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School panel fined $1,000 for brochure

A brochure mailed to Marshfield residents before November’s vote to build a new high school was sent in violation of campaign finance laws, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance has determined.

The Marshfield High School Building Committee authorized the brochure, spending $6,335 in town funds to have it designed, printed, and mailed; the committee originally approved up to $10,000 for the effort.

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The state determined that the brochure sought to influence the ballot using public money and therefore broke the law.

The 15 members of the committee must use their personal finances to pay a collective fine of $1,000, according to a Feb. 21 letter sent to the town’s attorney by Michael J. Sullivan, director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

In the letter, Sullivan said the town and the management company working on the high school, Compass Project Management, have agreed that Compass, which designed the brochure, will absorb the full cost of the brochure and not bill the town for it, “either directly or indirectly.’’

Bruce Spitler, co-chairman of the building committee, said the members did not know they were committing a violation.

“It was never the intent of the Marshfield High School Building Committee to violate any campaign finance laws,’’ he said.

Because voters supported the school overwhelmingly, Spitler said the brochure did not change the outcome. Town Meeting voted 1,703 to 217 for the school.

John Skinnion, an opponent of the new high school, had hoped to see a stiffer penalty for the building committee.

“They gave them a slap on the wrist for that,’’ he said.

Skinnion opposes the new school because he believes the school system does not take care of its buildings. Each member of the committee should be fined what the brochure cost, he said.

Sullivan, in the letter, said that before Marshfield holds another ballot question, senior officials will attend a presentation by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The members of the building committee are co-chairmen Robert Keuther and Spitler, who is principal of Marshfield High School; Brian Adams, facilities manager; Superintendent Scott Borstel; School Committee member Nancy Currie; Town Administrator Rocco Longo; Selectman Matthew McDonough; Thomas Miller, director of business and finance for the schools; Advisory Board member Carlos Pena; School Committee member Carol Shrand; and Marshfield residents Emily Baird, Patrick Haddigan, Douglas Russell, William Ryder, and James Tracey.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.
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