No Pizza for me today, thanks

November 27th, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving.

As promised this is the rough clay model I’d hoped to use to put a sculpture on my lawn – Pilgrim and feast. The snow I was counting on to finish this never materialized and you can see the forlorn beginnings of the sculpture as I can see them from my office window:


The turkey only needed a little padding and some tail feathers. The Pilgrim needed a lot more work to begin to capture Norman Rockwell’s masterpiece. Mine would have looked hungrier.

We brought our grandsons home last night as per our usual Wednesday arrangement and they will be with us until company arrives for a turkey feast this afternoon. The boys wanted to watch the movie “Free bird” this morning but I objected. Its about brave turkeys who go back in time to the Bay Colony to stop the turkey devouring tradition started in Massachusetts in the 1620′s. The movie’s birds succeed and get the and Pilgrims to eat pizza instead. I was alarmed that the boys would demand we go vegan on them today but my older grandson reassured me by demanding to eat our bird’s heart after Claudia cooked the giblets.

I did wake up at 1 AM and had to crawl out of bed to type up a round of questions I’ll have for Attorney Mary Rice. That took a couple hours and crawling back into bed didn’t lead to sleep. At five my younger grandson crawled into our bed and snuggled next to me. It knocked me out of my snarling mood and replaced it with a smile.

It should last through the day.

Conditional Yippee – Take 2

November 26th, 2014

The banner headline in this morning’s Trib was damn good news. It means, if a sale results, that we won’t have to spend a quarter million dollars a year to maintain an empty building. Times three years that’s a lot of moola or has it been four years……who keeps track?

Now let me put this into perspective: Ten million dollars isn’t much for a district with nearly a $140 million dollar annual budget. Over the twenty year life of the typical school building bond its a mere half million dollars. It will probably be gobbled up quickly and if the School Board makes the mistake of putting it to use to cover annual expenses it means that once spent there will be a new hole in the budget.

Still, we won’t be spending a quarter million dollars (three and half teachers) a year on the empty building’s upkeep.

I have one huge concern about this piece of good news. I’m afraid the school board majority that has heedlessly pursued an aggressive legal challenge to Art Johnston will regard this as a vindication and embolden them to rush headlong into ten months of crisis by removing Art from the Board. Art’s been fearful of removal but I’ve kept telling him that the Board majority is just not that stupid. Now even I have my doubts. They may get cocky. It happens.

I’ve sent Chair Miernicki an email suggesting that it would be important for the two of us to meet together over coffee. I did the same about the time of the now infamous East Graduation before all hell broke loose. Mike chose to go to a golf game instead and ignored my request to reschedule a meeting later. Once the six allegations were thrown into our laps I gave up trying to meet with Mike. In a meeting with the Superintendent a couple weeks ago I found Mike’s best friend and my fellow school board member Bill Westholm there to greet me. I took this as a signal that Bill was standing in for Mike and was frankly glad to have a candid three-way conversation with the Superintendent. Still, Mike is the Chair not Member Westholm.

After last night’s meeting I asked Mike in person and not by email if he was up for coffee. He wasn’t sure he was at least not until Mary Rice makes her appearance. He told me my quoting him in my blog was a problem. I promised to keep our conversation off the blog. He wanted time to think about that. I did not consider that an encouraging response. I’m not sure I blame him. He seems to be looking to December with the eyes of a marathoner looking at the finish line as his chairmanship nears the end of the year and his possible retirement from the leadership position it entails.

There was more that I wanted to write about but I smell the pumpkin bread baking. The three inches of snow that was predicted seems to have fallen through. If I can’t make my Turkey day snow sculpture maybe I’ll take a picture of the crude modeling clay model I threw together and post that tomorrow. How disappointing.

Ah, but the fragrance of the pumpkin bread brings me relief from such petty gripes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Take a deep breath, Harry

November 26th, 2014

I’ve made the cranberry sauce for tomorrow, whew! At least something’s been done. Yesterday afternoon I was so overcome by adrenaline after seeing that nonsense on KBJR that I was too worked up to begin the slog reading through the Rice Report a second time. That’s really one of the most important things I have to do before Dec 2nd rolls around and losing one of my limited afternoons between now and then to shoddy reporting has done little for my peace of mind. The failure to get all the things done between now and then are the difference between a graceful landing of a goat on a mountainous ledge or a 5,000 foot plunge. The Goat in this case is the Duluth School Board. The 5,000 plunge is ten months of hell that could put the last six months to shame. This my anxiety.

I haven’t entered a thorough Harry’s Diary entry for a while so I’ll do that as my “deep breath.” I’ve got an hour and a half to attend to it then I’ll be picking up my grandsons from their schools for the night. Unless I use the hours after the ten O’clock news for blogging my poor readers will just have to wait for me to get around to chronicling all the silliness I alluded to in the last frenzied post.

But first me.

After putting Tuesday’s lone post on the hounds of hell to bed I went to our school board meeting at 4:30 that was closed due to the content – ongoing contract negotiations and potential property sales. We had a good and illuminating discussion behind the scenes which demonstrated that the seven of us (six – Bill Westholm couldn’t make it) can be rational when not clouded by distemper.

I mentioned that I had to head off right after we reconvened to an ecumenical Thanksgiving worship service because my church choir was one of about eight that would be singing. Judy Seliga-Punyko piped up to say that she was going to and asked which of the churches we were meeting at. Half an hour later we both got up to rehearse a Pete Seager song To My Old Brown Earth I’d never heard it before our own choir rehearsed it last Wednesday. I heard one fellow say he hated the Seager solo but the massed choirs that packed Pilgrim Congregational’s nave to the gills were wonderful. Ours was much more sonorous than this version I found on youtube.

I hadn’t seen Claudia all day because she was down in the Cities at the United Theological Seminary. She had mentioned that if she got back in time she might stop by to listen but I didn’t see her in the pews. But she was there. I found her as I filed out after the service and she said the music had been great including our rather reduced Glen Avon Prez choir which led off the singing. She was however hungry by eight, as was I, so we hurried up to Tavern on the Hill to answer that complaint.

When we got home there was a car in our driveway and I had to maneuver carefully to get past it and park in our garage. A couple of LSC fellows had been driving it till it pooped out by our alley as it chugged up 21st Ave. I was in a pretty God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman mood so I offered to give them a jump with my other car. (The one I parked was a hybrid and they are not meant for jumping) Nada. Their car had nothing so I invited them in to let my big Chevy pour electrons into their battery. I fixed them hot chocolate to bide our time before going out to see if their battery had enough oomph. A hours putzing around proved that the battery was not the problem and they called Triple A. Their ill luck held and the tow truck discovered it was broken when it tried to pick up their car. They had to wait another half hour before a replacement tow truck showed up.

That all led me to today to get some work done but that didn’t work out so well. We had turkey day shopping to do and some other miscellany to attend to. As I said, I got the cranberry sauce made and Claudia is working on the pumpkin bread now. In forty minutes we pick up the grand kids.

One more day to attend to Art’s persecution has just about gone down the drain. Oh well, Now its on to do that last post justice.

Conditional Yippee

November 26th, 2014

The last post was so apt it will cause new challenges. Now I have to explain why the charges against Art are all smoke and mirrors since no one in the news media seems to have tried to figure out the grounds upon which a real school board member can be removed from office by his/her colleagues. Further, I’ve poked a finger in the eye of one of the board members I have the most hope for.

I’m already struggling to find time to reread the whole of both the full Mary Rice report and the redacted report offered the press.

Ah shucks……I promised Claudia I’d go do some Thanksgiving shopping with her. I just lost the last sentence to a malfunction after promisignt I’d leave the computer in five minutes… I’ve got a snow sculpture to finish if I can find snow. and IO
‘ve to…….

To heck with writing about the potential Cent5ral sale here. I’ll clean up this mess if I can find time during bouts of making cran berry jelly…………Good bye. But I’ll be back Bwahahahahaha!

Cheerleaders for a lynching

November 25th, 2014

I really like KBJR’s weather people. We attend the same church and they are swell folks. I write this as a disclaimer for what follows. I’ve had some challenges dealing with KBJR reporters this last year. They are back with a vengeance but this time they are going after my only ally on the school board.

Last fall when I was running for the School Board and just a few weeks before the election KBJR set two reporters on me like Mr. Burns releasing his hounds of hell. The reporters were about to report that I lied about being a teacher and had a child molester for a campaign manager. They were wrong but this led me to pay about $500 bucks to discuss these allegations in an ad in the Duluth Reader: You can read the ad in full in this post from Oct. 27, 2013. My ad begins:

A TV reporter just called to tell me that an “anonymous source” had told her that I had falsely claimed to be a “retired teacher.” I told her she was in error but she insisted twice that there was no record of me teaching in Proctor or the Duluth Schools. Then she insisted I had obviously violated my quaint campaign slogan, “Honesty is the best policy.”

It would be nice to think that before they attempted another character assassination; this time on board member, Art Johnston, they would stop to consider that the primary eye witness of Art’s “assault” (tapping the Superintendent on the shoulder) is dating one of KBJR’s newscasters.

I just called KJBR’s news department and had a pointed discussion with the reporter of this hideously unnuanced story which declares that investigator Mary Rice had found that Art had committed all six of the offenses leveled at him. Here’s the link to the story on their webpage.

I urged the reporter to talk to her News Director and either pull the story or follow it up with something a little more journalistic-ally sound.

I then told her I hoped they would send a camera to the December 2nd meeting in which Mary Rice will explain her report to the School Board.

A sermon on bullying

November 24th, 2014

This takes 63 minutes to watch in full. This is why all 50 states will likely soon accept gay marriage. Its the argument that evangelicals will succumb to and that will roll on through all other “conservative” Christian churches.

The attitude under girding this sermon could be applied to some of the Duluth School District’s dysfunction.

More on who this gentleman is here.

A discussion between legal types …

November 21st, 2014

…prompted by the DNT story on Attorney Rice’s Investigation of Art Johnston

I can’t complain about the Tribune’s description of the outhouse. Its all journalistically accurate. What does cause me some chagrin is that it fails to zoom out so that the reader can see that the outhouse has been placed in our living room. I’ll offer up my own measured response to this story but perhaps not until I’ve had a chance to read the omissions in the Tribune’s redacted report and compare it to my complete and unredacted copy. Until that time I’ll offer my readers a little email discussion I’ve been made privy to:

From “A”

On Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 10:37 AM, “A” wrote:
Harry:

From http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/content/johnston-probe-finds-intimidation-abuse:

An investigator has found that Duluth School Board member Art Johnston’s behavior the night of the East High School graduation in June was “intimidating, threatening and abusive” toward both Superintendent Bill Gronseth and board chairman Mike Miernicki.

The investigator’s report also concludes that several incidents relating to most of the allegations made against Johnston by three fellow board members earlier this year reveal that Johnston has shown a personal conflict of interest in his role as a board member.

But shouldn’t the investigator simply have provided evidence to the Board, of what was done, and left to the Board, conclusions about the evidence?

“A”

From “B” to “A”

Cc: Harry Welty;
Subject: Re: Johnston probe finds intimidation, abuse | Duluth News Tribune

Touche, “A”. The conclusion appears to be less than objective. I guess the board bought the answer they wanted.

“B”

From “A” to “B”

To: B
Cc: Harry Welty;
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2014 1:37 PM
Subject: Re: Johnston probe finds intimidation, abuse | Duluth News Tribune

“B”:

I was initially upset by what I quoted from the article. I wondered whether the investigator sensed that most of the Board wanted to be stoked by the opinion that the investigator reportedly provided; and I wondered whether most of the Board wanted such an opinion, for the purpose of covering its butt. However, instead of unloading on the Board; and instead of unduly trying to influence anyone to my thinking; I decided to circulate what I did.

Maybe I am not sufficiently informed about all of this, but for me, the process seems to smell.

I do not mean to suggest that I think that Johnston’s behavior has always been angelic, but neither would I suggest that the behavior of all of the other Board members has always been angelic.

“A”

From “C” to “A”

“A”,
This investigation seems to have been contracted “MAI” , MADE AS INDICATED ! ! ! —Why attorney’s from down south ? ? ? Did they have to go that far to find some firm that would take the case ? ? ? Mern is about 6′ 2′ or 3″ and goes about 230 as I recall–I have a hard time believing that he would be intimidated by a guy with the stature of Johnston.

You are right “A”, this doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test. Besides, if there was alleged “assault or battery” shouldn’t the local law enforcement investigated it. $210.00 / hr. does not sound like much until you see the total billable hrs. We already pay for the cops.

“C”

Transfers

November 20th, 2014

First up – on my recent silence.

I’ve got a lot on my mind and this is also one of those periods where I need to compose my thoughts rather than shoot off my fingers. Readers will note that I’ve recently both scolded the School Board (including me I think) as well as offering some hope for the future of intra-Board relations. We’ve endured a nasty six months. Infighting does little for the Board and means that the Board isn’t doing our schools any favors by being a tail wagging the dog.

I missed this story in the DNT yesterday but one of my choir mates mentioned it to me last night at practice. It appears not to have made the newsprint edition but only the online Trib. Its a good description of the transfer policy changes we seem on the verge of approving at our December meeting. They will, even if passed, have very little effect on student numbers in our schools.

The conclusion of the story does hint at the bad blood circulating in the Board room. For now I’ll withhold comment for the same reasons I described in the second paragraph.

11-14-14 ALL CAPS, PART 5 – SOME CLOSURE BEFORE 11-15-14 ARRIVES

November 14th, 2014

I haven’t counted the words in today’s series of All CAPS posts. Its not nearly the 10,000 words I’d imagined a day ago but its been enough to give me the sense that I’m showing the public the sausage making that has gone into the Duluth School Board’s politics. I wouldn’t buy it but that’s sort of the point with sausage. You never eat it raw. The optimist in me believes that something good will come from our School Board if only it cooks enough. I’ve said before that I’ve never met a school board member who didn’t want things to be better for children and schools. I believe that’s true of the members of the Duluth School Board as well.

I had at least one more post planned as this day went on. That had to do with the meeting I had with the Superintendent on Wednesday morning. I thought it would be A one on one meeting, our first in eight months, but that was not to be. The Chairman’s best friend Bill Westholm was present when I arrived. I was not disappointed. It was a good addition to our meeting. I’d originally thought that Mike himself ought to be present but his proxy was a good addition. I think Westholm is looking out for his friend Miernicki’s situation much as Mike has taken a hand in looking out for Westholm who has soldiered on bravely and good-naturedly with the MS that keeps encroaching on him. I was candid. I took in some of what I was told with considerable skepticism meaning I’m not sure my level of candor was reciprocated. Still, I’ve decided that for now I’ve laid out all the sausage making that the public needs to see. There may be a point of diminishing returns at which point my plan to to restore this Board to good function will succumb to resentment.

There was one thing I will mention for now that was said in that meeting. It was suggested that Chair Miernicki and Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp were given a list of organizations that could guide the board in a session to get past our ill will. It was further suggested that because the Board needs to look to its own devices that the Administration did not more to push a session on getting along better. However the ball dropped I don’t think its too late to attempt some sort of get together where we don’t talk policy we talk trust which would allow us to meet without violating the Open Meeting law.

I campaigned on the promise of “honesty” so I will be candid with my fellow board members if some sort of conclave is organized. In the absence of such meetings thus far I have taken it upon myself over the past seven or eight months to share my thoughts more widely with the public in this blog. Its extraordinarily time consuming to meeting with six other Board members at their convenience one at a time when you have hours worth of conversation that needs to take place. Its even slower when folks you try to meet with play hard to get.

I know that my candor must make a lot of folks uneasy. I’m sixty three and have a lot less time than I had when I was 45 and got elected to the School Board for the first time. Our challenges are also greater than they were eighteen years ago. I’m patiently impatient for our board to begin acting like grown ups. If I have to wait until a new majority takes over so be it but it will mean wheel spinning for another year and a half. I don’t like that prospect.

I took a look at my blog post in the Reader Weekly today. I’d sent it in with some mistakes in it but they seem to have been edited out by the Publisher’s staff. I hadn’t heard back from the Reader about whether they would put it in or not so I was pleasantly surprised to see it today. Even better it made sense to me. I read it three times over in print and every time I had the satisfaction of seeing that I had done a good job relaying my thoughts about Attorney Mary Rice’s report and doing so with some panache and economy.

Art Johnston thinks this school board is about to remove him from office. I keep telling Art that this Board is not that stupid. I’ve also told Art that he’s not a very good reader of people. I hope I’m right. If I am right that will be part one on this Board’s recovery of its good name.

Part two will be some attempt to find a facilitator who can get us all together and talking to each other rather than slinking around with knives hiding behind our backs. The Civility Project has been desperately trying to get someone to OK such a get together. Let’s hope part two comes to pass.

As promised, or threatened, today’s ALL CAPS posts require too much time for proof reading and editing for my taste. They will only have about three thousand readers online over the next thirty days. In contrast my blog post reprinted as the Stinking Fish in the Reader Weekly could be read by as many as 30,000 readers. I’m glad that the fish got a good proof reading.

Armistice Day

November 14th, 2014

No caps here. I need a short break from ISD 709 before I return to the CAPS. This one will be more like Taps.

Last week I wanted to remark upon the remarkable display that the British had set up at the Tower of London to commemorate the 800,000 fallen soldiers from World War I. There are cenotaphs (memorials to the war dead) in almost every British, Scottish, Canadian and Australian town of any size such were the losses from the “Great War.” The US with a larger population got off a lot easier having entered the war three years after its commencement.

Red ceramic poppies were cast for every lost Brit in that war and can be seen spilling over the walls of the Tower of London and into the dry moat surrounding it most pounded into the ground. Its a striking sight.

I’ve made much of my Grandfather George S. Robb as any search in the blog for a reference to his name will make clear. The Great War made him in a great many ways. His alma mater Park College, now University has made much of him as well and I’ve blogged about that too. On Veteran’s Day I put up our flag to greet the traffic. The following day I got a long tube parcel in the mail. It was from Park College which was letting my grandfather’s descendents know that they had set up an endowment to honor the Great War at America’s National Memorial to the Great War in neighboring Kansas City

When Park College began rescuing my Grandfather’s history from the attic a few years ago I took a wonderful trip to Park to be a part of their ceremonies. As part of my jaunt we got a guided tour of the World War One Memorial which is a gem of a museum under the great Cenotaph.

Like the British memorial below a drawbridge into the KC memorial there was a field of poppies representing those that bloomed across all the battlefields in the years after the Armistice brought the fighting to an end. Artificial lapel poppies have been sold every year by a diminishing cadre of veterans and their supporters who use them to raise money for veterans.

My Mother insisted that my Grandfather’s name be handed on to me and I did the same for my son although his is a first name whereas my Robb landed in the middle of my name. Now I’ve got a nice scroll to frame indicating that our esteemed predecessor has been suitably acknowledged by the Great American Museum to the War he fought in.

11-14-14 ALL CAPS, PART 4 – 5TH GRADE SNOWBALL FIGHT

November 14th, 2014

Readers of this blog may recall that I was planning on attending two school board meetings on Monday which were eventually canceled due to the weather. When the Superintendent called (while I was out shoveling sand) to ask me what I thought about postponing them I told him to tell Chair Miernicki to please not hold them on the same day after the Education Committee. I anticipated very long meetings for all three committees which would be unnecessarily exhausting. I’d not counted on Veteran’s Day (The holiday of which constitutes another possible post) to be an impediment but that Tuesday’s Education Committee had been rescheduled for Wednesday in deference to Veterans. The Superintendent even suggested that to accommodate my wishes next week’s school board meeting could be held the week following. I was dismayed to learn that Chair Miernicki chose to cram all three meetings together on Wednesday my church choir Night and the night I get to be with my grandsons.

I had a few other things going on Wednesday. I had a meeting planned with the Superintendent that I had hoped would follow our board meetings and I had to open our house for someone to measure our attic windows for replacement. If I don’t get sued and we don’t take too big a tax hit I plan on turning it into an office next year. But this post is about the trifecta that night so let me proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

11-14-14 ALL CAPS, PART 3 – MY FUNNY METAPHORS

November 14th, 2014

One of the things Claudia the peace maker reminded me of was that our infighting on the School Board detracted from our mission to educate children. I could not deny this. We are a bunch of asses. And yet, as I told Art Johnston a couple days ago I’ve never met anyone on a school board who didn’t want the best for children in the schools no matter how grievously Mark Twain bad mouthed the collective whole of a school board. And yet, I also told Art that our school board has become much less than the sum of its parts.

By the way, that last line is a play on words. One idea in the world of psychology is Gestalt theory. It holds that some things are greater than the sum of its parts. Taken more broadly, one example might be an army. Its parts are frail individual soldiers, Taken together they are mightier than the worth of all those frail individual members added up.

As one fellow from the Bible made his points with parables and my hero made his points with humorous stories much to the annoyance of his Secretary of War who couldn’t abide listening to them I make mine with metaphors. They pop in my head during conversations and I often use them to break up the especially intense ones.

I met with the Superintendent Wednesday ( a post to follow) and he told me that while he often found my metaphors hard to decifer he also found them amusing. During that conversation he told me how powerless he was to control the School Board and I replied that he must feel like a tin can tied to the bumper of a car that said “just married” on it. Yes, he told me he felt just that way.

In like vein I was talking to Art Johnston this week and told him we were just like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the movie when they were trying to escape from a posse. They were poised on a cliff with nowhere to run when Butch suggests they jump to safety in the river below them:

Butch Cassidy: Alright. I’ll jump first.
Sundance Kid: No.
Butch Cassidy: Then you jump first.
Sundance Kid: No, I said.
Butch Cassidy: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance Kid: I can’t swim.
Butch Cassidy: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.
Sundance Kid: Oh, shit…

I think my recent description of the reporting of the Superintendent’s assault as being like the story of Chicken Little is particularly apropos. Yesterday before the 10,000 words evaporated I had several more examples to mention.

For my next post I’ll jump from metaphor to story telling mode to describe why I think our school board tiff might finally be buried after a long half year.

11-14-14 ALL CAPS, PART 2 – “YES CLAUDIA, I MAY HAVE PUT OUR RETIREMENT AT RISK”

November 14th, 2014

Not long ago a fan came up to Claudia and I and gushed that he/she was glad that I “named names” in my blog. Claudia’s eyes narrowed and at breakfast yesterday after dropping our grandsons off at their schools we had a heart to heart.

As I’ve said before Claudia doesn’t read this blog. She hates listening to my phone conversations when I talk “politics.” For a political junky like me this is awkward. As I’ve also confessed here in the blog she used to forbid my mentioning anything about her work before she retired. I often failed to heed this demand. It may be fair to say that for her the old saying, “ignorance is bliss” has some validity. And yet all through my fight on the Red Plan I took issue with a great many folks even baldly accusing some of lying. I have never taken back those accusations. In one case the person so accused was a public figure and thus vulnerable to my attacks as the courts have given the public a great immunity from slandering “public” officials. The Accused’s policy was standard issue. He ignored me rather than react and thereby attracting more attention for my blog.

I’ve always followed a different course. When criticized uncritically I always respond rather than allow a faulty accusation to hang in the air unchallenged. Some examples: criticisms by teacher’s union officials about my thinking on the eve of a near teachers’s strike, off base letters to the editor from people passing on criticism of me handed them by my school board “colleagues,” accusations leveled at me to blacken my reputation because of my opposition to letting the Red Plan go forward without a public referendum.

The only people I’m inclined to keep anonymous are those at risk of being penalized for passing on embarrassing information and sometimes, my allies who could have their sources of information dry up if I were to divulge who told me something that could be traced back to some leaky source. And yet there is always the possibility that some particularly litigious person could take me to court for defamation. I can understand that motivation since I go to considerable lengths to protect my own reputation.

Slander suits are rare and hard to win but one could easily swallow up a retirement account. Even winning a case could prove costly. During the height of the Red Plan fight I had a draining family dispute running that drained $50,000 from my Mother’s portfolio to pay for lawyers. At the same time I was spending what ended up being close to $20,000 out of pocket for nickle and dime expenses to keep the “Let Duluth Vote” organization’s fight going and then I put another $20,000 at risk as my part to cover a $100,000 bond to keep our case alive in court. ISD 709 and JCI wanted our feisty little group to be held responsible for what they claimed, with some justification, might cost millions in construction delays.

Being the nail that stands up entails some risk and as Mao and other’s have pointed out is a target for being pounded down. I might be happy to tempt fate but Claudia, a peace loving sort, never signed on to be my Sancho Panza. So we had a long talk about my blog, what I’ve written and how much of a liability I’ve taken on with the things I’ve said. I had to condense into a breakfast conversation what I’ve written since the School Board entered into its war on Art Johnston last June.

The one figure most likely to take me to court has been written about obliquely. I’ve called this person a liar too most recently in one of my posts which has just been published by the Reader Weekly. The fact that I have not mentioned the name of this person is no defense for defamation. I might as well have said that the owner of the house at 212 Main Street was a thief. It would take little detective work to figure out whose actions I’ve been describing. That is my naming names. I’ve been more forthcoming in talking to the attorney investigating Art Johnston and my school board colleagues and the current Superintendent. Its quite likely that the beans I’ve spilled to them are protected in such a fashion that even they should not have been told. I’ve simply decided that when so much of a story hangs on the accusations of a liar that I’m inclined to tear at my legal constraints and the the truth out.

“Is it worth our retirement?” When Claudia posed that question to me I had to pause and think for a very long time before replying. I never answered the question. Instead I told Claudia a brief history of the blog’s contents from June when the accusations were hurled against Art. I described my early oblique references to the liar. Claudia, an old hand at personnel work, wanted to know if the things I was writing about were “protected” information. I had to acknowledge that they were which, of course, leaves us vulnerable. “Us” because while its me shooting off my mouth (or fingers) it was Claudia that earned most of our income and we became an “us” forty years ago in the old “for better or worse” mold.

All I wanted to do after breakfast was go to my computer and blog 10,000 words. Then I got tangled up in earnest, mind draining phone calls.

11-14-14 ALL CAPS, PART 1- 10,000 WORDS PFTTTTTT!

November 14th, 2014

As per usual when there is a lot on my mind and my thoughts spill out into the blog today’s cogitations will spill out in parts. Today’s novelty will be All CAP Titles.

This spill should have commenced yesterday but was nipped in the bud when all my pent up energy was consumed in what seemed like two hours of phone conversation. At least, unlike Monday, they did not arrive while I was attempting to shovel two yards of sand into my threatened sink hole during a car spinning snow storm. Today’s output could reach half that with some of that energy spent. This is a reminder to my readers that proof reading will suffer with so much verbiage to corral.

Today’s output though muted will be fairly extensive as I had to work not to think about all the things I wanted to write as I went about my day. My breakfast with Claudia yesterday ensured that I would write. Then I got the call. Then I shoveled my sidewalk mulling over the two hours of conversation. Then I took a short nap to clear my mind. Then I asked Claudia if she was ready to put away her never ending studying of theology to let me read to her. Then I spent an hour and a half reading the novel Orphan Train. Thanks to our Kindle’s monitoring I know I’ve completed 68% of the story. Then we went out for a glass of wine and appetizers at Tavern on the Hill in the quiet of the mid noon and after that proceeded to a Marcus Theater to watch Bill Murry’s latest star turn as a crotchety old St. Vincent. Then it was home to a Nova program on the 8000 Chin Warriors found in China about the time Nixon was making nice to China. Then I took the 10,000 words to bed. Let’s see how many make it to the blog today.

Heckuva day

November 11th, 2014

On Friday, I was moved to write a post about some of that day’s events. When Saturday came I was flooded with thoughts that crowded out that post and came up with the three There is not there posts which allowed me to share a mild version of my contempt for the report outlining Art Johnston’s failings. I thought it important enough I even proof read them.

On Saturday I listened to NPR and realized that it was the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. There was a particulary touching Google Doodle that moved to write a reminiscence about my Dad, the optimist who made me believe that even after 75 years of Soviet Communism that system was destined for failure. Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall. My Dad died two years before its fall. But after posting on the Rice Report I decided to wait to write that reminiscence until I had the energy to do it justice.

On Sunday it was family time and Claudia was going to head down for one of her two-day Seminary marathons. But a winter storm was coming and she wanted to get to the Twin Cities early to avoid treacherous driving so I did a little solo grandfather duty with the grandsons. As for Monday the weather Claudia had fretted about hit Duluth while I was caught up in a flurry of phone calls and an absence of transportation and well, I’ll start there and see if I can work back to some of those earlier posts I punted on as well another one touching on today’s celebration of the end of the Great War 11-11 since renamed Veteran’s Day in honor of all America’s wars. I put an American Flag up so that will have to do unless I find the energy for that post too.

So, I had to begin yesterday by driving my Toyota to a dealer to manage a recall fix up, put on snow tires and replace a newly burnt out front headlamp. The snow was falling as the courtesy car took me home where I was waiting for two yards of sand to begin filling the great cavity that our broken water line had washed out over the summer. The sandman called while I was enroute to ask if I still wanted the sand since up to twelve inches of snow was forecast. You bet I told them and headed into my house to prepare for the transfer of sand via wheelbarrow to the depths.

I looked out the window once before I got my boots on and saw three then six cars tangled together on icy 21st Avenue East. The sixteen cars that eventually piled up made it to the Trib’s front page with my house in the background. This is what the scene looked like from my house: Read the rest of this entry »

There is no there, part 3

November 8th, 2014

Well, well. After posting Part 1 and especially Part 2 it will be much harder for me to bring peace to the School Board. Remember I only claim to be honest, not truthful. I wish Mark Twain was a better guide: Here are a couple of his suggestions:

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

“When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”

At the moment the Superintendent, and perhaps the majority of the School Board are mightily resisting the efforts of the Civility Project to help get us together in a kumbaya gathering. The excuse seems to be that it would be a mistake while Mary Rice’s investigation is in process. Well, we can’t hide behind that excuse any more.

I like to sing and Kumbaya is a hopeful song. I just won’t sing it while hiding my crossed fingers behind my back.

There is no there, part 2.

November 8th, 2014

So, I just read the Trib’s brief announcement that the report has been completed. Big whoop! Its still under wraps and for peace and comity’s sake it should remain buried like the stinking fish it is. For half a year this has stunk up the School Board and all that this 65 page document manages to demonstrate is that there is no there, there.

If is made public it will be redacted like hell. Our folks are redaction happy. Even Mary Rice told Art she was surprised how much of the secret emails she got from the district had been redacted. I’ve already been sent the warning that her report contains personnel issues which, if made public, could subject the District to up to a $15,000 penalty should the people exposed hire a lawyer for having their privacy invaded. Frankly, this protection is better suited to a cover-up than transparency. In this case its protecting folks who deserve little sympathy. Furthermore, a fifteen thousand dollar penalty is small potatoes compared to the cost of writing this cussed report. (please note the potato mention in the previous post)

I can offer some insights on the substance of the report with little fear that the redactors can accuse me of violating the law.

1. The report attempts to hide, without success, the bleeding obvious. The really big accusation of “assault” has always been overblown and unwarranted. You won’t find Mary Rice concluding this. She reads more like an accountant doing an audit. One person saw the Superintendent react as though jerking forward abruptly when he was touched on the shoulder from behind by an angry Art Johnston. The superintendent denies himself that he was about to fall over. Mary Rice , however, impressively suggests that if Art had touched some frailer person like an octogenarian on crutches, the force of his touch might have knocked the poor blighter over. Well, yes, and and its been suggested that the flapping of a butterflies wings can start a hurricane somewhere else on Earth. Sorry to be all H L Menken but that’s simply nonsense. Mary Rice makes much of the fear this “shove” induced in all the school board interviewees.

There is also the matter of a similar grabbing touch where the School Board Chair was concerned. For the sake of comity I’m reluctant to to fully express and explain my great skepticism about this second overblown allegation. There are only three recorded witnesses and I serve on the Board with all of them. Yet I must say something. Attorney Rice puffs some of the testimony against Art Johnston by explaining that her interviewees had no reason to be untruthful. No, of course not. BFF’s would never shade the truth when talking about each other even if they couldn’t hear what was going on.

2. Left without its signature accusation Mary Rice goes on to the issue of a “conflict of interest.” She makes it plain that this is a personal conflict of interest not a “pecuniary” conflict of interest. I’m not sure Rice is right about this. That may depend upon whether Jane Bushey is Art’s spouse under the law even if they aren’t married. If she was terminated after Art’s removal from the Board there there sure as hell would be a pecuniary (financial) issue. Jane, otherwise known as “that woman” is currently being paid while she is being held in cold storage elsewhere in the District.

Frankly Rice manages to leave a huge void in her report where the chief accuser of Jane Bushey is concerned. Its the person most likely to demand that fifteen thousand buck penalty for violating her data privacy. The offenses will, of necessity, be redacted out although to her credit Rice does allude to them without going into the nausea inducing details. It remains to be seen whether I will be willing to withold my knowledge of these events myself. Half the town already knows about them in some fashion.

Rice has put in one little footnote regarding me on this point of my speaking publicly. Rice explains that I have already broken this data privacy back in July when I wrote to the board about the danger of relying on a liar’s testimony. She may be right. I told the School board enough for them to deduce who was responsible for harassing Art and Jane without my going into the juiciest of details. If telling current school board members and the Superintendent what I knew as a past Board member is a violation of the data privacy act, so be it. I’ll likely as not tell the whole city sooner or later rather than have the whole town search for Denfeld friends to ferret out the much rumored details.

By covering up the seedy past of the instigator of Jane Bushey’s harassment Rice has done a disservice to the whole truth asked of witnesses in court. Ah, but then, this investigation has not been judicially sanctioned so no one who was interviewed can be accused of perjury but only of lying.

3. In the absence of any legitimate and serious reason to remove Art Mary Rice spends a lot of time pointing out breaches of School Board etiquette otherwise known as policy. Ms. Rice watched a lot of school board videos. She reports a litany of instances in which Art speaks critically of the school Board. Heavens to Betsy! I hope she hasn’t been reading my blog.

Oh, and about those policies. All through the Red Plan the School Board ignored and violated its policies wholesale. Supt. Dixon didn’t even give his Board members a policy book and there seems to have been a great forgetting that policies were of any consequence at all. As a former Board member I was appalled that policies were of such little importance. Only statutory law is enforced with any vigor and then only when the powers at be can be bothered to do so. Witness our recent non audit of the District by the soon to be reelected State Auditor Otto. She did not do what the petition she was given required her office to do. As for school board policies requiring bidding on large projects – those are just empty words. Except for the ones suggesting that Art can’t speak his mind about the School Board. Those words are a big deal.

4. This isn’t just a “he said, she said” dispute. This is more like the gothic Japanese tale Rashomon in which a dozen witnesses all report seeing something entirely different at the commission of a dreadful crime. Even when they witnessed something they couldn’t generally hear what was going on. Nonetheless, Rice makes a tortured assertion that there is little reason to believe the folks pointing fingers at Art for one crime or another have any reason to be untruthful. Sheesh!

5. The most galling example for me of one of these instances has to do with the charge of racism which, even if true, would only be embarrassing and not a justification for removal from office. I knew within a week what the terrible statement attributed to Art was, who said it, and the context. After five months, 36 witnesses and god knows how many tens of thousands of dollars Mary Rice never seems to have encountered this simple truth. As a consequence of her failure she leaves the charge that Art made racist statements hanging in the air like that stinking fish. Her conclusion is that maybe Art did say them. Shame on her.

Frankly this whole sorry pie throwing exhibition began like the the Story of Chicken Little.

So Foxy Loxy led Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey across a field and through the woods. He led them straight to his den, and they never saw the king to tell him that the sky is falling.

Only in our story we begin with someone seeing the Superintendent being “shoved.” It remains to be seen whether the sky will fall.

There is no there, part 1

November 8th, 2014

I’m torn between my campaign’s vow of honesty (by spilling all the beans) and charting a different course for this school board. Every post that sheds light on our Board in the name of honoring Twain’s dyspeptic take on school boards can’t help but hurt my chances of patching up the Board. I’m sure the board majority believes that “silence is golden.” But even the Superintendent has gotten into the act. Asked by the DNT about Art Johnston at the otherwise treacly annual report Mr. Gronseth tried to distance the School Board from the working of the school system it is elected to oversee.

While not a part of the report, Gronseth said later that the conflicts resulting from the School Board’s investigation against member Art Johnston for an abuse of authority accusation, among others, were unfortunate.

“We try not to let the functioning of the board affect how the district is run,” he said.

Sounds like the Superintendent is seconding Mark Twain here.

Ah, but like Dan Quayle’s potatoes Art Johnston has become the test of this Board. And woohoo, the DNT has finally announced the completion of the Rice Report. Excuse me while I read what the Trib reports about that……..much blogging will follow I’m sure.

My little potatos

November 8th, 2014

All the posts that have been lining up like planes to land over the past week while the airport is down for repairs have turned into a sort of stew. I see bits of them sticking out like a cooked carrot here – my conversation with potential school board recruits or or an onion wedge there – accidentally bumping into a board member while driving around with another board member that he has accused of assault. But honestly, Its hard to reengineer a stew.

I’m up early on Saturday morning but couldn’t really get my laying in bed thoughts moving. But I couldn’t sleep either. Opening the computer I was thinking about song lyrics which I’ve been collecting for the past five or more years to sing to my Mother in lieu of conversation which has been lost to her dementia. Lately I’ve been coming up with more songs to add to the 1,500 or so I’ve put in a three ring binder. The latest one is “My Little Potato” by the music trio Metamora:

You’re my little potato, you’re my little potato,
You’re my little potato, they dug you up,
You come from underground,

I play no instruments and so in the acapella I miss all the funky percussion of the original but Claudia and I trotted it out Thursday morning as our grandsons got ready for school and daycare. I’ve been pulling out the most singable songs to put in a smaller (100 page) three-ring binder of songs to sing to my grandsons. Lately I’ve taken to singing them to sleep like I did my children twenty-five years ago. After they listened to and danced to a choral version of the song we asked them what they thought the potato was. At least it wasn’t as mixed a metaphor as this posts first paragraph.

We have been helping the older boy with his spelling tests of late. I’m a natural because I used to be the pronouncer at regional spelling bees for better than ten years running. Which brings me to the spelling of potato. Its got quite a legacy. In the 1992 election the spelling of the word became a great issue/gaffe in the Presidential campaign. (Ah the innocence of the past) Poor old Dan Quayle, Vice President of the US was made a national laughing stalk when he told a grade school kid in a photo op that he hadn’t put an e at the end of potato like the card the VP had been handed moments before showed. You can read the back story here.

It took out Bush and Quayle in 92 with the same lethality that Ebola had on the Democrats this year.

Darn thing is that you do find the o in potato followed by an e quite often when it becomes plural – potatoes much like heroes and possibly zeroes and smores. Oh wait, forget that last example with the graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate squares. I’m not sure if the oe thing is British spelling like adding the u in colour or honour. Over the decade quite a few websites have addressed the issue.

OK, that little ramble has gotten my blogging juices flowing. NEXT POST!

My sink hole

November 7th, 2014

I’m not able to find a previous post on my water problems so I’ll start from scratch on this one.

This was the scene at 8:30AM this Wednesday as I was heading down to the Dept of Education in Roseville to learn about Title One applications for funding. Those of you who have noticed that the sidewalk on the lower half of my retaining wall as you’ve driven by must have wondered why it was always wet. Well, like anyone incredibly busy I managed to fool myself that it would eventually go away. I thought it was was a saturated lawn from the incredible winter snow and then the spring rains. As summer wore on and a long dry spell that explanation didn’t wear so well. Some time in August I finally called the City to have someone come over and tell me what my problem might be. Had the ground shifted above my house allowing water below ground to change course under my lawn? Was my sewage system leaking into the surrounding soil? Over the next seven or eight weeks a constant supply of visitors checked the problem out. It was, of course, the simplest explanation. I had a broken water pipe.

The excavators I called were filled to the gills with work orders as the winter approached. Shelton Excavation that had saved my during the JB Marvin disaster had seventy jobs lined up ahead of mine but recommended Superior Construction.

In a whirlwind I had no right to expect Duane Peterson got the permits for what he thought would be a simple morning job. No such luck. At 2:30 in the afternoon after a session on making the Title One application process simpler I got a text message from Claudia that all hell had broken lose. The leak was in the worst possible place and the house was crawling with people working on jack hammers. She wished I was home.

The leak was fixed just moments before I got home at 6pm. It took up to 14 people a half dozen trucks and ten hours to fix things up. Oh and by the way there was an imminent sink hole looming behind the retaining wall in the form of five cubic yards of nothingness.

Thursday and Friday were off an on cleaning days in the basement and errand running like my jaunt to Ace Hardware. I managed to dig a four foot hole down to the void and ordered some sand to begin filling it. I was told the work would require an electrician to ground the plumbing and got that settled. This morning I took all the sofa cushions in the basement out to the patio and beat the hell out of them with my old Wilson tennis racquet to get the cement dust out. I still have to reattach the sturdy lower shelf from my workroom back along the wall after the concrete repair cures a little more so I can put paint buckets and Rubbermaid bins back out of the way.

If an annoyance was to befall anyone I guess I’m as good a candidate to deal with it as anybody else. Everyone has nuisances like this and for many people this wouldn’t be much more than a speed bump. Still, I’ve had a lot of blogging in my head and the repair process has either kept me from it or drained me of energy. On the other hand its given me a lot of time to mull over the School Board’s current predicament. I’ve had a chance to refine some of my ideas for attending to them.

Oh and don’t go walking around my side yard. If you do I can’t guarantee that anyone will ever see you again.