's misleading," she said. "That's not right."
The flyer outlines the details and cost of the project that could begin as early as the spring and be completed by summer 2014. They were made available at the public hearing for the bond proposal, which took place on Monday, and at Tuesday's Budget Committee public hearing.
The brochure stresses the importance of the building projects. "What is the cost of doing nothing?" the flyer asks.
It lists the following:
-- Failure to provide safe, appropriate facilities for our instructional programs and community use;
-- Increase in interest rates;
-- Increased maintenance costs to repair old buildings (windows, boilers, mechanical equipment and masonry);
-- Schools will remain non-compliant with state and federal codes;
-- Continued use of washrooms, hallways and closets as instructional spaces;
-- Continued concern with safety and security;
-- Poor air quality;
-- Need for additional portable classrooms;
-- Continued concerns with traffic flow, safe egress, poor wiring and administrative teams located away from main entrances.
The brochure also says there will be no state building aid forthcoming for the next several years, construction costs could increase by 2 percent in the future and bond interest rates are expected to increase in 2014.
A separate pull-out in the flyer lists the improvements to be made and shows the designs for each school.
Proponents say the renovations would add classroom space at both schools, and address such areas as code compliance, accessibility, technology, energy efficiencies, infrastructure and health and safety. The additions would eliminate the need for portable classrooms at both schools. Opponents argue the project can wait until the economy improves.
The bond will cost taxpayers about $958,000 annually for the life of the 20-year bond, or about 71 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value after the first year of debt service. For the first year of the bond, the estimated tax increase is 20 cents per $1,000.
Voters rejected a similar proposal last year, which Allard said had a slightly higher price tag, but Harvey Construction agreed to stay with the project should voters approve it this year.
Budget Committee member Guy Caron said he was under the impression that the school district had paid for the brochure, and hadn't seen it before the budget committee's public hearing. He agreed with Manney that it was a bad idea, because it only presented one side of the issue.
"If the voters are going to get a brochure in favor of this, they should also get a six-page brochure on why it shouldn't pass," he said. "Voters should be presented with both sides."