Prologue to the Red Plan Chronicles

My complete column from this week’s Reader Weekly:

Welty Loses Again

By Harry Welty

I lost the school board race. It’s nothing new. I’ve lost eleven out of 13 bids for public office. As the Duluth News Tribune editorialized I’m a “perennial candidate.” That’s shorthand for:” Don’t take him too seriously.” As I told the Reader Weekly’s Editor, Dennis Kempton, my eccentricities have finally caught up with me.

The $437 million Red Plan is all but a done deal. Derailing it required a change of votes on the Duluth School Board. I had to win to give the voters a referendum. It’s possible that my defeat means that Second District voters didn’t want a referendum but I find that hard to believe. I had a strong ally in the at-large race, Gary Glass. Gary’s landslide victory across Duluth, including my Second District, indicates that our message carried the day even while I lost.

I’m inclined to give Ralph Doty’s character assassination credit for my defeat even though it was billed as a warning to voters to guard against last minute dirty tricks. Ralph’s Budgeteer column was published three days before the election making it impossible for me to rebut. Ralph did the same thing to his brother Gary’s mortal enemy, Herb Bergson, just before the primary election. Ralph’s “truthy” column characterized me as an obscenity spewing, voodoo practicing liar. I may well be the former but the libels, Ralph accused me of, were all published by the risk averse Duluth News Tribune. The Trib would no sooner court a lawsuit by a Fortune 100 company than it would give its newspapers away for free.

The Budgeteer, however, is delivered to every household in town for free whether they are wanted or not. How seriously it is regarded can often be determined by the height of a moldering pile of them clumped together on the porch. Ralph’s column was delivered to perhaps 10,000 homes in my District alone. I lost by 670 votes. A switch of a mere 336 voters from my rival to me would have gotten me elected. Could Ralph’s column have caused 336 voters to switch their votes? I think so, and if my dire predictions come to pass then Ralph can claim some of the credit.

Duluth’s City Council has some big ticket problems. It must pay off a growing health care debt to its retirees. It must resume fixing its streets. It must repair some ancient sewer pipes which recently flooded dozens of homes with sewage. Police ranks must be beefed up and Library hours restored. With the School District hogging huge tax increases it will make it tough for the City to do to the same. Next year there will be a 56% increase in school district taxes because of the Red Plan. This will be easy to verify because St. Louis County will be mailing out tax estimates today or tomorrow. Anyone concerned by the District’s tax increases can register their opinion at the School Board’s Truth in Taxation hearing, Tuesday, December 4th at 6:30 PM.

I’m not so concerned about the City, however; I’m worried about the schools. I believe that resentful voters will kill the existing $5 million annual tax for our classrooms next November. This would mean teacher layoffs, larger classrooms, and shrunken course offerings. We will have new buildings in the works but our curriculum will become threadbare. Parents won’t stand for it and our schools will be plunged into chaos again.

I’m an amateur historian and there is no finer subject for a history than calamity. I propose to write a series of columns which will help explain how we got to this moment in time. I’ll begin right now with a little anecdote on the author of the column that laid my campaign low.

On election eve Ralph Doty told Dennis Anderson that he is a life long Duluth resident. How he managed this while being president of an Ohio community college I’m unclear but he was a State Senator here when I first moved to Duluth 33 years ago. Some of his legislative colleagues unkindly nicknamed Ralph the “Prancing Prince” for his natty attire and the platform shoes he wore while striding through Capitol hallways.

Before his death I was occasionally invited over to Willard Munger’s home along with his environmentalist buddies and my Republican pal Gerry Anderson who had become Willard’s campaign manager for his final campaigns. Over breakfast one morning Willard told a story about the long absent Doty.

It seems that the Duluth legislative delegation had a long standing agreement with Rep. Rod Searle of Waseca. The Duluth Delegation would protect Searle’s Waseca campus of the University of Minnesota if Searle would use his position on the House Higher Education Committee to do the same for UMD. One day a distraught Searle told the Duluth Delegation that Senator Doty had voted to close the Waseca campus in Committee. The Duluth delegation convened an emergency meeting and Willard let Ralph have it. “You GD, blankety-blank. The Duluth delegation keeps it promises!”

An ashen faced Doty sniffed, “Mr. Munger, where I come from we don’t use that kind of language,” to which Munger roared, “Well then Mr. Doty, you horse’s ass. The Duluth Delegation keeps its promises.”

Welty, a small time politician, will resume writing for the Reader Weekly every other week as he serializes the Red Plan Chronicles. Anyone wishing to help his pet cause can do so by visiting: letdulutvote.com.

Plan B revives

Eric sent me a kind post suggesting a reason for my loss. My reply offers a counter reason and an explanation of where I think Let Duluth Vote will go from here.

Eric Says:

November 7th, 2007 at 7:59 am e

Harry, As you know from my previous post that I opposed your election. I do however think you might have won if you had not made comments earlier that your goal was to confuse the voters. I think that really turned off voters.
Now that being said, I was one of the few (at least that I am aware of) that supported your belief that we needed to close one high school. So as much as I hoped you did not win, I do think you have good ideas and good intentions. To that end I hope you will continue to offer ideas and suggestions for bettering the Duluth school district.
Sometimes it is not that the message is bad or wrong it is how it is delivered.
Best of luck and please continue to help us do what’s best. I firmly believe that opposing opinions, while not always good, they always cause us to relook at our direction.

harrywelty Says:

November 7th, 2007 at 9:14 am e

Thanks Eric,

I agree that the issue of confusion did not help me but it was the News Tribune sowing the confusion not me. The headline writer, who I presume was Robin Washington, took the issue of confusion out of context and the headline made it sound as though we were attempting to confuse the public. That was not fair or accurate. The reporter, Sarah Horner, had the story right. We wanted to offer a plan B petition because it would have, and still could, force a referendum of a more manageable size. The two approved building plans, the Red Plan approved by the state, and the Plan B plan approved by Duluth’s voters in a referendum, would have forced the School Board to reconsider its options had a new majority taken control.

(We learned from our visit to the State that no petition would be necessary if both Gary and I won. The new majority could have changed the terms of the Red Plan at will)

The new majority will not take control but it is still possible to circulate a Plan B petition. It might be worthwhile to do this if the public has second thoughts about proceeding with the Red Plan. Gary Glass beat Bevan Schraw almost two to one throughout the entire school district. His election was as close to a referendum as there could be. The public has great misgivings about the Red Plan.

One more thing will happen this year which might make a difference. The Red Plan’s costs are already figured into next year’s tax estimates that will be sent out this November prior to December’s Truth in Taxation hearings. They will show a 56% increase in our School District’s taxes from this year to next year. If no one goes to the School Board meeting to protest that will auger well for the Red Plan. If there is serious protest a new school board might be advised to ratchet back the Red Plan and a plan B might be just the ticket.

I suspect I would have done almost as well as Gary in my District had the News Tribune not panned me in its endorsements and had not Ralph Doty smeared me so viciously three days before the election. I’m afraid we didn’t get the idea across that both Gary and I had to win to stop the Red Plan. With my credibility in tatters the “breath of fresh air” that the Trib said Judy offered was enough to blow me off course.

She’ll have a heck of a time in 2009 making 5 million in annual budget cuts if, as I’ve predicted, the public refuses to pass an operational levy in November of 2008.

seventeen minutes and counting

My head tells me I can’t lose. My heart has no idea what the outcome of the election will be. I passed out my literature until 5:30 PM last night. It was dark, cold and windy. I ended lit dropping everything but eight square blocks of my district. I had a little help but did most of the door to door by myself. I was pleased to have covered so much territory in three weeks.

Claudia read through a web page on the Trib today that had comments about me pro and con. By the time I heard about the site this afternoon it was no longer online. She told me the posts were polar opposites either depicting me as a rabble rouser or as a hero. No fence sitting for me.

I joked with the Trib’s Sarah Horner about her Editorial Board’s characterizing me as a “single issue” candidate. I found that very funny since I’ve been fighting those sorts in the Republican Party for the past thirty years. Oh well. The Editor is from Boston. He’s much more worldly and sophisticated about these sorts of things than m I am.

Sarah asked if she could send a photographer to my home tonight to take a picture if I won. I told her sure. If I lose there will be no pictures. I told her that for her sake that I hoped I won because without me on the School Board her job would be so dreary. She thought that was pretty funny. I guess I must be a rabble rouser. Without our kind there never would have been an American Revolution and we would still be singing Rule Britainia.

Five minutes left to vote.

Three days and counting

The story in the Trib today did just what I hoped. It quoted me thus:

Welty was not flustered by Seagren’s decision Friday night. He said the approval should not be viewed as a recommendation to proceed.

“This is just an acknowledgment that the district has followed the law,” he said.

Doty’s hatchet job and a good night’s sleep were all I needed to start putting up lawnsigns. I had help from Gary Glass in Lakeside and Mike Jaros in the Grant area while I put up seventy or eighty signs in the area between my house on 21st Ave. East and the western end of my District on 6th Ave. E. I only have about 30 Welty signs left to put up which means that there must be about 150 up. They are on some of the busiest streets in my district. They went up easily.

I even got home and passed out leaflets to a chunk of my district from 5:30 unitl 7PM. I had a few unhappy dogs bark at me but it felt good. Tomorrow I’ve got more help finishing up the signs and I’ll do some more leafleting. I’ll get darned near the whole district done by Monday.

The good vibes are coming back.

Tom’s Green Plan

Tom Boman a UMD Ed prof and a regular education writer for the Duluth News Tribune wrote a great column today. The “green plan” he described today would, he said, onlycost 10 % of what the Red Plan costs. I had a couple people ask me about it. I guarantee that twenty people will have read this for every single person who read Ralph Doty’s column in the Budgeteer. it fits nicely with the Let Duluth Vote folks.

A wounded man replies

I sent the Budgeteer the letter which follows. It’s also on Ralph’s feedback page. I rather like the feedback page. Quite a number of folks thought Ralph was just as bad as the dirty trickster another portion of his column criticized.

When Mr. Doty first hinted at his opposition to Let Duluth Vote six or seven weeks ago I offered to meet him for a cup of coffee. Doty declined my invitation. It’s a lot easier to assassinate someone’s character if you don’t know them.

Ralph was out of town the years I served on the School Board so I’m not surprised he has blown a trivial and humorous incident out of proportion. As for “obscenity laced?” One stray GD and it’s a lacing? I understand our current Superintendent laced at least one school board meeting himself in Faribault. It happens. I’ve always said that: “If you can’t be passionate about your children – what can you be passionate about?”

I’m a little surprised that Mr. Doty would wait until the last minute in a campaign to spring such a vicious smear. I’ve been open about my suspicions about Johnson Controls for well over a month now. Everything I’ve had to say about the company I’ve put in print or online on my blog. I’m more firmly convinced of their slipperiness with regard to the Red Plan than ever.

The outcome of the election will be known by the time this letter is published. What impact Mr. Doty’s vitriol played in the outcome will never be known.

Harry Welty

The Definition of Dotycide

And the definition is: a Duluth version of character assassination. This is rather like Ralph Doty’s tribute to Mayor Bergson which was presented days before the Primary election leaving no time for rebuttal.

Ralph Doty: Beware of dirty tricks during the campaign season
Ralph Doty Budgeteer News
Published Friday, November 02, 2007

School Board candidates Harry Welty, Gary Glass, Deb Anderson and incumbent Tim Grover are centering much of their election campaigns on their opposition to the Red Plan for long-range facilities planning.

The nastiest and most misleading campaigns are being led by Mr. Glass and Mr. Welty.

In addition to their bitter attacks on the Red Plan, Mr. Welty and Mr. Glass are viciously attacking Johnson Controls, the company hired by the school board to conduct exhaustive studies of every school building, and to organize hundreds of public community sessions to get input about their findings.

On June 17, 2007, at a meeting of the Duluth Heights Community Club, Mr. Glass criticized Johnson Controls for what he claimed would be a financial windfall (he called it a “plum”) for the company if it’s later hired to manage remodeling and construction of school buildings. Glass contended that Johnson Controls stood to get up to $33.4 million. The Duluth News Tribune reported on Mr. Glass’ comments the next morning.

But Mr. Glass was wrong. So, the following day, June 19, the News Tribune published a front-page story of clarification. It turns out that Johnson Controls got $250,000 for the study and follow-up activities, and could possibly earn another $4.5 million for managing projects. Undeterred by the fact he was $28.9 million off the mark, candidate Glass continues his reckless attacks on Johnson Controls.

For his part, Mr.Welty, a former school board member (1995-2004), authored an attack-filled op-ed piece in the News Tribune (Oct. 21), accusing Johnson Controls of treating voters like “that frog in a cooking pot that is slowly heated until it boils.” He also charged that the company found “loopholes that stripped us of our vote.” (Fact is it’s not a loophole, it’s a state law).

Mr. Welty also recklessly alleges that Johnson Controls will “squeeze profits out of any subcontractor who takes part [in the project], not to save money for the school district but to line their own pockets.”

I guess that’s what we might expect from a perennial candidate for many local, state and federal offices who, as a board member, in April 1998 publicly used a black needle to stab a voodoo doll to “exorcise the evil spirits” from the school board. (www.snowbizz.com).

Long-time board observers also remember Welty’s obscenity-laced diatribe at a board meeting at which he expressed anger on several issues. He later apologized. (www.lincolndemocrat.com).

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.

Some folks think that Mr. Welty is walking on very thin ice. If I were the CEO at Johnson Controls -a company with 130,000 employees worldwide – I’d consider taking legal action against him for his libelous and slanderous remarks about the company. You see, during election campaigns, most attacks on political candidates are fair game even if they’re not true. But Johnson Controls isn’t running for elective office and should not be subjected to a candidate’s reckless allegations.

What the Duluth School Board needs in future years is responsible and reasonable board members who can make up their minds based on facts and not emotions. Duluth will not get that type of leadership if Gary Glass and Harry Welty are elected Tuesday.

Ralph Doty can be contacted at rdoty71963@aol.com.

Lost another DNT endorsement

The DNT Editorial Board evidently takes no stand on whether the Red Plan will be a disaster for Duluth or our salvation. That strikes me as dereliction of their journalistic duty. Certainly they have offered opinions on the smaller $309 million City Health Retiree Crises. Their quibble about whether $144 million of interest on the Red Plan should be included in the price tag seems silly. It will be assessed against our taxes and it will total $437 million dollars.

The Trib rightly criticizes me for my Harold Stassen like failure to attain public office despite many attempts at it. I never started out to be a Stassen. I had the misfortune of beginning my career as a Republican centrist in a stauncly Democratic district right after Watergate. How staunch was the district? Four years earlier it had voted 76% for McGovern during the Democrats most crushing electoral defeat for President in history.

Later, the centrist in me balked at the rightward shift in the GOP. How Rightward? At a district convention a few year’s back the new darling of the local party said that people like me were worse mass murderers than Hitler, Stalin and Mao tse Tung combined.

I could have been like Mitt Romney but instead I chose to squander my electability by campaigning on my principles. This campaign is no different.

11 x 12 x 20 =

After I passed out 6,000 of my fliers a potential constituent noticed a gross and elementary mathematical error I put on it. This is the letter he sent me.

Mr. Welty,

Before you leave flyers in people’s doors, perhaps you should (1) learn how to multiply and (2) learn how to read your own brochures.

First, $11 x 12 x 20 equals $2640, not your “$2240.” This would result in a total payment of $99,264,000 if I use your assumptions of 2.5 people per household and a population of 94,000. Of course, this is still WAY short of the $437 million figure you quote. But that is because you are assuming the tax payments don’t rise over the twenty year period but your own brochure says that they will by 5.5% per year did you not read this????

Because I sense you may be mathematically impaired, let me show you what the payments would look like given what your brochures say. In the first column on the next page I am taking the initial $132.00 payment and then simply multiplying by the stated increase of 5.5% each year. In the second column I am assuming what “real” payments (adjusted for inflation) would be doing. I am going to assume the current inflation rate of 2.50, so the change in real payments would be 3.0% each year (5.5 2.5).

Having done this, note that the total amount paid by each household would be $4,602.60 over the twenty year payment or a total of $423,644,400 very close the total your brochure says is required. In real terms the cost is actually less, $3,546.88 per household. These are the important numbers to be discussing.

Year Payment Real Payment
1 132.00 132.00
2 139.26 135.96
3 146.92 140.04
4 155.00 144.24
5 163.52 148.57
6 172.52 153.02
7 182.00 157.61
8 192.02 162.34
9 202.58 167.21
10 213.72 172.23
11 225.48 177.40
12 237.88 182.72
13 250.96 188.20
14 264.76 193.85
15 279.32 199.66
16 294.69 205.65
17 310.89 211.82
18 327.99 218.18
19 346.03 224.72
20 365.06 231.46
4602.60 3546.88

My point in sending you this is to point out that you are perhaps the “liar” you refer to in your statement. An initial payment of $132 per household IS ENOUGH to support this plan given the 5.5% increase. Further, since most of these payments are in the future, the real cost is actually less. Get your own facts (and math) straight before you blanket the city with misinformation.

A final point given the mathematical abilities demonstrated by both you and the school board, I would suggest an investment in our schools in access of the $437 million may well be warranted.

Sincerely,

CA

His letter demanded a reply and this is what I wrote CA.

Thank you Mr. A,

You are absolutely right. Your letter should have been in the Duluth News Tribune. Anyone who passes out fliers on something as important as the School District’s proposed building plan has an obligation to check their figures. I didn’t and now I have to live with the knowledge that 5,000 of my neighbors have been given evidence of my sloppiness. I immediately ceased passing out the flier upon receiving your letter.

You have missed my point, however, about the taxes being assessed to pay for the Red Plan. As you pointed out; even in your revised figures the amount of taxes being advertised is far short of the $417 million cost of the plan. That gap is made up because of the 5.5 % annual increases that are planned but which have not been advertised by the District.

I only found out about this wrinkle when I talked to the staff of the State Board of Education. I don’t think a local voter should have to go to the state to find out about the tax implications of local project. This annual increase which will ultimately triple the Red plan’s costs in its final year might not be a problem for young families whose peak earning years lie ahead of them but it will be a very different story for people on fixed incomes. Even in its first year, next year, the levy for the Duluth schools will increase by 56% over this year’s levy due to the Red Plan’s implementation.

I am enclosing my replacement flier. If you find any fault with it I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Harry Welty