July 23rd, 2014
Jana Hollingsworth’s coverage is fair enough and the headline is right on. I’m not mollified. I’m pretty annoyed that an investigation touted as taking a year to complete yielded 8 pages of such anemic results. Among my takeaways: a little less than 30% of the cost of the Red Plan which ballooned to over $300 million ended up being paid to a troika of program managers. Their loot ($84 million) is easily double what most projects should have paid out for “soft costs.” Its a little like Duluth’s voters had three vampires at their necks at the same time for six years. Red planners probably thought of them more as little piggies suckling at their mother’s teats.
JCI couldn’t handle the project on their own so they shared the duties and the looties with Bossardt and Krause-Anderson because there was plenty of spoils for all.
Krause Anderson had a guy on the Board which oversees the ethics of architects who had no objections to JCI using unlicensed architects despite state rules against this to come up with the initial Red Plans. Art Johnston discovered this (be forewarned, this post has a long icky prologue) to his chagrin six years ago. They profited handsomely from the decision to let fly-by-nights get the Red Plan underway. Duluth has ten too many kids in its classrooms as a result.
Chair Miernicki, who appeared the very essence of a pro-Red Planner, couldn’t wait for our meeting yesterday to conclude and hectored Art and me not to ask questions which he considered off target. That was most of our questions. He didn’t have to worry. The State Auditor’s team offered no opinions. They will be sending us a bill. I’m guessing it will probably cost us a thousand dollars per page. As mentioned before this was not an audit despite the petition requesting it.
If we had any doubt how seriously this would be taken by the State Auditor we might have gotten a better sense by looking at the history of audits prompted by petitions. I’ve been told by others who perused this whole page of the Auditor’s activities that you only find such audits being done once back in 1995. Its for the City of Cambridge and its at the bottom of the list.
And yet the TV advertisements the Auditor will soon be putting on air touts her as having discovered hundreds of millions of mispent public dollars according to the Forum’s Don Davis:
She begins her commercial saying that she ran because she discovered “hundreds of millions of dollars in errors” in local government audits. She ends it with: “I will make sure the numbers add up.”
The ISD 709 report does not seem to have made it yet on her vast website.
July 22nd, 2014
I woke my wife up in St. Louis this morning at 2:30 a.m. to get into our car in drive for ten and a half hours straight to get to Duluth and the State Auditor’s presentation. I unpacked the car and printed out a dozen pieces of paper related to the Red Plan the District’s finances and messages sent back and forth between the Auditor and Loren Martell who got the ball rolling. I hustled over to the Board room groggy from my long drive but twenty minutes before the presentation. I was handed the exhaustive 8 page report which concludes with a sentence that begins, “We were not engaged to, and did not perform an audit…”
No kidding. To every question Art Johnston and I asked the three, count em three, auditors did their impression of the great Hogan’s Heroe character Sergeant Schultz,”I know nothing.”
The only information they reviewed came from the folks we wanted audited. They declined to offer any opinions even when asked such safe questions as would the State Auditor frown on double dipping by vendors bilking local government? I asked that question although not perhaps as succinctly.
In my email to her staff member Mark Kerr I mentioned that my grandfather had been a state auditor until Kansas abolished the office years after his retirement probably for being redundant. I think it might be time for Minnesota to consider doing the same thing. After what I heard tonight I am sure all of the embezzlers in Minnesota’s local governments can rest easy.
July 20th, 2014
$56 million is the latest figure for what Johnson Controls Inc. got from Duluth for the building of the Red Plan. And the U.S. suffered virtually no inflation in the Red Plan years!
State Auditor’s assistant Mark Kerr, who I hope will be in Duluth Tuesday, describes one $8.7 million payment to JCI that Art Johnston and I have been kicking about as legal. But as I’ve enjoyed pointing out many times throughout the Red Plan’s juggernaut its legal to hang an innocent man for murder in the U.S. just so long as he’s found guilty.
July 20th, 2014
My old buddy quite rightly poked a little hole in my literary interpretation. I observed that the “Zenith City” of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt described a much bigger metropolis than Duluth has ever been. Duluth is often said to have served as the inspiration for this turn of phrase in Lewis’s books.
Well, I can’t argue with Vic’s reply on this point as I often do when we debate national politics:
Oh, Harry. Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth? That’s like saying that Shakespeare’s plays aren’t about us, because they were engendered long before all of us were born. Babbitt and Main Street and Elmer Gantry are everywhere.
Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth. Its going on a million people ten times the size our our fair town. He’s a man too shallow to realize he’s not an honest fellow……a little too extreme…..but that seems to be the point for Sinclair Lewis. He was beating up middle class boosterism and self satisfaction.
July 19th, 2014
I’m not the only one bird dogging it. Take it away Loren.
July 19th, 2014
I read about 62 pages of Babbitt off and on to Claudia in our first leg of the St. Louis trip. There was a lot of description in the first couple chapters which was a bit off putting but did remind me of how the houses of people who were newly married in the 1920′s looked and smelt by the time I was a kid in the 1950′s. Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth. Its going on a million people ten times the size our our fair town. He’s a man too shallow to realize he’s not an honest fellow……a little too extreme…..but that seems to be the point for Sinclair Lewis. He was beating up middle class boosterism and self satisfaction.
We stopped by Claudia’s farm to see if the corn would be as high as an elephant’s eye come August. It looks unstoppable. Only tornados, hail, wind and other assorted weather disasters stand in the way. Good. We can keep those ethanol prices low.
I haven’t revisited the notes I wrote about yet. Not sure there’s that much rush and I haven’t quite figured out the best way to deal with them. I jotted them down many hours after my meeting and they are randomly recalled things I remember telling the troika. It too is six pages but not taken down on a legal pad. I jotted these down on a pocket sized notebook.
I won’t be shortchanging myself by leaving my son early to return home. Instead I’ll get up at 3AM on Tuesday and make the long trek home beginning in the early morning hours. Thirteen hours should give me an hour to spare unless the car breaks down……Cars don’t do that much these days. I hope Ottos don’t either.
Oh, last night in an Iowa City motel we watched “The Rake” mentioned in a post a few day’s back. Its on Netflix and its not the newer Fox version. It was the sixth of about sixteen total episodes. I think we hit the big plot point last night around which the remaining episodes will likely revolve. Our hero “Greene” is a cokehead Australian attorney who loves the fairer sex and has such bad judgement where they are concerned that most of his loves dump him for good reason. Still, they remain as fond of him as well as weary of his chaotic choices. He is the polar opposite of Babbitt. There is no feigned respectability, no smug superiority, only a virtuous self acknowledgement of his faults. He’s no hypocrite. He won’t lie. Last night he did and he’s not happy about it. I predict there will be hell to pay. OLD FOGEY VIEWING ALERT – Aussie television isn’t afraid of naked breasts.
Did I say before that his first client of the series ate a man?
July 18th, 2014
I just got my Board packet delivered by mail announcing various meetings. The State Auditor’s office will finally report out its analysis of Duluth’s practices at 4:30 next Tuesday at a special school board meeting in HOCH (2nd floor Old Central). The audit was required by Loren Martell’s petitioning two plus years ago. I guess I won’t have to beat up Becky Otto after all even if her ill timed presentation costs me a precious day with my son.
The car’s packed. Time to go.
July 18th, 2014
I’m heading out of Duluth as the best weather of the summer arrives to refresh us. I’ll be retrieving my air conditioner from my son in hellishly hot St. Louis to bring it back next week when our temps warm up. I’ll check the news from Duluth online while I’m away in case I find something in desperate need of linking to on my blog. I also found those notes of mine from my meeting with Superintendent Gronseth. That’s when I went in to warn him that he was about to step into deep doo doo by going after Jane Bushey. I didn’t tell him everything I knew when I arrived to find him surrounded by his right hand men who might tell different stories of my message to him.
I promised to send those notes and my fuller typed recollection of my monologue (I was about the only person to talk for the 35 minutes I was there) to Attorney Rice.
The weekend approaches and I’m in no hurry to start typing them up. I’ve already sent Mary nearly 3,000 words about a much abused minority school district employee. That’s still in rough draft form. I’ll be in the car for a couple days down and back and I’ll be reading the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt to Claudia on the drive. I think its a novel about an eager beaver businessman who scratches for money and status in Duluth or as Lewis and the CEO of our Chamber of Commerce are want to say the “Zenith City.” Oh yeah, in the latter’s case its the Emerald City.
July 18th, 2014
I saw an old familiar name in today’s Duluth News Tribune, Sarah Horner.
My old pals in Let Duluth Vote will recall that Sarah was the Trib’s education reporter that covered the Red Plan, Move Forward Duluth, the School Board and Johnson Controls. I see she still covers the same sort of stories now that she has relocated to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Sorry Sarah. Cheap joke.
July 17th, 2014
A: Professional courtesy.
Think attorneys representing school boards are all smart and public spirited?
Think Again! From the mighty Timberjay’s coverage of the ongoing saga of the Duluth School Board’s greatest rival for the title: “most incompetent Minnesota school board:
The St. Louis County School District’s pursuit of legal disputes on the advice of its attorney has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on education.
Attorney Steven Knutson claims taking issues to the courts has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims filed by contractors, but he doesn’t tell the full story. One contractor that the district has fought for years offered to settle for $86,000 and change over a year and a half ago. Since then, Knutson has racked up more than $116,000 in legal fees on the case and the district is currently on the hook for the contractor’s legal fees on top of that. And just this past week, Knutson filed a notice of intent to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The meter, in other words, is still running. While Knutson benefits financially from protracted litigation, the district would have been far ahead by negotiating settlements rather than waging questionable courtroom battles.
It gets much worse. In a second longer editorial there’s this:
While these three cases proved extraordinarily lucrative for the Knutson Flynn & Deans law firm, with total billings in excess of $395,000, they proved of questionable value for the school district. In total, between awards to contractors, attorney’s fees to Knutson, and attorney’s fees currently awarded to plaintiffs (which the district is appealing), the district has incurred total expenses and obligations of approximately $704,000 in just the past two years. The final tally is likely to be significantly higher.
Yet the school district’s total original financial liability in the three cases was no more than approximately $555,000, and that figure certainly could have been negotiated downwards significantly had the district and its attorney made the effort. Instead, the district, following Knutson’s advice, pursued a confrontational approach in every case, filing unsubstantiated counterclaims against contractors and openly ridiculing complainants in the campaign finance case. In no case, did the district or Knutson reach a settlement ahead of court action.
Maybe if the St. Louis County School Board looks for a new attorney Duluth’s Kevin Rupp could apply.
July 17th, 2014
I’m not yet prepared to publish the six pages I’ve written of the notes I took of our District’s black ex employee but turned over to Attorney Mary Rice. They are still in draft form and subject to further amendments……..I just realized I forgot to describe how she described being pressured (unsuccessfully) to forge public documents…..damn. More work.
Here’s the prologue with names blacked out much as all the email the District had pertaining to Jane Bushey blacked out (redacted) the names of the accusers and senders of said email. (Geez, its as though the District thought it was protecting the identity of spies from terrorists)
The experience of XXXX XXXXXX as an employee of the Duluth School District 2012-2013
This is a first draft of my recollections of an Interview with XXXX XXXXXX conducted at Grizzley’s Restaurant, in Superior Wisconsin on Monday, July 14, 2014. These notes are written to support Art Johnston as he faces charges of racism. They are based on six pages of notes taken by me, Harry Welty, and my subsequent fleshing out of those notes based on additional recollections of information provided by XXXX XXXXXX in my interview with her/him. These have been written with two views in mind.
First, I mentioned this interview and notes to Attorney Mary Rice the following day, Tuesday, July 15, during a two hour interview/deposition which was mandated by the Duluth School Board. The Rice Interview was authorized for an investigation of charges leveled against Board member Art Johnston. Ms. Rice requested my notes from the XXXXXX’s interview and I agreed to give them to her along with my extended typed recollections of the meeting. I had not intended the information to be considered complete after one meeting as my note taking is hasty and crude and was not tape recorded. I had intended to interview XXXX XXXXXX in a follow up interview to clear up any misconceptions or mistakes I might have made in typing up my original notes.
Second, from the outset of the charge of racism made against Art Johnston I intended to write an extensive rebuttal to said charge. I have been leaning toward a theory that, in fact, it has been the School Administration that has played fast and loose and carelessly [with] our minority population. Further, it is my opinion that this carelessness was accelerated with the inception of the Red Plan which divided Duluth geographically in such a way as to isolate, concentrate and disadvantage poor and minority children.
As mentioned at the beginning these notes are a rough draft. They contain additional questions for XXXX XXXXXX to clear up which can generally be read in parentheses (). I have sent this version, sans this prologue, to XXXX XXXXXX in hopes he/she will offer corrections and amendments. I am sending it to Attorney Rice in this early rough draft stage to expedite her investigation. It is not intended to be my final word or description of the interview with XXXX XXXXXX, his/her story, the larger story of race and the Duluth School District or the efforts of Art Johnston to mitigate the District’s imperfect record of dealing with its minorities.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
July 17th, 2014
I have spent a lot of time since my interview with Attorney Mary Rice typing up a rough draft of my own interview of a black ISD 709 employee who appears to have been badly treated. She also wanted my interview notes:
This is the email I sent her to accompany my notes and typed recollections of the meeting.
As per my promise these are pdfs of my six pages of notes from an interview with XXXX XXXXXX and my more extensive typed story based on these notes.
You will see that the typed notes begin with a preface explaining that the typoed notes are not to be considered the final story and my plan to check with XX. XXXXXX to make corrections and amendments. If and when I amend my story I will supply that final version to you should your investigation still be in progress.
To the extent that it is possible for a witness to find an interview with an attorney agreeable I have enjoyed our interaction. That is, of course, immaterial to the reason for the interview. I regard the investigation that we are engaged in as assinine. I will continue to report on this investigation in my own peculiar and unorthodox fashion by blog. I presume you will be appriaised of any comments I make about the investigatioin in www.lincolndemocrat.com which may bear on your further investigations.
I will be heading out on a trip to visit my son in St. Louis tomorrow but hope to locate my notes on the meeting I had with Supt. Gronseth, Bill Hanson and Tim Sworsky. I do not know if I will be able to produce a similar typed version of my fuller recollections of that meeting before I return to Duluth next Tuesday. Give me time and I will send them to you.
Wishing you success at uncovering the truth
Duluth School Board member
Son of an attorney
Admirer of many attorneys especially Abe Lincoln
Mary replied succinctly:
Thank you Harry
July 16th, 2014
I was wrung out after nearly two hours of being interviewed by Attorney Mary Rice. Art Johnston spent five hours with her today. That’s about a grand or two in legal costs.
I told Art that she seemed OK to me and that I detected no bias (although, of course, I can’t shuck off the suspicions I’ve outlined in earlier posts about Attorney Rupp’s priority in this investigation). Art came away feeling much the same as me. Mary Rice, however much her work costs the District, seems to be even handed. Of course, With the lame case brought against Art Johnston its hard to see any reason for her to lean hard against Art’s side. There is no other side. Its only smoke and mirrors.
And boy oh boy, did Art ever tell me a funny story about how one of the Board members tried to have him arrested a couple years ago. Three cops were called to Old Central to arrest a “trespasser.” The trespasser was Art and when he told the police he was a school board member they seemed pretty befuddled. Apparently she still hasn’t given up on the idea of getting Art sent to jail.
July 16th, 2014
You gave me your business card as I left Old Central yesterday and urged me to call you if I had anything else to add to my two hours of rambling. I appreciate your patience with me. As I write this you are in the midst of your interview with Art and I’m sure you will find that illuminating as well. Read the rest of this entry »
July 15th, 2014
I ended by telling Mary that I thought the big unspoken issue in this investigation is the provocation of Art Johnston. I spell it out in my fundraising letter.
She was very interested in the notes I told her I took (but did not type out) after meeting with Bill Gronseth and his subordinates when I advised him that he was getting terrible political and financial advice. I told her I would type them up and give them to her. She seemed to wince a bit. I think she didn’t want me to type them up. Ditto notes I took from an employee who was treated so badly she stands as a beacon of racial discrimination and mistreatment by the Duluth Schools.
Its a story every bit as sorry as the one about Jane Bushey’s persecutor.
I expect Kevin Rupp to be sharing all these interviews with Supt. Gronseth immediately to warn him how to defend the District. I hope I’m wrong.
July 15th, 2014
As Mary Rice handed me my legal disclaimer to sign indicating that I understood all this secrecy rigamarole I handed her my four page fundraising letter telling her that it was a good summation of my thoughts. She skimmed it.
She had her laptop out and typed as she asked questions and while her recorded got my spoken answers. My mind doesn’t much feel like trying to recall all the lines of questions because I drank too much coffee yesterday afternoon and got barely any sleep last night. I’ve got a school board meeting in an hour and it was all I could do to read the old minutes.
I told her I was eager to read what she had to say when her report came out since we were voting tonight to treat Art as a politician with all the warts visible rather than an employee vulnerable to lots of accusations but with no data to support it……the manure on the barn wall to discredit him publically.
Frankly, I have no confidence that any of this testimony will ever make it public. Mary offered no such assurances. As I told her I’m offended that the glory of American law…the accused’s ability getting to face his accuser doesn’t apply in these data privacy cases. Its a situation that favors the manure spreaders.
July 15th, 2014
Attorney Mary Rice interviewed me for nearly two hours this afternoon. She was cordial and as we went into the office behind the School Board dias for our session I sang a few bars of the Association’s “Along Came Mary.” She told me it came out in 1967 which I don’t doubt because it was her name. I set out three old tape cassettes and started them telling Mary I had no idea how to use them so I hoped one of them would record our conversation. She put her singleton down and we commenced.
I was handed a form letter to sign saying I understood that this was part of an investigation. It asked me to keep everything discussed confidential and I explained that since it only asked rather than demanded I planned to make anything we discussed public. She said that was up to me.
She explained that she was strictly neutral. I’d like to think so but Mary was clearly not my attorney however neutral she acted in our interview. Art Johnston’s attorney says her firm helps our attorney, Kevin Rupp, to investigate errant school board members. We’re paying them but they work at Kevin Rupp’s discretion. I presume their loyalty is to Kevin.
How neutral is Kevin? Like the Superintendent I think he is loyal to whoever constitutes the majority on the Board. That’s who will extend his contract into the future. That may not be Art and me who in any case constitute a painfully small minority.
Kevin has his own material interest in this investigation. He is paid handsomely by our District to advise us and negotiate our contracts. He is thick as thieves with the Superintendent and already once condescended to deprecate my knowledge of the law at a school board meeting. He’s managed to negotiate our teacher’s salary to the fifteenth highest in the State previously. I still don’t know how it will rank after his most recent efforts where he did not advise the Superintendent to let me participate despite our District policy listing me as a member of the negotiating committee.
Kevin may have as much reason as the Superintendent to keep me the smallest minority possible long into the future. Mary was a very nice thorough person but excuse me for some unease with her assurance of neutrality.
Sorry Mary. That’s how I look at it. You did tell me you are aware of my blog and I think suggested that you had taken a peek at it. I’m not sure how you phrased that but I’m not sure I’ve got the endurance to live through those two hours of interview again to catch your exact acknowledgment of that fact.
July 15th, 2014
I explained earlier that I’d been told the email I am still unable to retrieve myself warned me not to send my fundraising letter out. My buddy sent me an email surprised to hear that our employee, The Superintendent, was telling his bosses, the School Board, what they could and could not do. Well, someone kindly sent me the email and it turns out I was not told to withhold my letter after all. I was only advised to be careful not to violate data privacy laws.
Dear Member Welty,
I have received your draft letter. Should you decide to disseminate this letter, I recommend that it be revised taking data privacy laws and inaccuracies into consideration. This recommendation should not be considered as an endorsement of your letter.
William Gronseth Superintendent of Schools
Here’s what Board member Art Johnston wrote back to the Superintendent:
The audacity of Supt. Gronseth to talk about “accuracy” and “data privacy” is unbelievable.
Is it really necessary to remind him that he has alleged that I assaulted him!! Accuracy?
Or data privacy after Supt. Gronseth has done a reputation lynching on me?
I call on him to follow his own advice and drop his accusation against me. And he should reread the emails that his staff (and maybe he) had been sending about my spouse Jane Bushey.
So Supt. Gronseth now wants us to be quiet after what he has done? And then he hides behind silence and his lawyer?
Art is clearly wrong. The lawyer is the School Board’s not the Superintendent’s.
July 14th, 2014
Sorry (not really) to be oblique.
Its a question I’ve been asking myself for some time now although at first I wasn’t thinking so much of an acorn.
I got a call today during an interesting interview here in the Twin Ports. It was from the Superintendent’s office checking to see whether I had accessed my new email account recently. Its been two weeks. Its nice to know the administration is checking my email and grew alarmed at the prospect of my not reading the email I was warned was warning me. Still haven’t read it.
As it happens I figured out how to open it up minutes before I had to race to that meeting. I left the email site open without looking at any of my new emails. Trouble is that when I returned home it had frozen up and I had to shut the whole computer down without reading any of the emails I’d received. I tried it again later tonight but the same thing happened. My cat threw up and I had to clean up then forgot about the email site being opened. Its 10:30 and I still haven’t read the darned warning. Times a wasting. I have to meet our attorney for my inquisition tomorrow. I’d carelessly put the meeting down for Wednesday on my calendar. Did I mention the wrong date in one of my blog posts? No worries. That got corrected in the phone call too.
Jeez, with folks reading my every rant I can’t get away with anything.
I got a couple fun emails today. First, from a Duluth graduate who reminded me that I read to his elementary class years ago wearing gorilla slippers. Second, from someone close to one of the Board members who is on the other side to let me know they were glad I was helping Art Johnston. Double cool.
I’m sure my lawyer will question the bejesus out of me tomorrow. I must make sure to make it clear that poor old Art has been provoked to within an inch of his life. Before the summer is out I’ll have to write about this…….Oh, that’s what my offending letter does. I can’t wait to see if it raises much for Art’s cause.
July 14th, 2014
And its just the misfortune of those I disagree with that I am so eager to share my thoughts to escape oblivion. By the time I got back home from my Mother’s I was thinking about the unpleasant detour the School Board is making me take. Its all very, as my Grandmother would say, provoking.
I’ve not been able to get into my School Board email for a couple weeks now because the District has been changing the system. I gave Art Johnston a call when I got back and the first thing he asked me was if I’d seen my recent email. Evidently the Superintendent sent me a caution against saying things that were part of the District’s secretive deliberations. Boy was that a message doomed to be lost on me. I hate our Star Chamber process.
I told Art I hadn’t but you, dear readers, can be reasonably sure I’ll put the email up on my blog when I get to it.
Our conversation moved on to two people our District has punished in the Star Chamber system with its legal ability to say, As Sergeant Shultz used to say on Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing.” Make that “I can say nothing.”
Maybe I can’t either but that’s not likely to stop me.
There was a case I read only glancingly a while back involving a Boys Basketball coach who got canned. His seemed like a pretty sympathetic case to me. He was sticking up for his kids and paid the price of being removed from the team because of it.
How different my memory of another coach in a different sport who treated too many of his kids like dirt but was reinstated because his State Championships gave the district a lot of good ink. This is a district that seems a little too satisfied with the superficial.
There is one person I’d like to get the low down on this coach from but he didn’t respond to my suggestion that we meet after he canceled our last get together. That may be what I can expect to happen more often over the next 16 months.
Thank goodness I’ve become so mellow.