An online petition calling on Windsor’s mayor to reimburse the city for promotional tax bill inserts featuring his image months before voters hit the polls might violate election rules if he acquiesces.
That’s according to the city’s manager of records, elections, and freedom of information, who on Thursday told the Star that campaign finances must be kept separate from any spending out of the mayor’s office.
“It’s advertising,” Terry Knight Lepain said of the leaflets recently sent out with final tax notices, which picture Mayor Drew Dilkens alongside a list of recent city accomplishments, including investments in parks, playgrounds, roads, and trails, as well as securing the $5 billion NextStar Energy Electric Vehicle Battery Plant. It has been perceived by some as campaign material.
“The mayor has not filed his candidacy with the council services office, with me,” she said. “He has not completed the legislative form, so at this point, he’s not a candidate.”
When asked if the mayor had violated any election rules, Knight Lepain said, “No.”
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 200 people had signed a change.org petition demanding the mayor’s campaign reimburse the city for the costs of the tax bill insert should he declare candidacy. Jason Moore, the city’s senior manager of communications, said the promotional leaflets cost $1,883.32 for printing expenses. He said postage did not cost extra since it was included in the tax mailings.
Although Knight Lepain said she couldn’t comment on the petition specifically, she said the cost of the insert would not be an eligible campaign expense.
The petition alleges Dilkens inappropriately used taxpayer funds to campaign for himself, something he denied earlier this week.
While candidates must use campaign funds to promote themselves, the petition accuses Dilkens of “circumventing” the rule because he has not yet declared candidacy.
“He is doing so knowing that, if he runs, he has a clear advantage in the election by using taxpayer funds to promote himself,” states the petition, which was created by Windsor resident T.J. Bondy.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Dilkens said he is not running a campaign and the leaflets are not campaign advertising.
“It’s a way to communicate with the public. I don’t apologize for it,” he said.
Dilkens invited anyone who thought he violated the city’s code of conduct to file a complaint with the integrity commissioner.
Whether any complaints were filed is unknown. The city’s integrity commissioner, Bruce Elman, did not respond to the Star’s multiple requests for comment this week. Jill Braido, city marketing and communications officer, on Thursday said that was Elman’s last day as integrity commissioner, and a new integrity commissioner would take over on Friday. Braido would not say who Elman’s replacement is.
According to the city’s complaint protocol, no complaint can be referred to the integrity commissioner for review or investigation after June 30 — Thursday — in a municipal election year.
The deadline to file for candidacy for the upcoming municipal election is Aug. 19. Election day is Oct. 24.
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