Swallowing moles

July 30th, 2014

I suspect many of my readers saw a recent photograph of one of Florida’s invasive pythons that had burst after attempting to swallow an alligator it had killed. It was the classic case of “your eyes are too big for your stomach.” This morning for about the fourth time in a row I woke at about 2am with ISD 709 on my mind. Another picture crossed my mind as I thought about our crowded classrooms. It was an x ray of a dead seagull. It wasn’t this one. I’ve googled for that x ray of my memories before and drawn a blank but this morning I found another one which leads this post.

My challenge as a school board member is convincing a majority of the School Board that we swallowed a live mole when we built the Red Plan. The families that have fled ISD 709 are like that little mole furiously burrowing out of the seagull. I don’t have any trouble selling these families that my metaphor makes sense but the 5-2 majority of the school board has willed itself to ignore the District’s heartburn. But the fact is simple. Our District doesn’t have enough money to pay for both bonds and enough teachers to keep our classes at a reasonable size. Because Bond finance has taken precedence we have children burrowing out.

But ignoring the pain and removing Art Johnston through a campaign of unfounded insinuation won’t solve the burrowing mole problem. I’ve told the Superintendent that in two years I expect to be in a majority on the Board. While I’m currently impotent in a two-person minority I’d rather start dealing with the mole now than wait until after the next election. I have little patience for blindness. My own father endured pain in his stomach for years before he finally, reluctantly, allowed himself to be examined by doctors. He died a year later of a slow curable cancer that could have been dealt with had he attended to it from the beginning. His younger brother, my uncle, was dumbfounded by my Dad’s unnecessary death. I wish my children had gotten to know their grandfather. I hope Duluth’s children will get a school board with open eyes. I’m just a hopeless dreamer.

I’m mixing metaphors now. Conflating my Dad’s death and a seagull eating a mole with the District’s fiscal problems is clearly overkill. Except that this Board is still trying to shelter itself from bad news. The Red Plan is over with, right? Not hardly! As long as we have ten extra kids per class the Red Plan is driving this district.

All I want is an honest accounting. Knowing that the Red Plan put us in this predicament doesn’t solve the problem but it frames the story. We need more money or, if the voters won’t let us have it, we need to figure out how we can teach our children with too few teachers. Maybe we bring volunteers into our schools in massive numbers to help our thin ranks of teachers . Maybe we treat our two high schools as a single school and encourage kids to travel back and forth between buildings. Maybe we link the schools through computer or interactive television so that Denfeld, with all its free and reduced lunch kids, can enjoy the same courses that the more affluent Duluth East kids have available to them.

I’ll confess that I am resentful. I’d rather cast that resentment at Johnson Controls rather than the School Board or the Superintendent but I’ll cast it at any handy object until we get cracking on solutions. I’m troubled that the slick salesmen that talked our previous board into buying the Red Plan and then pumping up the price by an additional $60 million without a public vote or a competitive bid got paid a king’s ransom for impoverishing our District. I know, I know. That’s looking backwards. But as the philosopher Santayana famously wrote: “those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or, put it this way; seagulls who who don’t know moles are powerful diggers will get a bad case of heartburn.

The majority of the school board, which has just been told by the State Auditor that we paid $84 million in mysterious and unspecified “soft costs,” has treated the Auditor’s thin report as a vindication of the Red Plan. How they can think such a thing with ten extra kids per class, a halved music program and inferior programming at Denfeld I have no idea…….except that I do understand.

Their philosophy is simple: ignorance is bliss. They are like parents who don’t talk to their kids about sex because they don’t want their kids getting any ideas. Duh!

I may not be able to get any payback from Johnson Controls but I sure would like to publicly shame JCI and warn other school district’s that that Milwaukee corporation sold our children a bill of goods. I won’t rest until I have a majority of the school board on my side. If necessary I’ll heap contempt on them for attempting to remove Art Johnston, and protect JCI’s reputation rather than admit a terrible mistake was made.

I’m prepared to play nice and be respectful so long as I’m permitted to get a good look under the carpet where the JCI dirt has been hidden. I’m also prepared to play the part of John Brown (think Harper’s Ferry) if Art Johnston is not treated as the rightful representative of the voters who elected him in the Denfeld area.

Biting my fingers (tongue)

July 29th, 2014

It wasn’t long ago that I was champing at the bit to write dozens of posts but political circumstance and the possibility of rapprochement for the good of the District made my glove my fingers. That seems to be the case again.

I wrote a calm considered reply to the Duluth Trib a few days ago and the night before last I wrote a fevered denunciation. I’m not a very good practitioner of manic depression.

So let me write two unrelated items each deserving of its own post.

I got a call last week about Core Knowledge and a strong pitch by an opponent to watch tonight’s one night viewing of an anti-Core movie at Marcus Lakes up on Highway 53. I suspect my caller is the same one who wrote a letter to the DNT a couple days ago. I told my caller I’d probably go to the movie tonight at 7pm, its only showing.

But then my son-in-law who, like me, is batching (bacheloring) it this week agreed to get together for left over lasagna tonight. That would mean a rushed meal in order to make it over the hill in time. I could tell from my caller that the movie would be the right wing take on Core which is causing a bit of a furor between Tea Partiers and the National Chamber of Commerce the latter of which supports the Core. I didn’t expect to see that it was associated with one of my least favorite commentators Glenn Beck who is too extreme even for Fox News.

Maybe I’ll watch it on Netflix some other day.

Then I went to a funeral today. It was for Tom Agnew who was thrown into a volcano in Duluth thirty-five years ago creating for me a model of the perils of sticking you finger into the eye of the self satisfied status quo. He deserves a chapter all to himself in the book I’ve been determined to write for the past seven years. Ah, but I may have to keep deferring it for a book on the Duluth School District. That early scandal only lasted three years. The Red Plan that the DNT wants us all to get over has lasted more like seven years. Its too bad we can’t just get over our high classroom numbers by wishing them away the Tribune editor’s preferred solution.

Fingers in search of an audience

July 27th, 2014

This has a quirky title that just popped in my head and it doesn’t really fit in with what I thought I would post here.

I haven’t posted anything for three days but I’ve got a lot on my mind and a ton of writing to do. Even so Two days ago I had my largest one day set of visitors in quite some time – 408 of them. I’m already well over 2,000 for the month. Whenever things get interesting and I have a lot to type those numbers spike. BTW, I post those numbers to give my potential critics pause. Think of them the way a gangsta smiles to show his gold capped fillings or a Tea Partier his “Don’t treat on me” flag. Of course, I have no idea how many people read what I write on Lincolndemocrat as fans or as simply slowing to gawk at a car crash or burning house.

My family has taken off to attend a weeklong church camp so I’m solo this week with only my distractions to keep me from blogging. I do have a couple distractions. I’d like to clean out my attic with a view to turning it into my new office where I’ll have room to store all the things I’d like to write about as I head into my know-it-all dotage. That project became possible this year when Claudia acceeded to my wishes at the cost of a 40th anniversary cruise. Then the cruise became a casualty of capital gains with the sale of some property which will cause a big one year spike in income taxes. That was the result of an overdue attempt to plan for our life in retirement.

Even though I’m going to have to defer my new office I still need to clear out the attic and, to a lesser extent, my garage for a new less cluttered life. It won’t be the life of an ascetic but I hope, at least, the life of a better organized archivist.

Its rainy today so my attic won’t fry me so that is where I’ll begin my work. Writing will come later. Wish me well…… unless you don’t. I’m not sure, after some recent editorial comment, how the Duluth News Tribune’s editors feel about their well wishing. My fingers will get busy with that analysis before the day is out. But first to the attic.

Always grateful for some feedback

July 24th, 2014

I’m always cheered when someone sends me email based on a post. (you can find my email address in the third link from the top of the list on the right) My old buddy seems to have instigated it by alerting an acquaintance to one of today’s posts.

On Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:53 PM, Harry’s Buddy wrote:
Harry’s Buddy’s Acquaintance:
 
Harry Welty is cranked (perturbed).
 
Harry’s Buddy
 
http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=11340

His acquaintance then wrote me:

Go Harry.  I couldn’t be sorrier that more of the electorate isn’t equally exercised.  It seems as if people are simply willing to accept a generation at least of poorly educated students.  I think many who care have joined the exodus from the District.   I wonder if using whatever tactics the Timberjay used to get at Johnson Controls info. could be employed.

If the Duluth News Tribune isn’t interested in procuring public information concerning the costs would the Mpls. Star Tribune be willing?  Or don’t they get into each others back yards?  The DNT should be taken to task for shirking.  It’s amazing if not disgusting that the State agency was so disinterested.  Did anybody else think it was bizarre that Ann Wasson was able to sign off on huge expenditures with little background, and evidently no culpability?  The School Board’s charter may need some examination.

Harry’s Buddy’s Acquaintance

Which really demanded some reply from me, to wit:

Harry’s Buddy’s Acquaintance, thank you.

I’m at the point where my only satisfaction is making sure my point of view is fully aired. Trust me, I’ve been asking the same questions you are for seven years.

Harry

And another thing about our CFO

July 24th, 2014

For years the Red Plan School Board members claimed that no money was being transferred from the General Fund to pay off Red Plan bonding debt. The State (non) audit makes it clear that the general fund was looted to pay off these bonds. You would think that the CFO would quietly sidle up to these Board members to warn them they were out of their minds and would end up looking like chumps if they kept repeating such twaddle. Evidently no one corrected them. One of them was the same Board member who signed millions of dollars of change orders without bothering to inform the Board or asking for a vote to do approve the expenditures. That was the subject of another editorial this week which called such actions less than transparent.

Now I can’t let this go without a little story.

In the early 1990′s, the futile early years of my running for the school board, I got to know a recently laid off Duluth administrator who had come to the District with a high falutin resume. She had walked into a snake pit of local administrators who didn’t want an outsider in their midst. IV Foster might have felt the same way.

She told me horror stories about what she endured. She complained about one administrator, a big shot by the time I finally got elected to the Board, who she was sure rummaged through her desk and got into her computer looking for the stuff she was in charge of to warn the CFO. (He was a piece of work too) She was undermined until she left the District.

I had contacted her about an investigation I was conducting at the time. I was worried about the student dropout rate in Duluth. Some old confederates of mine, who were school counselors, told me to look at the “dropout report.” What I found was that the number of students Duluth officials claimed we had didn’t match up with the students we graduated. We had an economic incentive to claim more students than were really enrolled. The state gave us something like $5,000 for each secondary student that (we reported) attending Duluth. What I found was that a couple hundred fewer seniors graduated each year than we got money from the state for. That was big money and we didn’t deserve it.

I called up the MDE, back then it was called the CFL, (Children Families and Learning). The MARS administrator, who kept track of all students numbers in the state’s attendance system, seemed as dumbfounded as me but disinclined to do anything about the state being ripped off on the strength of my phone call. On her recommendation I called one of the Education Dept’s auditors (they no longer have any auditors today). He told me he had a backlog of schools to visit and that there were far too many School Districts for the auditors to audit each year. Duluth could count on the auditors never turning up to uncover its fraud against the state.

As it happened the State Legislature had a hint that this was happening all over Minnesota. After some squabbling about whether the state could use student Social Security numbers or apply some other individual number to each of its students it finally managed to set up a system that would track students. From that point on when two or more school districts claimed to have the same student the state would know which one to give the money to rather than pay for students multiple times.

I raised a little stink about this in one campaign just before the 1991 primary. The administrator who sent the state the fraudulent numbers said I should have taken my figures to the Administration. Fortunately for him I lost the primary and my charges were no more trouble for anyone. Oh, and one school board member of that Era who I described this to didn’t deny it but told me that any such actions were done “for the students.” I wish I could say the same of JCI. [I put my report on the dropout report and MARS fudging< a href="http://www.snowbizz.com/DuluthSchools%20Page/WhoWon/DropoutSham/dropouts1.htm">dropout report on my old website. Its a little dry.]

The administrator who had been spied upon and harassed out of Duluth told me something I’ve never forgotten. She said school Superintendents, being educators, are desperately dependent upon their Finance Officers to help them understand the fiscal health of the District is. If that is true then its been some time, based on our CFO’s tenure in office, since we’ve had a Duluth School Superintendent who knew what the hell was going on.

I did edit the last post after all

July 24th, 2014

Yes, I did. It could probably use another editing but its waaaay too nice outside.

Re: the last post – but I’m not exactly resentful either

July 24th, 2014

I’ll be back to post an initial reply to the Duluth News Tribune Editors who mentioned me in their editorial today. Afterwards I’ll compose a longer reply and send it in to the Trib. I can’t give whatever I write away until is shows up in the Trib or they won’t publish it. So my first effort here will be that – a first effort.

I’m back.

I told the Trib editors when I was running for the School Board last fall that the Red Plan was completed and the top priority was to insure that the consequences of the building project, overstuffed classes and a terrible inequity between eastern and western schools were addressed. On the strength of that and despite my spiteful, if accurate, description of recent Duluth Schools Boards as having been the most incompetent in Minnesota history the editors did endorse me even though they offered something of an apology to its readers by calling me “who?” when they did.

My priority hasn’t changed. To accomplish this I need the best financial information about the District I can get. So far our Chief Financial Officer has chosen to be stingy with facts and his stonewalling has been backed up by the Superintendent and the current board majority. It is not perhaps surprising that I am skeptical of such data supression. Even the editors of the Trib recently lambasted the whole Board by calling for transparency. Who can blame them? Three years ago the Editors were made to look foolish when they took the CFO’s data and proudly proclaimed that there would soon be a $32 million windfall from Red Plan savings to spend on our schools. Instead our Board (while vociferously denying it) borrowed millions of dollars from the general fund to pay off Red Plan bonding which resulted in their adding about ten kids to all our classrooms.

I see only three solutions. Get six million dollars more annually from the state; raise local property taxes by the same amount; figure out how to successfully teach with far too many kids in our classrooms. I think only the last of these solutions is on the table. Is it any wonder that I want accurate financial data?

I could have helped prevent this from happening had I been elected eight years ago but the Fargo Forum’s Ralph Doty chose to write a column which put my election off by eight years guaranteeing that there would be no fiscal scrutiny let alone brakes on the Red Plan. When fellow candidate Gary Glass noted that Johnson Controls would likely be given $33.4 million the Chief Financial Officer must have been behind the falsehood that JCI would only receive $4.5 million. Only Gary Glass was elected and thus fated to be the lone voice on the Board for some middle ground on building construction.

There is a long history of Financial dissembling about the costs of the Red Plan. In fact, the recent state auditor’s report verified one thing that the much vilified Art Johnston told me. The Auditor explained that nearly 27% of the Red Plan expenses were “soft costs” which went to JCI and its subcontractors. Usually these fees amount to 12 to 14% of the cost of a building project. Gary Glass not ISD 709 got it right except that without a school board riding herd soft costs soared from $33.4 to $84 million. What JCI got should be public data according to a recent State Supreme Court ruling. It would take a school board majority to demand that information. That’s unlikely with the current CFO and the current Board.

A state audit of the Red Plan would not have been necessary if only the CFO had simply made this information available to the public. Art Johnston has been begging for this same information for four and a half years. Since the CFO was forced to hand this public data over to the State Auditor under duress it is Art Johnston that has earned vindication.

And yet I am wrong to call this slim report an audit. The final page of the eight page report explicitly admits that was not an audit. The Tribune, the Superintendent and Chair Mike Miernicki, are treating this very limited peak into District finances as a vindication for the District. I guess that’s on the strength of the Auditor finding no criminality. I never expected it to show criminal intent. I only expected their report to show how slick operators can milk taxpayers out of fifty million dollars. It was possible with 1. a no bid contract, 2. no public vote, 3. an incurious school board majority, and 4. the ability to hide public data behind the veil of the program manager. The State Auditor in no way examined any of these circumstances and offered no opinions as to the business acumen of the losers in this business relationship. Neither did the Auditor shed any tears for students with ten too many kids in their classrooms. She had no opinion. She did no audit. She took her sweet time.

It would be a shame if the Auditor’s eight-page bandaid served to endorse the legacy of misinformation and stonewalling by the CFO, the School Board, and just maybe by the editors of the Duluth News Tribune. The Trib is undeniably right in saying that there is still great resentment for the Red Plan. I don’t think it will begin to fade until there is something approaching honesty about what transpired. As for me I am not terribly driven by resentment. If anything I look on the Red Plan’s wreckage with great detachment in the way of an academic. Besides, emotion only serves to cloud the path to solutions. But that does not mean I am in any mood to ignore a long history of data suppression and outright falsehood. That’s the forte of the editors of the Duluth News Tribune.

Not mollified

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.

The Minnesota State Odditor

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.

From $4.5 to $33.4 to $38 to $56 million

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.

Literary criticism

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.

Your Buddy

From http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=11301:
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.

About that charge of racism

July 19th, 2014

I’m not the only one bird dogging it. Take it away Loren.

Babbittry

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?

I’ll have to cut my trip to St. Louis short by a day

July 18th, 2014

Darn.

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.

I found those notes

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.

In the news

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.

Q: Why don’t sharks attack lawyers?

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.

My preface/prologue

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.

Harry Welty

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Son of an attorney

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.

Mary,

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

Harry Welty
Duluth School Board member

Son of an attorney
Admirer of many attorneys especially Abe Lincoln

Mary replied succinctly:

Thank you Harry

I got off easy

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.