Tuesday night, Tisbury’s select board voted unanimously to authorize town administrator Jay Grande to request $25,000 from the finance committee. The request was on behalf of the Tisbury School Building Committee (TSBC), for what had previously been described by building committee chair Harlold Chapdelaine as “voter outreach and education” regarding a $53.2 million renovation and addition project coalescing for the Tisbury School.
The request was broached at a Jan. 6 TSBC meeting, which was held jointly with the town’s historic commission. Ahead of a critique and suggestions offered by the commission members on schematic designs, the committee voted unanimously to ask the select board to procure the funds.
The request bears the risk of running afoul of Massachusetts campaign finance law. A spokesman from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance told The Times public resources cannot be used for political purposes. Since the sum necessary for the project will undoubtedly trigger a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion warrant article, and require not just a town meeting vote but a ballot vote, too, the political element is front and center. Select board chair Jim Rogers expressed concern over the issue early in Tuesday’s meeting, and tabled the subject. Yet it wound up returning for deliberation at the end of the meeting, and being approved for action.
“The use of funds to inform members of the public, as well as officials of the town, regarding progress of a project, or particular details of a project, would be permissible,” town counsel David Doneski told the board. “The issue that raises a question is that public funds may not be used to influence the outcome of a ballot question. So whatever is created and used could not be for the purposes of advocacy, to urge people to vote in a particular way, but rather would be restricted to an informational presentation.”