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There are three bonds on the ballot this November, but Wake County has spent thousands on bookmarks, fliers and pamphlets on just one of those referendums: the $120 million parks bond.
A frequent library visitor and N&O reader asked CuriousNC why there are bookmarks about the parks, open space and greenway bond at the local libraries if there is a law that prevents governments from using public money for campaigning. CuriousNC is a joint project among the News & Observer, The Herald-Sun and The Charlotte Observer that answers reader-submitted questions.
Local governments like Wake County aren’t allowed to encourage people to vote for or against the bond. But it can provide educational materials to help people make up their minds, said Frayda Bluestein, a local government expert from the UNC School of Government.
“They have to be neutral in what they can do and it sounds like what they have done is provide informational material,” she said. “Whether it’s signs or bookmarks or whatever. They can say ‘This is what the bond is’ and I think they can go as far as saying ‘this is why we think we need to do this.’ But if it is more of a marketing thing it can be over the line.”
The bookmarks and fliers, which cost just over $8,000 to produce, encourage people to vote on the bond issue but doesn’t push a particular side. The pamphlet includes a map of proposed projects, how the bond money would be sent and the associated 0.35 cents per $100 valuation increase to the county property tax rate.
“Overall, we believe it’s our responsibility to educate the voters on the bonds which our board has resolved to place on the Nov. 6 ballot,” said Dara Demi, Wake County communication director. “The materials we’ve developed help reach different audiences in different locations with information only. None of our materials urges residents to vote for or against the bonds. They simply offer insight, so when residents go to the polls, they can make informed choices.”
In a follow-up conversation the reader, who didn’t want her name used, she said she also wanted to know why there weren’t similar materials for the other two bonds on the ballot. Wake Technical Community College and the Wake County Public School System are handling the educational efforts for those two bonds, Demi said.
“To date, Wake Tech and WCPSS have not requested to place printed materials in our public libraries,” Demi said. “Our Parks, Recreation and Open Space staff did request to share bookmarks and brochures in our public libraries, which is why they are available in those locations.”