Category Archives: 2011 reflections

Today’s news requires me to lay out my first campaign plank/planks.

And these are no where near the top of my list in importance.

The Red Plan set aside about 18 million dollars to fix up Old Central High School. It was spent on other goodies instead. I can’t recall how much the cost of repairs had risen to when I was on the Board, perhaps ten million more. Today the Trib reports that the current estimated fix up costs are $48.5 million.

When I was on the Board in about 2002, Garry Krause asked me to second a motion to discuss selling Central despite its iconic and historic value. A buyer who has subsequently bought other abandoned Duluth Schools even came into the picture. But Old Central (also referred to as HOCH Historic Old Central High) remains.

Here’s my first campaign position. If we can sell it to someone who would abide by the National Historic Preservation guidelines I’d sell it in a heartbeat pending a vote of Duluth in a referendum to take place preferably in 2020 when the maximum voter turnout can be expected.

No Boards before the Red Plan or afterwards has been willing to raise taxes to bring it into full repair. It is a lovely symbol of our schools but a terrible drag on them as well. I personally don’t want to case a vote as one of seven school board members to sell it without public support and in this case I don’t think my election in 2019, should I succeed, ought to count.

On the other hand my view on New (but abandoned) New Central is simpler. I’d vote to spend the million or so needed to demolish it. I would do so for two reasons. It costs money to maintain. It will pull down the price we can claim for selling the land to a private developer. HOWEVER! I am in no hurry to sell the land unless we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. Today I’d say that price should be fifteen to twenty million dollars. Why see it so dear? Because our District has held empty land for years for future use. I think global warming, unless it can be reversed – and it probably can’t will make Duluth a prime location for coastal and sounthern people to move to. That could make a third high school necessary and there could be no better location for a third high school than in this central location. It would be Central risen as a phoenix from the ashes.

Cockroaches Pt 4 – Motivation, Precedent, Money

In the last post I suggested that Johnson Controls might have the motivation, precedent and money to smear me. I showed just how casually this Fortune 500 behemoth can drop a couple hundred grand to get the notice and gratitude of politicians. The one thing that makes me doubt that JCI is behind this little smear, however is its shear penny ante-ness. Trying to destroy me by mere guilt by association is a bit of a stretch. On the other hand it involves a possible association that for most folks would dredge up the “ick” factor. Maybe it could work.

It may have worked once before when the blowhard Ralph Doty raked my reputation over his coals three days before the 2006 school board election. All he had to do with his hatchet piece was change the minds of 300 Welty voters to the other candidate and I ended up being toast. Come to think of it one of his primary arguments against me was that the Johnson Controls were reputable folks.

A few days ago, I called the Ohio community college where I served as president for 13 years, and confirmed that Johnson Controls is currently working on a large project on my former campus. A long-time employee at the college told me, “The college chose Johnson Controls because of its reputation, as well as the fact that they are under an Inter-University Contract (IUC) with the State of Ohio.” The IUC designation makes Johnson Controls an approved vendor in the state’s higher education system, without requiring colleges and universities to go to bids.

After my defeat by a Pro Red Planner the Red Plan only faced one more very worrisome obstacle in its juggernaut to completion.

The next obstacle for JCI was the Court Case brought against them and the School Board by me and four other complainants. We charged that they had gotten an illegal “no bid” contract. It was certainly no bid but the case fell apart before we could establish the question of legality. Its still up in the air and I’m not supposed to talk about it. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me before and it won’t stop me now.

What did JCI get for its participation in the Red Plan? Good question Harry, I’m glad you plan to answer that. That’s where the $40 million figure I mentioned in part one comes in. Ah its certainly enough to motivate more scandal mongering. But its a big question that I’ll address some posts hence. Just remember. Its a lot of money to fight for.


Cockroaches Pt 1 – 1092 visitors yesterday

Oh, golly. There were even more visitors to this blog yesterday than the day before. I hope they keep showing up because I’m on to something a lot bigger than my reported association with a person of questionable character. It’s such a big story that it will probably take me several days to write it out so that I am not at risk of being sued for slander.

I just love skating on thin ice even if Claudia worries that I could cost her the pension plan she has earned. I can’t help but wonder if the nothing burger scandal some anonymous sources are trying to manufacture about me might not be connected to this much bigger story.

As per usual I will take my own sweet discursive time outlining the story. I’ve got to keep my readers on the edge of their seats so that they keep coming back for a punch line. This one may be worth $40 million to someone.

The Zenith and the Nadir

Once again if you want to know why the Duluth School District is spiraling into a black hole you must read the alternative paper the Zenith instead of the Duluth Nadir Tribune.

Richard Thomas who has carefully documented past dim wittedness that the Nadir won’t cover until its too late interviewed Gary Glass for his last thoughts as a school board member. Don’t expect any major revelations. The District is spending money with a clueless School Board and faces a clamity when its reserve is depleted. Statutory Operating Debt is just a year or two away unless the District makes additional millions of cuts to its annual budget.

Not covered in the story is the real power behind the Board. Its not Bill Hanson. He just passes along spending decisions delivered to him by the Hanft Friede law firm. Its never been Superintendent Foster who is currently in hiding. Its not the PR woman who has no justification for a job now that Dr. Dixon is gone. Its not the interim Superintendent. Its probably not Chair Seliga-Punkyko who simply doesn’t understand what’s happening but is doing her best to get rid of Foster. Its certainly not me. I actually thought Mary Cameron might be in favor of protecting Foster. I have since picked up what appears to be her determintion to dump Foster. He does seem pretty hapless. I suspect his failure to get his Minnesota superintendent licensure squared away in October when the Personnel Dept warned him he was naked will be all the District needs to be rid of him without any financial repercussions. So much for Affirmative Action Success stories. He can always go back to playing a musical instrument even if he probably can’t go back to the Marine’s twenty mile hikes.

The Nadir has been the champion for the District and the Red Plan for six years. Look for their editors to deny this as the District plummets in free fall. The Nadir will be busy pointing fingers elsewhere.

Panic Attack

I’ve had a couple people send me emails asking me what the heck is happening in the Duluth Schools relative to Dr. Foster’s being frozen out of his office. I’ve had to tell them I have no idea. I’ve never met Foster. I’ve had plenty of food for thought for him should he bother to read my blog but I’ll bet he’s been warned that reading it will contaminate him should he choose to consume any of it. I’ve read the Trib’s story and the Trib’s Editorial and lately I was pointed to the short squib in the Reader Weekly. I’ll have more thoughts on this as time goes by but I’ll hazzard a couple ill informed observations.

First, only a fool would blame Foster for the problems that Dixon left behind. Unfortunately we have some on the School Board.

Second, I suspect Foster came into town blithely unaware how quickly the District would start spiraling out of control.

Third, I’ll bet those minions of Dr. Dixon who have been left behind have bent over backward to cover their arses so that Foster wouldn’t realized their complicity in the Red Plan’s growing debacle.

Fourth, I’ll bet those minions would much rather have Dr. Gronseth as their go-to guy because he was Dixon’s hand picked successor and he’d probably shield them if for no other reason than his own survival in perilous times. They are a team. It probably came as an unpleasant surprise to them that Mary Cameron would tip the balance away from Gronseth when a suitable minority candidate would surface.

Fifth, This is not a big surprise. Mary did the same thing to her old allies when the Hispanic Dr. Almanza became a candidate and voted for him over the white male candidate her allies preferred and with her rivals on the Board.

Sixth, Mary has a Doctorate and a lot of experience in Human Resources. If this is a putsch to get rid of Foster the mutineers better make sure they have dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s or it will get very ugly. He could easily force the District to pay the rest of his three years’s salary if they don’t have cause to fire him. That would cost the District another half million dollars.

Seventh, Dixon’s old minions have friends on the Board. Just after Foster was closed to being selected Ann Wasson desperately tried to get Gronseth the job.

Eighth, If Foster is removed, and even if he isn’t, look for a loud series of accusations to pin the blame for the District’s mess on him and to obfuscate Dr. Dixon’s role.

Ninth, A whisper campaign has been started to undermine Foster. I was told from a source that began with one of the Board members who hired Dixon that Foster had not been to work about 35 days in his first sixth months. If true that would be troubling without a very good explanation. I’ll bet its greatly exaggerated. Furthermore the person who told me this wondered if Foster might be an alcoholic. I don’t know if this is also part of the rumor mongering or just a happy addition to an initial smear.

Tenth. Two of Foster’s early critics have been in effect Dr. Dixon’s dupes.They are Chamber of Commerce CEO David Ross and Union Prez. Frank Wanner. Neither have seemed to have the remotest interest in the District’s unsustainable finances relative to the Red Plan.

Eleventh, I have no idea why the Mayor who is belatedly commenting on the destruction of the central schools has weighed in against Foster. That was Dixon’s doing. Foster is simply picking up the pieces. Besides, Don Ness never says anything critical about anyone. Why is he starting to choose sides now? I haven’t the foggiest reason why.

Twelfth, Apparently the “investigation” of Foster began in secret, like so many Dixon inspired actions of the past. All the better to make an end run on those board members being kept in the dark.

Thirteenth, Judy Seliga-Punyko who began the witch hunt is no doubt a little inflated with her success in the recent election. This is not the first time she has ridden such a high horse. Just after she was elected to the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) presidency, she circulated a list of administrative jobs to be eliminated in the face of that era’s financial difficulties. She did not clear them with the rest of the PTSA council.

Fortheenth, The success or failure of making Foster a scapegoat for the mistakes of Dr. Dixon and his minions will not in any way resolve the Death Spiral that will occur when we spend another six million dollars we can’t raise in taxes.

Fiftheenth, I often say that voters get the representation they deserve. I don’t really believe that. They do however choose their elected officials.

Sixteenth, There isn’t an obviously good excuse for Foster taking his time to get a Minnesota Superintendent’s licence. On the other hand, other than the delay, its not that big a deal.

Come over and sit by me

A server at a restaurant this morning apologized after relating a series of disturbing bits of intelligence about the Red Schools of Duluth. I told her not to worry as she should think of me as Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Of course I then had to explain who Alice was.

Alice was President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter and she was a handfull. TR once told someone who was admoninshing him to do a better job supervising her that he could either be President of the United States or manage Alice but he could not do both.

Alice couldn’t run for President herself but she could remain a pain in the District of Colombia’s neck by marrying a much older and powerful man. That she did, Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth who’s name remains on one of three House Office Buildings next to the Capitol.

In her later years Alice alternately charmed and irritated Washington Society by among other things hosting soires. She had a pillow in her living room/salon which had a message in needlepoint. “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody…” it began, “Then come over and sit by me.”

So what did I hear that made it necessary for me to disabuse my server that I didn’t want to hear terrible stories about the School District? Well, since no one dares say anything bad about our schools lest they create an even greater stampede away from them I’ll share them with you. Think of me as Alice. I figure stampede be damned. We’ll never fix anything if we only sweep the dirt under the rug and keep reelecting the nincompoops who gave us the Red Plan.

It seems that classes reach 38 at Denfeld. A great many of the incoming ninth graders can barely read and write. They come from all over the District so its a sign, if its true, that in recent Red Plan years teachers have not had their act together. With classes of 38 that’s no surprise.

Some of Denfeld’s pricey smartboards stopped functioning and teachers were prohibited from using old technology like overhead projectors in their classes to take their place. No chalkboards are around anymore and whiteboards (to replace blackboards) are scarce.

There have been fights. The teacher who these third-hand reports come from has been teaching many years and reportedly never kicked a kid out of class till recently. Now it is a daily experience.

For Goodness Sake! Let’s not investigate this. If we do we might confirm the rumors. Fortunately with the Duluth News Tribune as our default newspaper we can all take it for granted that we will remain in the dark.

Of course, the longer we deny the existance of problems JCI will be able to skate away with its (our) money and reputation. That would be too bad because the other rumors involve their handiwork.

The smartboard failure is just one problem. We are in the middle of our first winter and the Denfeld heating system is problematic. You can no longer open windows to get fresh air or cool off an overheated room and the rooms are not all that comfortable. Also antifreeze from JCI’s high tech HVAC system leaked down walls at Denfeld causing damage to equipment in the classrooms.

As I said I’m just like Alice and these are just third-hand rumors but if they are true I want my money back.

Soul searching at night

Its not quite eleven pm. I was putting the throw rug, now dry, back on the basement floor. While doing that and sweeping up the ceiling off the floor I watched the opening of SNL. It was a groady skit about a couple groady adults attempting to relive their groady teenage experiences. It was a reprise of some characters that haven’t been around for a while because the cast members have gone on to other things in life.

Having just watched a decade old film that I’d always heard was fun, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, the evenings expectations had been raised to high to sink to what promised to be a less than stellar SNL.

I’m not sleepy even though the day has seemed quite long. Two hours of mad mopping left me tired the rest of the day. I got a two-hour long reprieve when one grandson took a nap and the other went with his Grandmother to the latest Chipmunk movie. Chipwrecked is getting lousy Rotten Tomatoes scores but as Grandma said, she was taking a four-year-old to see it not a critic.

So, no soul searching yet. I’ll move on. Continue reading

No Lobbying Pledge

Regarding the previous post here’s a pledge I’d sign, will sign, if I run for Congress.

I pledge that after my retirement from Congress (the legislature) I will not become a paid lobbyist.

If anyone can think of useful ways to tweek this I’ll consider making a change. Now all we have to do is offer this to every Congressional candidate in 2012 and publish the list of those refusing to sign on to the No Lobbying Pledge.

Congressmen and the good life

While Chip Cravaack defends putting the brakes on the Stock Act his GOP neighbor across the bay Sean Duffy is supporting legislation to focus a magnifying glass on all Congress.

My previous post on the subject prompted a reader of mine to send me the link above and a little commentary from the recently published book “Throw Them All Out.”

To begin with, among the multiple stunning revelations from Peter Schweizer’s book, “Throw Them All Out,” was that two past speakers of the House made millions of dollars as a result of information and opportunities afforded by their positions. Democrat Nancy Pelosi and her husband cashed in big time by getting special access to an initial public offering of Visa stock even as the House under her leadership refused to move important credit card industry reforms. Similarly, Republican Dennis Hastert bought a piece of land back home, then used an earmark to channel federal funds to build a highway nearby. Hastert more than doubled his money when he sold the land not long after.

Making a killing from public service is far from limited to Pelosi and Hastert, and often it’s perfectly legal because Congress exempts itself from many of the laws the rest of us have to observe, including those against insider trading. Lawmakers frequently say that they make a financial sacrifice to serve in Congress, but somehow they manage to leave Washington with a great deal more money than they had when they arrived. As former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote Friday in the Wall Street Journal, “the corruption isn’t confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It’s an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It’s an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.”

At its worst Congress is like a bunch of referees who get paid by team managers to call fouls on the other team and who are rewarded by the winning team. Jimmy Oberstar retired a mult-millionaire although it was because he married the rich widow of a lobbyist for the air industry he regulated.

You have only to look at the tens of millions Newt Gingrich earned even after he retired from Congress to see how good connections can pay off.

I’ve been pretty indifferent to calls over the years to limit Congressional terms. I’ve ignored pledges to vote against tax increases in three campaigns from Grover Norquist. There is however one pledge I’d love to see every candidate for Congress sign – a pledge not to lobby after retiring.

My fantasy campaign for Congress in 2112 – or maybe not – or maybe

Yeah, this year’s Duluth school board elections is one of those flukes. You regular readers know what I mean. Me – not being a candidate. Oh I toyed with the idea but when a candidate emerged in Judy Seliga’s 3rd District my conscience was eased and I played with my Grandchildren instead of campaigning for office. If you had a Tan Man and a Jakie to give you a hug like their lives depended upon it you would have no doubt that I made the right decision.

I haven’t mentioned this almost limbic-like thought to my wife – and poop on any of you readers who dares tell her I’ve broached the subject to the eight of you who read this blog – but I’ve been thinking about running for Congress again. No kidding.

It might work like this.

Rationale and How To:

1. Everybody hates Congress. Latest polling down to 9% approval.
2. No one trusts anyone who belongs to a major political party theoretically giving an “independent” a good chance.
3. Chip Cravaack is toast and should be if for no other reason than he wallows at Grover Norquist’s feet. His moving to New Hampshire is just frosting on the cake.
4. The main reason Democrats kept getting elected has been because voters in Minnesota’s Eighth District go for the candidate (so far always a guy) who can guarantee the greatest federal pork but in this day and age of precious little pork they will look for some other reason.
5. The DFL party candidates so far all look like an early version of today’s GOP presidential candidates. (See the link on previous post)
6. Few candidates could make a better claim for being an independent than me having run for Congress twice – 1992 and 2006 as an Independent. (I was even independent of Minnesota’s Independence Party)
7. Granted I only got 7% and 2% respectively of the overall vote in those years but I was grossly out spent and viewed as a flake largely for not belonging to either party and for many previous campaigns.
8. That wouldn’t likely change except that this year I’d run as a Democrat in the primary. (Possible situation – see point 5)
9. I’d run as though I was unlikely to win and consequently speak candidly which I think would put me in far better stead this year than ever before.
frankly, my non partisan credentials have been premature up until now.
10. In a day when people are tired of politics as usual I’d offer them not only what they wanted but what they needed.
11. Voters don’t need a nice guy Republican afraid of Norquist, Dobson, Limbaugh and Fox News. They don’t need another James, Business as usual, spend like a drunken sailor, Oberstar.
12. What voters need is someone to help lead a short term fix for what really ails American politics – blind gridlock.
13.To that end I’d pledge to serve for only two terms tops. First by running as a Democrat (in 2112) for the first two year term. After that I’d quit the Democratic Party (where I’ve been caucusing for six years) and run as a Republican (in 2114) for a final two-year term.
14. As a Congressman I’d ignore partisan politics. I can make the case that I love and hate both parties because its true. I would only promise to have my staff make a top priority of constituent services while I cajolled and goaded my fellow Congressman to follow my example of encouraging comity between the two party’s – not only for the sake of the nation but for the sake of the world. they say that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving and God knows most of our Congressmen are guilty of sin of wanting to get reelected more than fixing the nation. We’ve got big problems. We’re indenturing our grandchildren financially, We’re risking an irreversable Global Warming, We’re ignoring a world wide financial collapse……and this is just for starters. Who gives a damn what Congressional Committee you become a slave to with this all going on in the background. Hell, that’s what it is to Congress – background events which take hind tit behind organizing a year-round reelection campaign and sucking up to folks whose chief interest is turning politics into a blood sport.

Golly – Point 45 was a long one.

15. The harder campaign might be the second one as a Republican in 2114. There will be a reapportioned district next year but I haven’t seen any proposed maps that would greatly affect the outcome.

16. I’ve just proposed something novel – pledging in advance to run for one party then switch afterward. Plenty of politicans have held their fingers up to the wind to decide when to change parties but none have ever announced they would do what I’m contemplating. It would be a pax on both parties not a pox on them and we could use a little serious pax.
17. I’m just quirky enough to pull off a campaign in which America, not just Northeastern Minnesota, takes notice. For one thing I’m as closed to politically fearless as any other candidates I’ve seen. I’m not sure if that is because as a junior high student I took JFK’s book Profiles in Courage too seriously or if it was because my parents beat it into my head that my grandfather was a superhero for having won a Congressional Medal of Honor and encouraging me to climb up on the pedestal he stood upon. If I did get national attention I might just pull in the kind of money that actually gets a no-name Congressional candidate elected in a volatile election year.
18. This pre-maybe announcement would be the start but I wouldn’t really start campaigning for months. Maybe not until May or June of next year when the filings take place. Heck I’ve got a lot of Grandchild hugging to do between now and then.
19. Finally, unless I amend or add to this post I’d raise money and interest in the same way I attempted to do in 1992. I’d write a book and sell it to raise money for my campaign. That time I began writing the book first. It was a children’s adventure story. It turned out not to be very good but I mostly began writing it to teach myself how to write. I sold several hundred of the books and used the proceeds to campaign. Hey, a couple thousand dollars got me 7% of the vote. This year, as long time readers know, I’m writing another book. This one is about politics. That’s a much more sensible topic for a political candidate. I’m also a much more practiced writer than I was twenty years ago.

Now here’s what to expect. Continue reading

Occupy this!

My Buddy sent me this tepid criticism of Occupy Wallstreet.

The gist is that the occupiers who are so eager to be cut a fair deal are selfishly occupying parcels of land in various cities and preventing the rest of us from enjoying the properties ourselves.

As Readers of this blog may recall I dropped off some baked goods to our local Occupy Duluth encampment a month ago.

Other even longer time readers may recall my passing out Let Duluth Vote flyers to our local Tea Party a couple years ago. Here’s a post I entered just before deciding to visit one of their protests at the DECC. Appropos the previous post I see that I was complaining about the Congress’s elimination of Glass-Steagal.

I’ve had forty years to watch mass protest movements. They are easy to criticize because they attract all sorts of moths like a fire. Any critic can unfairly find some loathsome moth to point to as representative of the whole protest.

For instance in my first stab at a protest march I sat in the middle of the most important intersection in Mankato,Minnesota. It wasn’t my idea to pick that terribly inconvenient spot but that’s where organizers took us and I was all for their protest against the Vietnam War. When an angry motorcyclist drove over a protester I found myself not entirely unsympathetic with the driver. The following year I purposely avoided an even more inconvenient march to block Highway 169 because I figured it would be counterproductive and turn others against us. When I saw news reports of the incident later I saw the little jerk who tried to kick me in the testicles when I’d gotten in a fight years before. Later that day I saw my little tormentor, no idealist him, walking herky jerky down the street strung out on drugs booze or both. Did his participation invalidate the reasons for the protest? Hardly. Could participation by dimwits like him have been expected when the blockage of the highway was planned? After the motorcycle incident you’re damn right they could have been.

I felt so strongly about the counter productive consequences of such marches that the following year when a small group of college students marched to the office of the College President to occupy it in the name of protesting the war I found out where their march would go and laid down on the side walk to make them step over me. One of the peace marchers even gave me a little kick as he did so. (a very little kick to be fair)

Among the Tea Partiers at the DECC were some folks with pretty ugly signs about President Obama although much worse such signs were at other Tea Party Protests. When I got involved in the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 I was amazed that all sorts had come out of the woodwork to support him.

At every one of the Arab Spring protests there has been an angry element that threatened to tarnish the larger group by rioting.

I’ve been impressed with Occupy Wallstreet for its restraint. Even the self righteousness I’ve seen in previous protests is muted. As a group without spokesmen and strategists its been remarkably cohesive and pacifistic. And God knows its got serious grievances although they vary depending on who in the crowd you talk to. Some folks are criticizing it for this just as quickly as they would criticize it if the group was monolithic and cultic. As for me I prefer the former liability to the later.

I’ve seen all the cultic multi-monomania I want in the current Republican Party which has taken political correctness and fossilized it into impossible nostrums by which to manage America. No taxes. No limit on Defense Spending. No foreign policy other than the opposite of whatever Barrack Obama is doing. No regulation of banks. Its a sort of an illogical mashup of anarchism and laissez faire capitalism with constitutional rights for fetuses thrown in and unlimited production and distribution of semi-automatic rifles and, of course, the unleashing of hidden political contributions and the fettering of unions.

Compared to that untidy mess I’d side with unemployed kids with $20,000 student loans to pay off anytime.

Oh, and I’m glad the Occupy Duluth crowd does seem to be willing to vacate the public square – at least for the time being. Its getting cold out there.

Now they’re worried about “policy”?

I’ve been ruminating on the editors of the Trib grousing about the naming of our new schools. I rolled my eyes when I read this line:

“The creation of such a committee actually is dictated by school district policy, but it’s a policy that apparently was forgotten when the School Board chose a name for Duluth East High School, which was opened this year at what had been Ordean Junior High School, and when it decided the new western middle school, which is scheduled to open in the fall, would be called Lincoln Park Middle School”

Big blankety blank deal. As the bard wrote: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose – By any other name would smell as sweet;” Same with skunks.

I can’t tell you how many District policies the Dixon coven broke to spend $315 million on rejiggering Duluth’s schools. The Trib editors never once complained about this in their editorials. But when the Board farts around with names and committees to rename the fancy new schools the editors get all hyper. Great sense of priorities that.

I have a theory to explain this editorial. I think that having spent six years rooting for the Red Plan and downplaying its negatives the Trib has finally recognized that the negatives simply must be addressed. First, of course, they had to insure that Red Plan supporters remained in control of the School Board in this Fall’s elections (God forbid the juggernaut be stopped before full implementation) but for their own credibility the Trib’s editors have to begin taking the side of the majority of Duluth that thinks the Duluth School Board is populated with twits. The Trib’s twits.

Thugs for Better Schools IV

I have yet to proof read this. I may come back and polish it up later so be forewarned.

This is a story about character assassination. I’ve been accused of it and I plead guilty to being candid. I also plead guilty to being a bit vengeful. I also freely admit that my self-defense for this, of not having been the first to cast stones, is pretty pathetic. I’ve apologized for a number of shortcomings publicly through the years but I’m not inclined to do so for taking self-righteous egoists down a peg. Such a case is Ralph Doty, former radio personality, teacher, legislator, community college president, columnist and the proud possessor of four pensions most of them public.

During his stint as an editor/ columnist at the Duluth Budgeteer Ralph Doty used his bully pulpit to get some payback on Duluth Mayoral candidate Herb Bergson who was running for reelection. You see Bergson had once had the effrontery to challenge Ralph’s Brother, Gary, for the same office when the younger Doty was Mayor. An honest editor makes sure to make his criticism or endorsement of a political candidate is published a couple weeks before an election to give the target a fair chance to rebut. Ralph meted out his vengeance just three days before a primary election. Since the Budgeteer was a weekly Herb Bergson was given no chance to defend himself. That is the action of a political hack not a journalist.

And what did Ralph Doty’s breathtakingly vicious attack consist of? Little more than out of context quotes from the Superior (Wisconsin) Evening Telegram covering the time Mr. Bergson was that City’s relatively popular Mayor. In Ralph Doty’s hands the criticism of Bergson put him on a level only slightly higher than axe murderers.
The attack’s viciousness was probably unnecessary. Bergson was given little chance of winning his Duluth Mayoral post again in 2007. He had committed enough faux pas (mysterious auto accidents and inexplicable firings) and was already the subject of enough rumors to sink his reelection.

Ralph’s hit piece probably was assembled from his younger brother’s opposition research files meaning they that were ancient history, and over eight years old. Reading old letters to the editor took little journalistic skill to ferret out. I don’t recall that Gary Doty, while undoubtedly aware of Bergson’s Superior follies, ever himself saw fit to publicize them and yet he won handily without resorting to name calling.

I had reason to pay close attention to Doty’s misuse of his editorial authority since I too was a candidate that year for the Duluth School Board. Doty had already made it clear in earlier columns that he didn’t have much use for critics of the Red Plan and I wasn’t eager to see him visit the same calumnies on me.

I first got wind of Doty’s infatuation with the plan when he mischaracterized the power of the Minnesota Department of Education to stop the Red Plan. Had the plan not met their criteria they could have vetoed it forcing the District to resubmit another plan. Doty quoted the Education Commissioner Alice Seagren who did once say something startlingly close to Doty’s claim about her Department’s lack of power to stop the Red Plan. I never quite figured out what Seagren was driving at because her staff later confirmed what they had repeatedly told me – that their Department did indeed have that power. I suspect Seagren was attempting to remove herself and her Department from the growing controversy in Duluth. As it was the Dept. did make the School District sweat it out for several extra months when they took a closer look at the Red Plan proposal.

Because of the commissioner’s statement I couldn’t really fault Doty too much for his misinformation but after I read what he did to Bergson I realized I’d better make nice with him lest he do the same thing to me or to Let Duluth Vote.

I invited Doty to meet me over a cup of coffee. I reasoned that I could make a pretty compelling case for the pro vote side in a face-to-face meeting which he would have to take into consideration if he chose to criticize me prior to the election. I was also counting on our meeting making it harder for Doty to attack my character once we’d broken bread together. We set at least one meeting date but he canceled it. He would not be encumbered with any sense of mutual respect when he cut me down to size three days before my date with the voters. This wasn’t the only meeting he skipped out on.

Dr. Dixon had come to Duluth from Faribault, Minnesota under fire. This was not generally known in Duluth. I’ve written about this extensively so I won’t take up space here. Just put “Dixon” and “Faribault” in this blog’s search engine for more. Gary Glass, also a candidate for the School Board in 2007, had accumulated a wealth of critical news stories about Dixon from the Faribault Paper, probably a lot more than the Evening Telegram had devoted to knocking Mayor Bergson. Gary set up a meeting in Duluth with one of Faribault’s most vociferous Dixon critics and invited Doty the “journalist” to the meeting. As with my invitation to coffee Doty agreed to meet with Glass but backed out at the last minute.

Having avoided any attempt to get fair and impartial information from Red Plan critics Ralph Doty was free to give Glass and me the Bergson treatment. Three days before the general election he raked us over the coals. In Gary’s case, he all but called him a liar for saying that JCI could earn up to $33.4 million from the Red Plan. I’ve just spent two weeks trying to get a letter-to-the-editor published about this sorry episode and reconfirmed that Gary Glass was not only much closer to the truth than Ralph but that Ralph was disseminating a blatant lie about JCI’s likely earnings. This will all be laid out in the letter to the editor which I finally got the Trib to accept after two weeks of providing adequate documentation.

Glass who won despite Doty’s smear took a complaint to the Minnesota Association of Newspapers. He offered to let me join him but I figured the Budgeteer had every right to publish political rubbish. Ignorance is generally an acceptable excuse for libel.

Doty had not lived in Duluth when I was on the School Board which is what he beat me up about in his hit piece. In eight years I once said “God Dammit” which proved that I was foul mouthed. It was just my tough luck that his grand embroidery was sent out to almost every home in Duluth, close to 40,000 of them. If his column caused a little over 300 voters to switch votes away from me then Ralph was the reason for my defeat and the reason the Red Plan was able to proceed.

Because Gary and I were public figures I understood that we were almost completely vulnerable to criticism. Even so I was surprised that Gary’s complaint received several votes although not enough to censure Doty. Clearly other Minnesota journalists found Doty’s methods objectionable.

I’ve always suspected that Doty was in Dr. Dixon’s camp from the beginning. Certainly, the letter he wrote in praise of Dr. Dixon hints at more than a mere journalistic acquaintance with the former Superintendent. Dixon had an amazing way of tracking his critics. When Let Duluth Vote published a full-page ad criticizing the Red Plan the school District countered with a two-page ad countering our arguments including one criticism that we pulled out of our ad just before publication. Someone had given our ad to Dixon before we altered it but the District deftly rebutted something we didn’t say.

Dr. Doty’s unqualified endorsement of Dixon demonstrates a lack of perspective. Says Doty “I believe the former Duluth superintendent of schools was one of the most brilliant, courageous and gutsy administrators I’ve ever known.” It’s funny how the best Superintendent Doty ever met managed to get himself run out of two school districts one after the other.

As I wrote to Chuck Frederick, a real editor who made me re-edit a 300-word letter nearly a dozen times over two weeks, if Ralph Doty really was an editor at the Budgeteer he was a disgrace to the profession.

Treats for Occupy Duluth

Yesterday I woke up at 5AM and decided to swim laps for a second day straight after my three year layoff. I quit initially because fighting the School Board left too little time for personal fitness.

It was probably while I was listening to Public Radio that I got the idea of buying a box of pastries for our local Occupy Wall Street tent encampment downtown. I’d enjoyed looking down at them from the Radisson a week earlier. They are more laid back than the protesters of my Era and every bit as fuzzy about how to “fix” the ailments they are concerned about. They are sure a lot less self righteous and less Dittoheadical than the Tea Partiers. I generally like them and their fuzzy focus.

I figured that I’d wait till after my swim to take them food. I wasn’t sure any of them would have crawled out of the tents much before eight. Its gotten a little cold outside. When I finished I headed over to a bakery and as I put in an order for 4 dozen mixed donoughts a lady behind me said yum yum I’ll follow you anywhere. I told her she’d have to head over to the OWS protest because that’s who was going to get them. The baker gave me a little discount and told me he had some friends there.

I slipped in a little cash thinking that the bakery good were more of a morale booster than anything else and wrote that it came from the 5%.

This is what I make of the OWS. For years Americans bragged about our streets of gold and viewed ourselves as a country where anyone could succeed with hard work. This graph suggests that this is no longer the case.

And here’s a piece that gives more detail on how we are putting our social mobility at risk.

No Child left falling between the cracks of Outcome Based Education

I experienced very little “local control” when I served on the Duluth School Board except from my fellow school board members. As George Balach said of me when I was elected to be the Board Chair in 1998 I was only one of nine members. As Chairman I was pretty much the prisoner of all the other school board members. Before that I had been one of two newly elected board members and the seven longer serving members took little notice of me.

The year I was elected Chair I leveraged the support of four newly elected School Board members who did not trust me or the other four incumbent Board members. They had all run elections based on the theme that the incumbents were bums for bringing the Edison Schools to Duluth. The four remaining incumbents, including me, had all voted to bring Edison in and to add insult just after the newcomers were elected we voted to protect Edison from the possibility that the new Board could prematurely scuttle the Edison experiment. Because I got the anti-Edison newcomers to vote for me with my vote providing the five-vote-majority on our 9 member board my old colleagues didn’t trust me either.

It was all very humorous for about a week Continue reading

Smoking hot new schools

I just got back from visiting my Mother. While I was leaving her residence a vaguely familiar face hailed me and turned out to be a teacher I’d known thirty years earlier in my brief and inglorious stint teaching in the Proctor Schools. D and I had a nice chat and when I mentioned that I was mostly a local eccentric he kindly told me he was glad to know at least one. As I left and got to my car another vaguely familiar face greeted me. This one belonged to a six foot tall former student in my seventh grade Morgan Park Geography class from 21 years ago.

K was a lot bigger now. I again I rehashed the familiar I’m an eccentric conversation. Its my standard introduction of myself. K mentioned something about following my public complaints and taking much of what I said lightly then told me he had left town because of our schools. His children are a few years away from school yet but the taxes, the classrooms of 40 kids and what’s happened at Morgan Park convinced him that he wanted to raise his children in Esko. I told him that it didn’t sound like he had taken my constant badgering all that lightly and he agreed.

Bumping into a former colleague and student got me thinking that I ought to drive by some of the new schools while kids were there. I’ve commented unfavorably about what I anticipated might happen but I’ve not taken a look at the school up to now. My first quick drive was by the new Duluth East. I was most curious to see if the parking lot was crammed full as I had predicted. It had a few spaces and a smaller lot was being laid out and leveled across 40th Ave. East. Maybe my predictions were too pessemistic. Maybe the school is being very tight-fisted with parking permits. I don’t know.

I did see a bunch of kids across the street with one girl smoking a cigarette in the yard two houses down. That’s something the junior high kids in the Ordean days didn’t do as they were confined to their middle school during school hours. I’m sure the homeowner wouldn’t have been pleased.

That’s no longer a problem for the homeowners near the old East High. Its still under development with kids at Woodland but when it opens next year it will once again be a junior high. I saw the first two of the Judy Seliga-Punyko campaign lawnsigns near East. Not a big surprise. When I was on the school board the homeowners used to be up in arms about high school kids smoking in their yards. That will no longer be the case and some of the homeowners no doubt thank Judy for passing their bother over to the folks at Ordean. One of them used to get after me for not controlling the smokers and when I ran against Judy four years he had a Seliga sign in his yard. Its always nice when you can get what you want by electing your preferred candidate. I’ll bet it will be good for his home value too. As for Ordean neigborhood home values…..not so much!

Who’s the Bossart?

Kerry Leider is bursting at the seams with pride about his new Red Plan schools in this WDIO report on the soon to be open edifices. I’ve heard through the grapevine that our new schools will be a hit. I hope so even though it will give pleasure to folks who took great liberties with the public to get them built. I’m sure Kerry has held his breath for a long time hoping that the schools would absolve him from any little duplicities he engaged in to get them open.

East High is the one school I’ve heaped the most abuse on calling it Laxative High in one memorable post. We are just a week away from finding out if the parking will prove to be the nightmare that many have predicted. I can’t say I’m eager to eat crow but I would gladly wolf down feathers, claws and all if it ensured we had a really great high school out East. Of course, for $40 or 50 million it would be a crime if the new school was anything less than a prize.

I’d like to think that if it is my public scorn was a whip that drove the architects and builders on to prove me wrong. Certainly they were all aware of the anger their project evoked in the community. Perhaps we will have a scene like in the Music Man where the once angry parents who felt they had been cheated become converts to the fly-by-night salesman who told them his “think system” would give them a school marching band. “That tuba’s my Barney!”

I’ve beaten up Mr. Leider on numerous occasions but the real object of my displeasure has escaped town. Kerry lost my respect for saying all JCI would get for its troubles was $4.5 million but I’ve always believed he lied under duress. Even my brother, a very competent salesman in his own right, who visited town recently suggested that Johnson Controls probably was getting in the neighborhood of $45 million and guessed a 15% commission that turned out to be right on the money when we took JCI to court.

JCI has a lot of experience is sales and HVAC but not so much in project management. If they had there would have been no need for them to bring in Bossart Co. which may be the real project managers. If so, then JCI is the project manager of a project manager and one more layer of contracting bureaucracy to inflate the final cost.

The Duluth Schools, no matter how well built, will not lure students back with gorgeous classes if the student to teacher ratio is 36 to 1. Keep your fingers crossed that my predictions will all prove to be unfounded.

American Spring?

I just watched a few minutes of the television coverage of what seems to be the imminent fall of Colonel Khadafi. Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. Poor Fox News has been rooting for him. What will they say about this? Probably that Obama has violated the Constitution to help dump him.

Oh, and while changing channels I stopped to see photographs of all our new Red Plan schools. There will soon be tours. The architects all like primary colors for the elementary schools. There was a lot of blue but not so much red for “stop” or yellow for “caution.”

All this leads me to wonder when we will have our own revolution. An American Spring anyone? Fox would overthrow Obama but I’d overthrow the Tea Party. Even in Duluth. The local Tea Partiers were more interested in getting rid of a black President than a Red Plan.

Reflections on Today’s Sunday Trib

As I begin writing this post I have but thirty minutes before I leave to pick up Steven to take him to our church service. I had woken up just before 6AM thinking I had time to read most of the Trib before my grandsons woke up. However, just as I finished my shower I was greeted with the squeals of Jakey-Jake. He woke up before schedule. I managed to read the editorialized story about the wonderful new Denfeld by Chuck Frederick (although the five minutes of reading stretched out over thirty minutes of getting Jakie his morning breakfast. I only had time to read snippets of the other big story about $40 million spent on an illusion – the Excelsior Energy plant that will likely never see use.

Its nice to see that the Trib has finally caught up with my blog although about five years late or perhaps 40 million dollars too late!

I’m at a bit of a loss complimenting the DNT for noticing this gross waste of public money while it still fawns over the School District’s Boondoggle Red Plan. The other story lauds the nifty features to be found in the new Denfeld…

Phooey. Little children got busy again and I’ll have to finish this later.

OK. Its almost four hours later. I heard a few phrases of my daughter’s solo in Church before my Jakey shouted, “Mama, Mama” a little too vigorously for me to let him stay in the church service. I’m waiting for him to start a nap and I’ll try to get a few more words in edgewise.

I was busy looking for Frederick’s article on the DNT’s website when I had to call it quits earlier. I’ve found it now. “It’s absolutely gorgeous” is the banner headline above it. Its vintage Frederick. He’s a very good writer and this suits his forte, human interest.

He begins with a young woman who is from Central High and regards going to Denfeld in her senior year with significant reservations. She and two other students, both Denfeld students, get the tour and by the end their eyes are opened and all of them, including the dubious Central student are sold. The banner headline says it all.

I mentioned a few days ago in Thugs 3 that I was pleased Chuck Frederick let his better angles rule rather than write a big story about my wishing harm to innocent children. Today I could almost overlook the back patting nature of this news story because of the this paragraph.

Plenty of bitterness remains. In the community because the high school consolidation was part of a bigger, $311 million, long-range facilities plan that was allowed to proceed without a public vote to accompany the spending of so much public money. And among students, whose traditions and habits were sometimes trampled or overlooked as the kids were shuffled from school to school the past two years to accommodate construction.

I’m glad that Chuck has acknowledged the community’s wrath in terms that fully justify it.

There is no question that the community needs to embrace these new schools much as a raped mother ought to come to love the child she has been forced to bear. The children in the schools are as innocent as the rape victim’s unplanned progeny. This sounds harsh and I mean it to. I’ve already acknowledged in a letter to the editor last year that some of these schools will be excellent new schools. Whether they are justified by the expenditure in trust and taxes has yet to be seen.

For the three students they should look forward to their new school. From many accounts, even those in the DNT, it was a tough year for all students at Central and many of the Denfeld students felt particularly unwelcome at Central while the construction was under way. In my experience kids are resilient and far less territorial, when push comes to shove, than their parents about stuff like school legacies. That the Atrium and commons are beautiful is good to hear. I suspect that the new year will be such a relief that all involved will find it a great improvement over last year.

I’m still awaiting the opening of East High which was appended to a rather utilitarian junior high. Its parking will likely be a nightmare and it’s nothing to look at as your drive down Superior Street mostly hidden from view. It would be ironic if the new western high school is loved by the western part of the city which most resented its imposition while the eastern end of town that was most enthusiastic about their new high school ends up being disappointed. Perhaps that would be poetic justice.

I’ve published almost every criticism of the new schools that has come across my desk. I’ve only criticized two of the buildings themselves. (that I can recall) One has been East high, for a host of reasons, and Piedmont Elementary for the cramped space it occupies. I’ll hold my judgement of the buildings themselves for the time being. I will say that for all the heated objections to the new western middle school I rather enjoyed seeing its shell the other day as I drove along the constricted and constructed I-35. Its certainly going to be eye catching.

The Trib and I share one trait. We have both been holding our breaths to see what unfolds. For me its been the possibility that the community will soon fall in love with their schools and forget all about the method in which they were imposed. Should that happen I expect to be vilified as a wet blanket. For the Trib’s editors they have been holding their breaths in hopes that their reluctance to lift the rock to see what was hidden under it will be forgiven. If the schools turn out to have been compromised the DNT’s reputation will suffer for giving the Red Plan a lukewarm endorsement.

In some ways the Trib can be excused. The Red Plan came about when it was undergoing a vicious down sizing and in the full-throated thrill of Dr. Dixon’s groupies for an overhaul of our schools. They hedged their bets that the Chamber of Commerce crowd would be vindicated. I hedged my bets that no matter what the result of the Red Plan most people would never find fault with my cry of “let the people vote!”

To give Chuck his due the Trib owes it to the Duluth public to put the best face on the Red Plan. We will need to fall in love with our schools again even if that means enduring the Trib’s crowing “We were right to support it.” That’s not litterally what the Trib’s Denfeld story says…..but yes, it really is. Let’s hope the Trib’s editors are right. The Duluth public paid a very high price for Red Plan schools.

Oh, and about the other $40 million boondoggle up on the Range. I’d like the Cravaack defending Trib to acknowledge that the boondoggle could never have happened without the support of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Republican Senator Nick Coleman.


Topeka, Kansas, was not the South but it was close enough to have a sizeable black population. I was a child there in the Era depicted by the current movie “The Help.” I’ve not seen it but my wife, Claudia, just finished reading the book on which it is based and says its set in a concentration camp but its feel-good enough to paper over the grim reality that was the Civil Right’s Era.

I’ve thought about writing about my own small connection with Lilly, our family’s “help” from my youth and this brief reminiscence from Connecticut , another Northern state, has prompted me to add my two cents. I doubt that I’ll read The Help but I can think of another book with a movie that does honor to the reality, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It too is a bit of a fantasy. There weren’t many Atticus Finches South or North. Continue reading