Category Archives: Johnson Controls Inc / JCI

and a followup to the last post

At the last Minnesota School Board’s conference several of Duluth’s school board members ran into a number of the ex JCI “consultants” who helped force the Red Plan down Duluth’s throats. Some had all left Johnson Controls in disgust.

Meanwhile, Michael David, who led much of the Red Plan has also gone his merry way as well continuing his own personal consulting juggernaut through Minnesota Schools. After he broke from JCI I discovered that he and his partner had donated $10,000 to help pass a referendum in the School District that Keith Dixon moved onto after leaving Duluth. No doubt with all his Red Plan earnings that was a cheap way to repay Dr. Dixon. And who knows. Dixon would have put in a good word for him if Centennial had decided it needed to build more schools.

This City Pages story lists outrageous percentages being paid to sub contractors. Funny thing is that these outrageous percentages for the Prior Lake Project and others pales compared to the highway robbery percentages paid out to JCI in the Red Plan.

JCI’s satan’s spawn, M David, has struck again – in Prior Lake

From this month’s City Pages: A consultant sinks its talons into Prior Lake schools for very big money:

…….The business of public education has spawned a specialized kind of vendor. They’re called construction services managers. They serve as consultants, assessing facilities operations and planning for future needs.

But these companies don’t just consult. They parlay their expertise into managing the very work they say is needed, providing incentive for them to urge as much building as possible. They oversee refurbishments and new construction from planning to completion, collecting fees with each move.

Some districts separate consulting from construction management. In 2010, Wayzata summoned public bids to assess its facilities. Nine firms applied, with Wold Architects and Engineers securing the $78,000 contract.

Wold would later earn Wayzata’s architectural and engineering work, but the firm had to reapply for that job. Kraus-Anderson would score the construction manager contract.

School board member Melissa Enger has often stood alone in questioning the wisdom of the district’s contract with Nexus Solutions.

By contrast, Prior Lake seemed to do as little as possible to protect its money.

Instead of putting out a public request for consulting proposals, the district used word-of-mouth, admits business director Julie Cink.

ICS Consulting of Blaine had other public school clients, including Shakopee, Fairmont, and Pequot Lakes. It offered to evaluate Prior Lake for a lump sum not to exceed $19,000.

The company also proposed to take on the role of “program manager,” overseeing everything from engineering to construction. It again pitched a lump fee based on the total budget, which would later be estimated to fall somewhere between $3 and $5 million.

There are advantages to having one firm handle both roles. The upside is cohesion from start to finish. But the risk is an incentive to increase costs.

Nexus wasn’t officially a company in the spring of 2012. It wouldn’t register with the Minnesota Secretary of State until June.

Its principals, Michael David and Brent Jones, had parted ways with their longtime employer, Johnson Controls, where they amassed decades of experience in energy use and facilities management. They’d been part of Johnson’s team overseeing Duluth’s ambitious school plan.

By all accounts, the $315 million project on the North Shore was a show. Duluth needed to slim its existing buildings, renovate others, and build anew. The result, according to projections, would be stable financial footing by way of $122 million in savings over 18 years.

Johnson’s promises of savings fell woefully short. They were compounded by budget overruns, increased fees, and money for unbudgeted expenses like temporary heating and additional personnel.

What was originally a $296 million plan ballooned by $19 million.

But Duluth’s pain proved Johnson’s gain. According to the district’s director of business services, Johnson received almost $57 million for its work — with nearly $45 million coming in various fees.

“Our schools were supposed to be in good shape for decades, is how it was presented by Johnson Controls and the people supporting the plan,” says Sharla Gardner, a former Duluth city councilwoman.

“If it was possible to do again, I know there’s no way, no way at all, the community would choose the same. The new buildings are nice, I will say that. But at what cost? It hasn’t been worth the dollars or the harm it’s done.”

Duluth’s lessons would be lost 220 miles to the south.

No one seems willing to say how Nexus discovered Prior Lake, or vice versa. What is known is that Nexus pitched itself as the total package. For $95,000, the company would assess Prior Lake’s needs.

The bid came in at $76,000 more than ICS’. It also came with the “understanding” that Nexus would also be contracted “for all professional services required to implement this work.”

In other words, ICS had offered a $19,000 first date. Nexus was proposing a multimillion-dollar marriage, with a lot more strings attached.

Nexus also pitched fees seemingly well above what other districts were paying. Architectural services came in at almost 8 percent. Engineering, close to 9 percent. Construction management, nearly 6 percent.

Compare these with what Wayzata schools paid. In 2014, voters approved a $109 million building and technology funding referendum. According to Finance Director Jim Westrum, Wold Architects and Engineers fixed fees averaged out to be about 6.5 percent. Kraus-Anderson, the construction services manager, earned slightly more than 2 percent. It also agreed to a cap “for site services and fees” that wouldn’t “exceed $2,120,205.”

Edina found cheaper work as well…………

St. Louis County Schools “Red Plan”

“district administration refused to provide any clarification, and urged school board members themselves not to respond to the newspaper’s questions.”

I probably haven’t mentioned the other school building disaster in St. Louis County for better than a year. That was the abysmal experience of the rural schools in the interior of the County the St. Louis County Schools which were advised and built under the direction of Johnson Controls. The Timberjay Newspaper summed up the sorry current finances of that district in a story a friend sent me. Their Administration advised their elected School Board not to talk to the press. There is just no way to put any positive spin on their experiences, hence the quote that precedes this paragraph. Sounds familiar:

Restructuring provided minimal savings

As school district officials campaigned to win passage of the controversial school restructuring plan in 2009, they argued that the proposed closure of community schools and construction of new consolidated schools would save the district more than $5.6 million dollars annually and put the district on a firmer financial footing for years to come.

But the majority of the savings touted by school district officials and their consultant Johnson Controls never materialized when the district implemented the plan beginning in the 2011-12 school year. In fact, school district budget data shows that district costs rose in key categories, such as transportation and operations and maintenance, despite JCI’s promises that those costs would decline.

The savings shortfall was, perhaps, most pronounced in operations and maintenance. District officials argued that “right-sizing” from seven older K-12 buildings to four new or renovated K-12 buildings plus a renovated elementary school would achieve $1.24 million in annual savings. But the district’s operations and maintenance costs, which averaged $3.7 million a year in the three years prior to implementation of the restructuring plan, spiked to $4.4 million in the first year with the new configuration. At the time, school officials pointed to one-time costs as the district adjusted to the new facilities, but the district’s operating and maintenance costs jumped again the following year, to $4.75 million. While the district, in part thanks to lower fuel costs, was able to trim its operating costs to $4 million in the 2013-14 school year, costs jumped again the following year. Since the restructuring, the district has spent an average of $4.4 million a year on operating and maintenance, according to data submitted to the state Department of Education. That represents a $700,000 annual increase, or 19 percent, in operational costs— far from the $1.24 million in savings that district officials and JCI representatives had touted. The additional cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure, like community water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities, which were required for the district’s new and renovated facilities, only added to the financial burden.

The district is also spending more on transportation than it did prior to the restructuring. The district spent an average of $1.7 million on transportation in the three years prior to implementation of its school plan. In the first year under the new configuration, transportation costs spiked to $2.1 million and have risen every year since, through the 2014-15 school year, when the district spent $2.35 million transporting students and staff. Transportation costs for the just completed school year are not yet available from the MDE and it’s possible that the significant reduction in fuel prices in the past year helped trim some of the district’s costs. Even so, higher transportation and operating costs associated with the restructuring have added roughly $1.2 million annually to district expenses, and have prevented the district from achieving the financial turnaround officials had sought.

Swatting email gnats

One sign of the Duluth School Board’s dysfunction can be found in the Board email box. For my first three months on the Board there was a busy selection of posts by Board members over a host of topics. That has almost completely dried up. I can only imagine that the members in the majority have found new avenues of communication to get around the gnatty minority.

That has not ended email communications all together. We can send each other email “privately” to fellow board members without addressing them to all board members. I’ve had several correspondences with Chair Miernicki and so has Art Johnston. Art has been good enough to share some of this recent correspondence with me pertaining to our mutual interest in being able to put items on the School Board agenda for discussion. The last one is priceless. Here in order are five of them:

Art to Mike September 2

Hi Bill and Mike:

I have two agenda item requests:

1. Discussion on the decision process that the Superintendent, his cabinet, and staff uses on important decisions. E.g., HR, budget, school board, and legal.

2. Discussion on the Superintendent evaluation by the school board. This was due per our contract with Bill G. at the start of the year and is long overdue.

Art Johnston
School Board member

Mike to Art September 2

Hello Art,
Thank you for your letter.
#1 – We will not have a discussion on the “decision process.” The request is somewhat vague – maybe you and I can talk about what you mean. I have always believed that we hire Superintendents to make decisions from day-to-day within the bounds set by the Board. The Board members should not micromanage the decision process that is usually given to Superintendents around the State.
#2 – I agree with this. We decided last February to hold the Superintendent Evaluation in October when we had more information on enrollment, staffing, State MDE reports, etc. We will ask Mr. Sworsky to discuss the evaluation process with us prior to our October evaluation.
Best Wishes,
Mike Miernicki

Art to Mike, September 2

 If sounds like you saying that you are unilaterally making this decision on our agenda. That is inappropriate and a violation of our policies, not to mention our parliamentary authority, and abuse of authority, and violation of ethics.

1. I am not meaning to micromanage our Superintendent, but on macro decisions and controversial issue, I believe that it is our duty, as elected representatives, to be aware what is going on and the process on how such decisions are made by the administration. Specially, I am not asking about any specific decision, but how does the Superintendent actually make major decisions? That is certainly a macro type of decision and falls far outside your micromanagement definition. I would be glad to meet with you to talk over my concerns. Name a time and place. My request continues to put it on the agenda.

2. We did not agree to postpone our decision until October. We said that we would schedule it as soon as possible and that was seven month ago. Also, the Superintendent contract says yearly, and the due date was last February. If we do not follow the contract language, that gives us less legal standing on everything on contract compliance.

Plus,
There are other agenda issue that have been previously submitted which I also expect to be on the agenda.

Mike to Art, September 2

We will proceed with the Superintendent evaluation in October. Other items will not be on the agenda.
Looking forward to a great school year!
Mike Miernicki

Art to Mike, September 2

So when are you going to meet to talk this over as you requested?

Mike to Art, September 2

I read your reply. It is obvious that you have issues with me. I will not meet with you. I am afraid of you.
Mike Miernicki

Martell is back in fine form

I just read Loren Martell’s latest column detailing the antics of the Duluth School Board at its August meeting on the Duluth Reader’s website. It will only take you ten minutes to read the pertinent details described versus watching the events described unfold over the meeting’s first 35 minutes on the archived and youtubed video of the meeting. I had put off reading the story for a week owing to a reluctance to revisit the will of the majority to race forward with its eyes shut. However, I read it online while Pandora pumped out Copeland’s Appalachian Spring in the background and the jaunty music was the prefect accompaniment to Loren’s written word.

As good as Loren’s explanation of the minority’s futility and impotence even he could not improve upon Mr. Schuettler’s description of the Chairman swatting away gnats.

Martell’s Heartbreak

I met Loren Martell’s wife briefly once or twice at her back door when I delivered things to Loren a few years back. We didn’t talk to speak of. She seemed a quiet woman who, it appeared to me, did not interfere with Loren’s unexpected crusade against the Red Planners. I did do a fair amount of talking with Loren in those early years for him, but did it as a man in the process of absenting myself from the madness. I’d hit my head against the wall for better than three years and was at my wits end. Even some of my folks in Let Duluth Vote were put out with me convinced that my tell-all approach to blogging was hurting the cause.

I’d started my crusade against the red planners with a column pointing out that 1. a plan being justified as a long overdue closing of one too many high schools was God-awful expensive and that 2. it was being done without a public referendum. I had written the column under protest because I didn’t want to get into a fight over something I’d paid little attention to after leaving the Board three years before. After that I found myself in the middle of a fight and one of its chief spokesmen. Over the next four years the organization I named, Let Duluth Vote, went from failed tactic to failed tactic in a vain search for compromise. Attempting to convince the School Board to put the plan up for a referendum went nowhere. When that became a non-starter I ran for the Board again confident that I could change the Board’s majority to make a referendum possible. Ralph Doty put an abrupt end to that.

Next I started a petition calling for a referendum which though signed by thousands did not have the force of law. The School Board ignored it. My crowd at Let Duluth Vote then pushed a Plan B despite my considerable misgivings. I worked on it as a servant of our group’s majority from a sense of duty more than confidence that it would get us anywhere. I knew that we were ill prepared and too few to attempt to rival an army of Red Plan architects. Furthermore, it was only a matter of time before our plan drew fire as inferior. Ironically the Red Planners said our stripped-down plan would cost more than theirs and managed to convince the editors of the Trib and large portions of the public. Then we moved on to our last resort – a law suit for which I volunteered to be one of five plaintiffs. That required finding a lawyer, finding a case, raising money to pay the attorney. Once in court we were required raise $100,000 to post a bond in case the delay of the construction cost the Red Planners (and thus the taxpayers) money. Finally, at the conclusion of three and a half years fighting we had our attorney removed a month into our court proceedings. A lot of Let Duluth Vote blamed me for this and with some cause.

My final act was a double project. We tried to elect a new school board and figure out how to collect the $100,000 bond from the court without surrendering too much to the defendants Johnson Controls and ISD 709. It was about at this time when things looked black that I met Loren Martell.

I’ve often joked that I’ve written a million words about this fight in my blog. Without going back and rereading them I’m a little fuzzy on some details. I was burnt out but Loren had become a glowing ember. We talked him into running against Judy Seliga-Punyko when he really wanted to run an at-large campaign. He stepped aside and Tom Kasper was elected at large only to become a great disappointment to the Let Duluth Vote crowd. Loren meanwhile faced an East Duluth juggernaut hellbent on getting a new high school with their own football stadium “for equity’s sake.” This was four years after Judy had beaten me in the 2007 election, with the help of Doty’s last minute smear, so the Red Plan still had the benefit of many people’s doubt while it was also two years away from making drastic cuts in the teaching corps necessary to pay for a plan that had grown by tens of millions of dollars.

I understood that the Red Plan would maintain its benefit of the doubt until such time as it began to disappoint the community but I was too stressed out to continue a fight that was already lost. If you hit the search button for the word ”sleep” you will find that it becomes a great preoccupation of posts starting in 2009. If I don’t live to be one hundred I’ll blame it on the Red Plan fight.

There was no guarantee that the Red Plan would disappoint but I was pretty confident that it had been too good to be true from the beginning. From my retirement, I continued to point fingers at the disconcerting consequences of the Red Plan. I also applauded Loren Martell would remain a lonesome fighter in these years. The soft-spoken Martell would frequently have his microphone turned off under the pretext that he had been uncivil or out of order. Once, during the School Board’s most highhanded years, he was handcuffed by a policeman when the microphone had been turned off on him but didn’t back away from it. He’s had to live with the accusation that he had behaved badly ever since when it was a thin-skinned School Board that had really been at fault.

I helped Loren raise money for two campaigns. During that time Loren became an expert, of sorts, about the District’s finances. I say “of a sort” because the District didn’t really share its finances candidly with outsiders and lied through their teeth repeatedly sucking in such as the editors of the News Tribune with nonsense. This was during a seven-year period in which the Administration got used to the Board not asking questions and even actively denying its minority access to routine public information.

It is all of these things Chair Miernicki refers to in his riposte to Martell in his Duluth Reader rebuttal, “I understand that Loren Martell is angry with the outcome of the audit. He has spent a great deal of personal money and time fighting the Red Plan. The State Auditor’s Office found that the District had done nothing wrong.”

Mern couldn’t have been more wrong about the last half of this claim. The Auditor didn’t expose anything illegal but she did not in any way vindicate the District. To the contrary she found that the District operated under a set of assumptions that had no basis in reality. As for the condescending remark that Loren is angry because he wasted his money Mern is clueless. The treasure Loren used wasn’t monetary. It wasn’t even the hours and days and weeks he spent in research, petitioning and campaigning. For Loren, this was but a call to public service. It wasn’t even the assault on Loren’s dignity by having him handcuffed and scolded in letters to the editor although I understand what this meant from personal experience.

I know my family winced at unflattering stories about my public service. My daughter, who had lived through three of my unsuccessful school board campaigns joked that she could finally go to school without wearing a paper bag when I finally got elected on my fourth try. I can only imagine what Loren’s wife, a school teacher herself, thought about her husband’s unflagging opposition to the District’s stonewalling. The heartbreaking price Loren was to pay for all his dedication was yet to be exacted.

Loren’s Hail Mary pass was the petition to audit the District. He started three years ago and singlehandedly got the audit in motion. Or so he thought. I’ll simply leave it to Loren here and here to explain how poorly the State Auditor fulfilled her role vis-a-vis the Red Plan. (BTW – the first of these Duluth Trib columns by Loren had a headline written by the Trib’s editors. It was they, not Loren Martell, who described Duluth as being “hustled and bilked.” I take their words as a sign of grudging respect for Loren by editors who have not always been kind to him.

I discovered during my school board campaign last summer that Loren’s wife, the quiet woman who had taken materials from me to give to her husband, had died suddenly and unexpectedly because of a lethal cancer. I didn’t even know her name as all my dealings had been with Loren while she remained tucked out of sight. My old pastor who now teaches at Marshall School told me that her death came as a shock to everyone. Loren’s wife had been an art teacher.

Loren’s family was a twosome with no children. They were best of friends. She proof read his columns. Little did Loren know that while he was insuring that the people of Duluth would finally get an honest accounting from the State Auditor about the Red Plan his wife was dying of cancer which overwhelmed her mercilessly and swiftly. Loren was left in shock. When I saw him last fall he was a lost soul. He was wracked by the guilt for having spent his wife’s last six months immersed in the Red Plan and the Audit which was supposedly being conducted. “We could have spent that time together,” he told me, and gone on walks like we used to before the Red Plan took him door to door for signatures on petitions.

Loren called me up a couple weeks ago on a very tough Friday after the Auditor’s fiasco of a report. He had just been at work up in Silver Bay the last scenic place he had been with his wife before her death. Not only was Loren preoccupied with those memories but now his Father was dying as well. He had come home to Duluth with little to look forward to but the letter he had written to defend himself from Chair Meirnicki’s complaint that Loren had lied about him cutting the school board meeting off with questions left hanging. It was a kick in the teeth for him to discover that his publisher, the Duluth Reader, had not put his reply and defense in the paper. (It turned out to be an oversight)

Although I had company I knew Loren needed someone to talk to and I met him and we talked for a couple hours. I told my family that I had to “talk someone off the ledge.” In some ways it wasn’t far from the truth.

I believe people need purpose for life. Loren Martell’s purpose has been to expose the dark underbelly of the Red Plan in hopes of excising its shortcomings if not its evil. Today, he can’t bring himself to quit despite the terrible suffering its caused him. In fact, quitting would probably make his suffering worse, like quitting a battle with buddies still behind enemy lines. And yet he has managed to write a great many sage and witty columns about the School Board that has only vexed him for the last four years. His knowledge has come at a great and terrible, personal expense.

One reader of an early version of this blog post put it very well:

Thank you. That was a lovely blog post you wrote about Loren Martell. Kelly. I believe his wife’s name was Kelly. I’m sure she was — and is, if you believe in an afterlife — very proud of him.

Loren is exactly what a citizen in a healthy democracy should be. If it seems otherwise, it’s only because he’s up against such an unhealthy, undemocratic situation.

The most pernicious way he’s been treated is to portray his persistence as unbalanced. Acting like he’s a crackpot is particularly mean-spirited, dismissive, and condescending. (Dare I call it “bullying”?)

I don’t wish to plead for any special sentiment for Loren. Ann Wasson suffered from a cancer in her last years on the Board and I’ve seen other school board members grieve. What I do wish to testify to is that Loren Martell has been unselfish in the extreme. Yes, like Art Johnston and me, he has been a little too driven for his own good. Nonetheless, I am grateful for those who work with this kind of public spirit despite derision and against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Any city with a Loren Martell in it has at least one beating heart.

Martell’s heartbreak – just kidding

This is the fifth post in a series. To read them in order I’d suggest going back five posts ago to “Promises, Promises” and read them in order to this one.

[I’ve only just finished this post now a couple days after first uploading the title. I didn’t proof it and Loren deserves better. I’ll work on it and put it back when I find time. In the meantime my growing backlog of ideas for posting will be held in abeyance. (Love those fifty cent words)]

I’m turning this into a Harry’s Diary Post. The real deal will follow.

I’m about a week away from having more time to blog, should I still feel like it. I’m pretty sure I will. But at the moment I’m still racing around with lots of projects to tidy up. Yesterday I spent six hours of perfectly good sunlight to help out Tim, the young black man who I blogged about a few days ago in regards to his complaints about, six DWB’s (Driving while black). According to my buddy I should have said “alleged” in describing the six incidents Tim claims he endured this summer.

Well, my buddy has tattled on me to Gordon Ramsay, Duluth’s Chief of Police. Chief Ramsay thanked him for keeping him abreast of local comment on the Department. My Buddy sent me the Chief’s reply which hinted that Tim’s word wasn’t above reproach. Sheesh! It wasn’t that long ago that I engaged in an email debate with the Deputy Police Chief. That’s when I spoke up for keeping our high school lunch hours open describing their closing as turning schools into prisons. Deputy Chief Tusken would have none of my libertarian clap trap.

Golly, now I’ve gone up one rung on the police radar. Will I have to worry about DWBSB’s? (Driving while on the School Board) I woke up this morning deep in thought about the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, that prompted some of my recent posts. There is a lot of very rational questioning now of how we police our racial differences. Are the police racially sensitive enough? Are they too aggressive? Do they shoot first and ask questions later (and shoot a lot)? Are they too militarized?

My buddy and I have sparred for twenty years on issues of race sometimes quite testily. This morning I imagined doing a lot of blogging on the issue of race but I’ve got a lot of other issues to write about more pertinent to my current concerns as a school board member. My buddy recently sent me an email asking what would be accomplished by giving the Red Plan a “colonoscopy.” He’s practically a recluse and has all the time in the world to stir up my blogging by sending me email like the time he kept calling me a bigot for my constant barbs aimed the new Republican Party. I’ll hold new posts in abeyance for now. I’ve got a garage to paint and a lawn to mow now that I’ve got another crack at a sunny day.

lie, lie, lie

Chair Miernicki was so incensed by Mr. Martell’s assertion that he had abruptly adjourned the meeting with the state auditors that he wrote in to correct Mr. Martell. Mike’s letter contained the world “lie” three times as if to reinforce how he felt about Mr. Martell. In response Art Johnston and I along with Loren himself all wrote to the Reader Weekly. If you stop by the nearest convenience store you will find out three replies.

For the purpose of this post I will include only Chair Miernicki’s letter followed by my own.

Chair Miernicki, the floor is yours:

I recently read the July 31st article by Loren Martel entitled “A Few Words About the State Audit.” In it I was personally attacked by Martell. He claimed in the article that as chair of the School Board, I had “shut down the meeting” while “Board members still had lights on. That is a lie. That did not happen. When I read the Martel article, I did two things. I asked other board members if they saw any lights on. All said, that they there were no lights on. I then went to the district office and listened to the recording of the inside of the meeting. In the recording, I asked Art Johnston if he had any more questions. Mister Johnston said he had one more and asked the question. We had three state auditors present, and 1 of them answered Mister Johnston’s question.

I have a computer monitor in front of me that shows who else on the board has his/her light on. There were only two members who still wanted to comment. Annie Harala went next and thanked the auditors for their report. That left Rosie Loeffler-Kemp. I called on Ms. Loeffler-Kemp who also thanked the auditors for their time and effort. There were no further lights on. There were no names on my screen. Mr. Martell claims in his article that I have that I “seem to have trouble with representative democracy. Board members still had lights on.” He was sitting at the back of the room and could not see my computer screen. I swear to the readers that there were no lights on and it there were no names on my computer screen. I thanked the Auditors and said “Welcome to Duluth.” We then adjourned the meeting. No one was cut off from asking further questions.

I understand the Loren Martel is angry with the outcome of the audit. He has spent a great deal of personal money and time fighting the Red Plan. The State Auditors Office found that the district had done nothing wrong. What bothers me is that Martel chooses to openly lie about what happened at the end the meeting. I will say again that there were no microphone lights on and no names on the computer screen. To clean otherwise is a lie. Mister Martell owes me a retraction or an apology. I doubt if I will get either.

Mike Miernicki
Chair, Duluth Board of Education

BTW – the Auditor did not find that “the district had done nothing wrong.” Instead they offered no opinions and refused to speculate about whether the District had made mistakes. As Loren pointed out they repeatedly refused to give the all clear to Duluth when prompted repeatedly by Member Loeffler-Kemp to do so.

Here’s my letter in reply to Mr. Miernicki:

”That is a lie.”

“That is a lie.” So wrote Duluth School Board chair Mike Miernicki in a bitter rejoinder to the excellent Duluth Reader column of July 31st by Loren Martell. Mr. Martell was detailing the recent State Auditor’s report on the District’s financial management of the infamous “Red Plan.” Loren, who had singlehandedly brought the audit into existence, had to endure the presentation of eight skimpy pages after his two-year wait. The Auditor’s final page summed it up nicely “W” did not perform an audit.”

Chair Miernicki’s dismissal of Loren’s column ignored the first 23 paragraphs to highlight the “lie” in Martell’s next to last paragraph describing the Chair’s announcement that the meeting was over at 6pm sharp. Chair Miernicki backed up his accusation by saying he had asked other Board members if this was true. Apparently, these other board members agreed that no Board member’s microphone lights (which signal questions) were still on when he stopped the meeting. Then the Chairman listened to the audio recording of the meeting.

There are two problem with the Chairman’s research. He only surveyed some board members and I wasn’t one of them. I sit directly opposite Art Johnston and clearly saw Art’s resignation when the meeting was called off while his microphone’s light shone brightly. Art and I joked darkly about this after the “adjournment.” Secondly, an audio recording would fail to show a bright microphone light.

The Auditors had retreated to “we have no opinion” in answer to most of our questions. Art and I simply decided it wasn’t worth a fight with Chair Miernicki when he ignored Art’s light. If Mr. Miernicki did listen to the audio he must have heard his own thrice announced proclamation that the meeting would close at 6 sharp. This annoyed me greatly because I had woken up in St. Louis, Missouri at 2:30am that day for an eleven-hour drive back to Duluth to make the damned meeting.

Often a lie is little more than two people having an honest disagreement. I can easily follow both Mr. Martell’s and Mr. Miernicki’s logic about what constitutes a violation of parliamentary procedure. Art and I should have objected but we didn’t and Mr. Miernicki has conveniently failed to mention his thrice stated declaration that he would shut down the meeting regardless of our questions.
Mr. Martell and Mr. Miernicki both feel that they have accused each other of lying. That’s too bad. As for the Chairman’s thin skin I’m not sure it’s all that warranted. He recently sent me an email accusing me of lying in a four-page analysis I wrote about Art Johnston’s recent treatment. I had threatened to make the four pages public and when Mike claimed my analysis contained lies I asked him to point them out so that I could correct them. He told me I’d find out what was wrong when I published them. That was not a very helpful way to get me to the truth.

Furthermore, I had only shared my lies, if that’s what they were, with my fellow board members and the Superintendent. That can’t be said of Chair Miernicki’s accusations against Art Johnston. Last week the front page of the Duluth News Tribune had this charming headline: “Email accuses Johnston of “slandering’ district employees.” To date the worst Chair Miernicki has suffered was the description of how he abruptly ended a meeting in the 24th paragraph of a 25-paragraph column. It’s hard to imagine how such an easily bruised man would feel had he been the one made to suffer a summer’s worth of nasty headlines brought about by a fellow school board member.

Harry Welty
At large member of the Duluth School Board

Martell’s longer column in the Reader, post auditor

I have already commented favorably on and linked to the earlier and extensive piece Loren Martell wrote for the Reader Weekly about the presentation by the State Auditor’s staff to the Duluth School Board. If you have not read it you might want to for the posts which follow.

It was deft and humorous but nonetheless damning. One consequence was that it smoked out one of the Board members who took great offense at it and uncharacteristically lent it credence by disputing it. That’s the next post.

Martell’s Tribune column, post auditor

It was a brilliant summation of Mr. Martell’s position regarding the value of the long awaited and disappointing non audit by the State Auditor. Here is his column. Here is a sample:

In an editorial on July 23, 2010, the newspaper claimed the Red Plan was $32 million in the black. That was just 10 months before it was revealed to be

$19 million in the red.

Further, the News Tribune reported on June 19, 2007, that the district’s consultant, Johnson Controls, would make “about $4.5 million” from the Red Plan. The state auditor verified in its limited engagement that more than $56 million went to Johnson Controls. One of the shortcomings of the petition engagement was that it did not break down how much of that was paid to subcontractors. Common sense, however, suggests the company’s take was more than $4.5 million.

Mr. Martell ends his piece with this paragraph:

I continue to be involved in this issue despite surviving a heartbreaking personal tragedy over the past year because I believe the public has a right to answers about what is happening in its town. How foolish to suggest I would have spent so many hours of precious time just “riling up” anyone I can.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write about this “heartbreaking personal tragedy” but it did not seem my place to do so. Loren has referred to it several times since once at a school board meeting when addressing the Board and also in a recent letter sent in to to the Reader Weekly. I think that permits me to add my two cents which I will do in my last post on Mr. Martell today.

A sane, fair, and neutral appraisal of the Duluth School Board

One of the pleasures of being in the public eye is the chance to meet folks who are passionate about the same sort of things you are. Last summer during the campaign I met a fine young man, Gosh that makes me sound old and patronizing, Karl Schuettler. Karl is a bright young fellow of his generation with a formidable collegiate education and limited employment prospects. He will be remedying that, or delaying a return to underemployment, by heading off to graduate school soon.

His chief interests are International relations, East High and hockey. In pursuit of all these ends he has taken on the masochistic task of attending Duluth School Board meetings. Its been painful but he has taken pains to post thoughtful, insightful and diplomatically candid assessments of these meetings and the characters he reports on. I know he is neutral because Art Johnston once griped at one of Karl’s posts when I sent it to him because it was apparent that Art is not one of Karl’s favorite board members. Karl has done right by me so, of course, I’m happy to describe Karl’s assessments in superlatives. That doesn’t mean I always get a pass from Karl. In fact, one of my proposals at this week’s board meeting gets a serious and probably accurate critique from Karl to wit: paying Art Johnston’s legal fees should he be vindicated. Its a serious issue that I’ve thought a lot about over the years and I hope to write a post on the issue of bleeding the accused into a state of financial impotence as a police tactic.

Whatever else you read about our last meeting, if you really want to get a good look at how dysfunctional we are, read Karl’s take. Things will likely get much worse so I’m glad Karl is heading off to some place more uplifting.

Oh, and I knew I had to link to Karl’s blog post even before Claudia came down in her bath robe to ask me what made me laugh so loud I scared the cat off the bed a floor above. It was Karl’s gnats.

Garbage in, Garbage out – it turns out this is just a prologue

Its 3:30AM. I’ll bank on the last post to keep you interested to see what I write here until I’m good and ready to do a little more posting. I’ve got grandchildren for the next couple days and family visitors from outstate. I’m also in the middle of a small but fussy project to make my garage presentable. Claudia is tired of banging car doors into shovels and I think, after a quarter century its about time I paint some bare sheetrock. I really need more sleep. So, stay tuned.

As the amended title/headline says, it turns out this is just a prologue. I’ve added “Harry’s Diary” to the categories.

450 new visitors have perused this blog since I stopped adding posts four days ago. That meant that they plus probably an equal number of readers have read the previous post. That means that this school board member can be reasonably sure that a thousand folks have read that I was exposed to an STD by an older woman back in my collegiate years. I didn’t mean to part this particular post. Parking is what I call posts that are particularly telling when I don’t add to them so that my regular readers will be sure to catch the contents of a particular post. I didn’t plan to park the last post but I’m not particularly sorry I did. I’ve aimed with a grim determination to assure my readers of my “honesty.” I can’t think of many things that assure my transparency more than the revelation that I had sex before marriage and that it got me a shot to prevent a very nasty STD. I want my readers to conclude that if I’m willing to bear this personal detail that there won’t be much school board related stuff I’d be inclined to withhold. Ah, but I have been discrete. This may not continue for long.

I’ve got a good half dozen posts I’m eager to unload but once again that will have to wait. I’ll crank out Garbage in Garbage out tomorrow but I’ve got four or so things to type up afterwards which will delay adding any new posts till perhaps tomorrow night or Wednesday. The priorities include a resolution to ask for an accounting of the mysterious 27% of the cost of the Red Plan. The School Board is sure not to want the accounting but I’ll be asking for it anyway. The second, Art Johnston has agreed to type up. It is a return to a policy whereby two Board members can get an item placed on the agenda for discussion at a school board meeting. The next will be a letter to the Duluth Reader assuring then that I think Loren Martell’s version of the meeting we entertained the State Auditor’s staff is pretty much what I remembered it to have been like. This despite our chairman’s sober assessment of his report to have been a lie. Chair Miernicki sent in his rebuttal the week afterwards and poor Loren was a tad upset that his riposte was not allowed to follow up the drubbing the Chair handed him.

Here’s why I stopped writing four days ago. I’ve been busy. I’ve explained before that for this third term on the School Board I intend to put my family first. So, a couple days before my last post my father and brother in laws showed up for a visit. I spent much of the sunny days smearing joint compound on one half of my garage, my daughter started a new job as a teacher necessitating my becoming a grandson sitter, Con artists got into my computer requiring me to take it up to Best Buy’s Geek Squad for a three day check out, We spent a day picking and prepping thirteen pounds of blueberries, We went fishing with two small boys, oh, and Claudia and I celebrated our 40th Anniversary on Sunday by taking eight dozen cupcakes to church.

I know I could have taken a dip into blessed ignorance’s cesspool but, golly, its still summer. If the School Board is hellbent to let the ridiculous persecution of Art Johnston linger into the beginning of the school year and smell up autumn just like it smelled up summer, who am I to hurry the stench along. I’m getting pretty used to wearing clothespins on my nose. The cesspool has only robbed me of good night’s sleeps. I’ve had two good night’s worth over the past seven days. I’ll be waking up at 4AM to get my father-in-law off to Florida tomorrow morning. I’m hoping that having finally turned my attention back to the blog that this start on tomorrow’s “garbage” will get me one more good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s school board meeting. I could really use it.

I’ve got stories to tell that are far more harrowing than my pathetic visit to the Mankato State University Health Center to get a shot in my tush to forestall syphilis. Geez, I’m sixty-three years old! I can afford to show off a few blemishes. Its only saints that things to hide.

Today’s third email between Chair Miernicki and me

Mike to me:

Harry,
Again I hear “sweeping Red Plan under the carpet.” I agree with the News-Tribune. It is over. We need to move on. You and Art want to keep looking backward to justify your campaign against the Red Plan. Fine. But do it on your own time. The schools are built and we have issues to tackle. You and Art can raise your red flags. You can stage your “public shoot out.” I will move on. When you get your majority in next year’s election, you will be able to spend a lot of hours and a lot of money proving your Red Plan theories. I wish you luck.
Mike Miernicki

Me to Mike:

Mike,

I think you believe you are being high minded. I’m reminded of Bobby Burns poem about the flea in church. I’m sure you can google it. You have a lot more eyes focused on the back of your head…..that’s true of all the school board members….than the subject of Burn’s poem. 

I must tell you, and it saddens me to do so, that when it comes to reckoning which of you is the more truthful, Art Johnston or Mike Miernicki, my head tells me I’ve got to go with Art. 

Canceling meetings with me to play in golf leagues is just one small piece of data that leads me to this conclusion. 

Sincerely,

Harry

PS. As I am inclined to treat all my school board email as public information. Please be advised to consider what you write to me in emails very carefully before you push “send” as it could very well end up in my blog.  And by the way,  I’m not sure the editors of the Tribune would appreciate your summation of their thinking on the Red Plan. They have their pride but they are not ostriches. They are still journalists. They will be happy to cover a dysfunctional school board and write opinion pieces describing our futile efforts to keep people happy with too few resources.

PPS. Ask Bill Hanson if the school board has the authority not to repay all our bonds thus forcing the state to pay some or all of them. If that is possible I’d like to consider putting that on the ballot for the people of Duluth to decide. It was a decision they were denied making from the beginning of the Red Plan when they were denied a referendum. It would please me to rectify that crime and give local voters the decision that Governor Pawlenty said should rest in the hands of the School Board.

It would be crazy for Duluth to spend a half a billion dollars on new schools…

…so said Johnson Controls:

. . . if you go back to the JCI salesman, Jeff Schiltz, he memorably said after the School Board fixed on one of the smaller plans the “Red” plan over JCI’s White and Blue alternatives that this choice made sense because its more modest $257 million price tag was in keeping with Duluth’s finances. Then he added it would have been crazy to expect Duluth to spend half a billion dollars on new schools. This is ironic because today the cost of the Red Plan is just twelve million shy of half a billion dollars. Maybe Schiltz was trying to warn us but I doubt he turned down the extra commission.

Golly, the price went up by a hundred million more!

Here’s more of the Duluth News Tribune tough investigative coverage of the 2% JCI would earn for managing the building of the Red Plan.

The Trib’s editors recently opined that Art Johnston ought to examine his conscience and decide whether he should step down from the Duluth School Board. Somebody ought to be examining their consciences but its not Art Johnston.

The third email I sent Chair Miernicki today

Mike,

I just looked at the Red Plan amortization tables.

It turns out the Red Plan didn’t cost just $435 million which is what our lawnsigns claimed five years ago or the $480 million I claimed in my campaign ads but $600 million. I’ll be rechecking my figures.

You can spend a lot of effort trying to shut me up about this but if you do you will simply be tarred and feathered as an apologist for the plan that crammed ten kids too many in our classrooms. 

I won’t shut up and I hope that even your modest powers of political analysis will conclude that it is better to look at this disaster the way the NTSB looks at plane crashes than hope that it just goes away. It won’t. Neither will I.

Sincerely
 
Harry

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Something our school board Chair chooses not to investigate

Est. Red Plan cost 2007……..actual Red Plan costs today

…..$257 mil. total……………………$310 mil. total
….-$ 34 mil. prof.services………-$ 84 mil. prof.services (soft costs)

…..$223 mil. construction……….$226 mil. construction

Johnson Controls’ no bid contract ended up with very little increase in construction costs but nearly a three-fold increase in “soft costs” for professional services.

But…….that’s looking back. The Duluth School Board only moves Duluth forward……..by laying off teachers, increasing the number of kids in classes, decreasing its music program and providing unequal educational opportunities for children in neighborhoods where children constitute a higher proportion of the free and reduced lunch population.

Will the Board majority follow the lead of the Chairman?

Two items which will not be added to our School Board agenda

Dear Member Welty,

At School Board Leadership request, I am writing in response to your agenda item requests.

The request to add a resolution “seeking that those vendors receiving ‘soft costs’ be told to report how these $84 millions of dollars were spent” will not be added to the agenda.

The request to, “…assure that the Duluth School District will reimburse any School Board member it places under investigation for legal expenses should the investigation draw a blank” is also denied. The Board Chair suggests that it is usual and customary for elected officials to cover their own legal fees when it pertains to their own wrong doing.

Should you have any questions regarding these requests, please contact Chair Miernicki.

Sincerely,
Bill

William Gronseth
Superintendent of Schools
Duluth Public Schools

Two items for our next school board agenda

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Harry Welty
Date: Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 1:52 PM
Subject: Re: Editorial
To: michael miernicki

Mike,

It is precisely to get over the Red Plan that we must come to understand it. The State Auditor has reported what our Administration never saw fit to report to the School Board. $84 million in “soft costs” or 27% of the over all cost is twice what we were first told. We have no idea how much was paid to whom with this money. I lost an election to one of our Board members back when our Administration was telling everyone that Gary Glass was lying when he said JCI could collect $34 million. The Administration then said that JCI would only be paid $4.5 million.

Trying to figure out if we were cheated out of any of the $50 million over the $34 million first admitted to in court is hardly a refusal on my part to get over the Red Plan. As you wrote in a recent email we have crowded classes and a terrible east/west disparity that we have to deal with. Showing no interest in how that $50 million was spent is irresponsible.

I will be offering two items for the Board to consider at our next meeting. I would like them both placed on the Business Committee agenda for the August meeting.

1st. a resolution seeking that those vendors receiving “soft costs” be told to report how these $84 millions of dollars were spent.

2nd. A motion/resolution/policy change that will assure that the Duluth School District will reimburse any School Board member it places under investigation for legal expenses should the investigation draw a blank.

I’ll thank you in advance for getting this on the agenda for a discussion this month.

Harry

On Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 8:59 PM, michael miernicki wrote:

Greetings School Board Members!

I hope you had a chance to read the editorial today in the Duluth News-Tribune – “End lingering Red Plan resentment.” I couldn’t agree more. The Red Plan is over. The schools have been built. It is time we move on to important issues involving our school district. We have a lot of issues to tackle. As the editorial stated: “Construction is done, after all, and the district has other issues now on which it must focus with respect and common purpose: still-tight budgets, always difficult spending decisions, crowded classrooms, and imbalance in student populations and opportunities between western and eastern schools, and unacceptable graduation rates, to name a few.”

I couldn’t have stated it better. We need to move on. We don’t need to go over 14,000 pages of contracts and change orders. We don’t need to hope we can sue Johnson Controls. It is a waste of time and money. Let’s work together to tackle the issues at hand. Let us end the lingering Red Plan resentment.

Best Wishes,
Mike Miernicki

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Tragedy as comedy – The Auditor Follies

Loren Martell nails it in his description of the State Auditor’s presentation to the Duluth School Board.

About the School Board members asking for reassurance that nothing “wrong” was done. We have lost a thousand children. Those remaining are in classes with five to ten too many children. Hell yes! Something wrong was done. You just will never know why from the State Auditor’s report.

I left this comment on the DuluthReader website under Loren’s article:

Sweet!

I couldn’t have described that meeting any better myself. It was annoying to have the meeting shut down as Mr. Martell describes. I only found out about the meeting after making plans to visit family in St. Louis, Missouri. To get back to Duluth in time for the 4:30 meeting I had to get my wife up at 2:30 in the morning and drive for ten and a half hours straight.

When it became obvious that the only answers I would get from the State Auditor would be: “we have no opinion,” I was too tired to argue with the decision to shut the meeting down after a measly two hours. I’ve spent a year waiting for this report. Loren Martell, who single-handedly prompted it, has spent three years waiting for it.

This wasn’t transparency. It was a whitewash.