And a friend sent me this story about JCI’s new schools

Also from the Timberjay and sent to me by a friend. Bless them for risking JCI’s threat of a “slapp suit” and taking JCI to the Minnesota Supreme Court and winning!

Contractor to board: “You were ripped off by Johnson Controls”

REGIONAL – Playing fields at the South Ridge School need more work to be suitable and Johnson Controls Inc., which oversaw the project, should be held accountable, Gerald Wick told the St. Louis County School Board at its meeting on Tuesday.

“You were ripped off by Johnson Controls,” said Wick, who said he contacted JCI’s Randy Anderson about the fields and received no satisfactory answers for their condition.

According to Wick, the fields are littered with small rocks and the soil is like gravel, making it difficult for grass to sprout and grow.

Wick, a Toivola-based contractor, is bringing loads of black dirt to the ball fields in an effort to improve them, but said the $1,800 that the district has allocated for the project won’t provide enough black dirt to significantly improve the fields.

Playing fields for football and baseball as well as the school’s playground are suffering from a lack of adequate topsoil, according to Wick, who has donated some loads of black dirt in hopes of fixing the problem. The football field is being used this season and ball fields were used last year, but Wick said the students deserve better.

He told the Timberjay in a phone interview on Wednesday that he plans to pursue efforts to hold JCI accountable and require the company to pay for the necessary work to upgrade the fields.

“It’s absolutely pathetic what they did at South Ridge,” Wick said. “I want to get a hold of their financial records and see what they spent on the fields.”

Wick said the school district’s attempt to repair the fields isn’t sufficient. The couple of hundred yards of dirt he’s dumped on the fields amount to a “dusting,” he said. “They need a couple of inches at minimum to do any good.”

Funds for properly rehabilitating the fields shouldn’t come out of the district’s coffers, Wick said. It was JCI’s responsibility to ensure the fields were suitable and the company should be held accountable, he said. He plans to draft a letter to JCI and is seeking public support to pressure the company into meeting its obligation.

He initially brought his concerns to JCI’s Anderson. In their phone conversation, Wick said Anderson tried to blame the lack of grass on the district’s failure to water the fields. But Wick said the soil was too gravelly to support the growth of grass. Wick said when he pressed Anderson on the issue, Anderson hung up the phone. That’s why he brought the matter to the school board during its open forum portion on Tuesday, he said.

“I’m so disgusted at what they did,” said Wick. “I’m going to follow up and get on JCI to take care of this.”
In other related news, Superintendent Teresa Strong acknowledged water problems at South Ridge and Cherry schools, but said the water was safe for drinking at both locations. To ensure that water remains suitable for drinking, Strong said the district would test it weekly.

Mr. Lincoln goes to Hollywood

Andy Sullivan has a post on one of my frequent plaints – that today’s GOP is really driven by the ghost of the old Confederacy. How this came to be is fascinating and it took place in my adulthood much to my chagrin as might be deduced by the title of this blog.

I’ve been looking forward to Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic for a few months. Its been in the works since before Doris Kearns Goodwin began her decade long effort to write her Pulitzer winning Team of Rivals. I only got around to reading the book this summer since I was so busy fighting the Red Plan when the book was published.

After seeing a trailer for the movie I bought the “best book” on the Republican radical Thaddeus Stevens. That book has not been as gripping and not survived my preoccupation with undoing the damage to my second home from an unscrupulous nincompoop “contractor.” I’ll no doubt see the movie without the benefit of the book behind me.

The trailers for the new movie show a fearsome Lincoln that was hard for me to reconcile with the Lincoln I’ve read about through the years. He was driven but is far more famous for being rumpled, droll and melancholy. The fierce Lincoln didn’t register with me. I don’t think I have to worry about the movie if this article from the Smithsonian can be believed. Kearns Goodwin said she felt she was really seeing Lincoln on the screen. That’s high praise. I’m encouraged and can’t wait to watch the movie, which apropos one of Lincoln’s quotes, seems to point true North while directing the audience around the swamps in the way to get there.

Frankenstorm candidate

The water off the eastern seaboard is hotter than ever before this time of year. That will power up the “frankenstorm.” One candidate and his party thinks its a joke.

That joke will drench Massachusets where after four years of being a “bipartisan” governor Mitt Romney’s disapproval rating was 60%. Mitt’s getting the last laugh.

No Problem! Its only the pansy liberals in the Northeast who will get walloped. It’ll clean out the system like Katrina cleaned out that den of iniquity and bastion of poverty New Orleans.

With JCI it always gets worse

I often guess at old figures I haven’t reviewed recently. That St. Louis County School project cost more than I recalled and the costs, thanks to JCI, are rising rapidly. They don’t have nearly as many people to tap as the Duluth School District does to fix JCI’s errors and omissions. I got this email tonight outlining some of the impending costs for that botched JCI project. At least the Timberjay is poised to ferret some small part of the truth out of Milwaukee thanks to the unanimous decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Handsome Harry: glad you got the article from the Timberjay. The original bond was for $78.8 million, cost over-runs have totaled over $5 million to date and still growing, the IRRRB swallowed hard to the DFL and gave $275,000 to complete the Cook new school, never mind that not one ounce of iron ore was ever mined in Cook. And it’s not going to stop there. The school board, under the guidance of JCI, are going to the DFL controlled Commissioner of Education (read teacher’s union) for even more money to be tacked on our real estate statements all under the guise of health and safety. I’ll let you know, but this water contamination issue is going to cost mega bucks, JCI has already said they don’t have to pay. And there is more. We have two retired civil engineers who have worked up the numbers on the waste water treatment system JCI installed. The numbers don’t work. If we get a 6″ downpour, the system can’t handle that volume and has no choice but to run-off into Flint Creek, tributary to the Littlefork River, already deemed impaired. And WE all told them this before it happened.

Sherman, Cynthia, Vickie, Ursala and my racial attitudes

For those who are clueless about the significance of the last post a new AP poll prompted me to write further.

Principal Sconiers is an African American and one of the few who are employees of the Duluth School District. So, my early comparison of her to Allen West and Michael Steele, both African-American Republicans, leaned heavily on generalization.

The poll shows that roughly half of all American voters have negative racial sterotypes of black Americans. I believe it was that fact that explains the very nice things Rush Limbaugh and other creepy GOP pundits had to say about Obama when he was fighting for the nomination against Hilary Clinton in 2008. I think Rush and crew were trying to shame Democrats into nominating a black candidate who he was confident American voters would not elect. No matter what American voters do this election they fully earned my admiration in 2008. They pretty well shut Rush up for a couple of three months till he found his bile again.

I learned about race in Topeka, Kansas. As a very young child I was surprised that all black people looked alike. By second or third grade they no longer looked alike to me and I later became aware that the ability to differentiate between people of different races took experience. (Pearl S. Buck, a white daughter of missionaries in China had no difficulty differentiating between the faces of Chinese people but when she found herself among a gathering of fellow white people was astounded that they all looked the same to her)

One school year I was actually a white minority kid in my sixth grade class. Fifteen white kids, fifteen black kids and one Native American. Coincidentally that was in Topeka, Kansas where the the suit leading to Brown vs. Board of Education was settled by the US Supreme Court in favor of integration.

I walked past the homes of many of those black kids some days to get to school. Many lived in “Tennessee Town” and their cracker box houses rested on cinder blocks to keep them above the damp soil. Some of the black kids came from families with 13 or 14 children and so did one white Catholic kid who taught me how to play “Spit in your eye.” (I only played it once after which I quit it cold turkey when I learned that the name of the game was also the object of the game)

By this time I knew these black kids as the individuals they were. Sherman was the jerk who took my precious art projects and strewed them out on the playground. Cynthia was the girl with two last names representing two different men, a father and step father, whose anxieties drove her to act superior and harass other kids. Vickie was a tomboy who I so liked that I invited her to my halloween party that with my parents help became the talk of the school for a few days afterward. Ursala was the grossly fat girl I suppress a cringe when I had to square dance with her for a phy ed class. Billy Moore was the beautiful athlete who went on to become a phenom in high school. I also met my first peer named Harry, just like me but black as coal. My chief recollection of Harry was a dramatic home run he kicked in Kickball on our school’s asphalt playground studded with tether ball polls. One of the polls was conveniently situated right on the line between third base and home plate and as Harry rounded third looking over his shoulder at the ball he had kicked so far away he ran into the damn poll and lost half his front teeth.

Black Duluthians are still a small minority in Duluth and I feel I owe it to them to remember their individual natures if for no other reason because of my own early experiences. I no longer talk to Mary Cameron who I helped elect three times to the School Board. I once joked with Tim Grover, who I also no longer speak to, that I kept Mary in my cellar. I have a earthen floored space under our sun room in which I placed the middle panel of a bill board I ordered for Mary and placed on a 4 by 8 plywood sheet in my front yard one election. Today its in my “wine cellar” with Mary’s smiling face looking up at me every time I retrieve a Cabernet.

Sconiers herself is no stereotype. Her husband is Egyptian. Her predecessor Eddie Crawford is also black but he’s an individual too who hails from the Caribbean.(NOTE CORRECTION BELOW)

Its not just white Americans who get caught up in generalizations about complicated people and who carry prejudices.

I recall my Buddy sending me lots of essays by Ward Connerly, a black Californian who fought to eliminate affirmative action. He resented the excuse it gave white Americans to accuse Black Americans of preferential treatment. He also thought it crippled black Americans by making them think they really were inferior to whites and needed special help. A lot of blacks didn’t know what to make of him either. I remember Mary Cameron attending a local gathering with him uncomfortable because a lot of her friends disapproved of his politics.

Americans are no different than most people who have gotten set in their ways. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new age. As a child during the centenary of the Civil War I guessed that it would take another 100 years before America would be far enough along to elect a black President. I was off by fifty years. Like Michelle Obama who caught so much flack for saying she was proud of America (finally proud if I recall) I too was proud. I stuck an editorial cartoon of Lincoln’s statue giving Obama a thumbs up next to my computer.

So, half of all Americans, white Americans are prejudiced (often unknowingly) against blacks. That didn’t stop them from voting for Barack Obama. Only about 5% voted against him solely because of his “race.” That many may vote against Romney because of his Mormonism. Its our vote to do with as we please prejudices or not.

Not all blacks will vote for Obama some because of their own prejudices. His father was a real African and not and African American descended from a slave family. That’s the real resentment I sense when I hear him attacked by such as Allen West or Herman Cain or even his own Chicago minister Jeremiah Wright Sr.

Its not all that different than Romney’s campaign chairman John Sununu who sneered that Colin Powell only endorsed Obama because they are both black. Cheap sterotypes are too easy.

CORRECTION: Some years after this was posted I talked to Mr. Crawford and learned that his father was an African American in the military who married a French woman. When the family moved Crawford stayed in Duluth.

I apologize for my passive aggressive post

I wrote a little hastily yesterday about Denfeld High School, specifically about principal Sconiers.

Its true I like her and think she is a good person to have at the school. The no nonsense part is right on.

I did however gratuitously link her with Allen West (who I consider an ass) and Michael Steele (who has proven to be a chicken).

That has more to do with my disdain for the current GOP than anything Ms. Sconiers ever said. In fact, I consider her personal challenge of my opposition to the Red Plan to have been one of her better moments. She stood toe to toe with me and disagreed unlike most of her allies many of whom bad mouthed me behind my back. I appreciate her forth rightness even if I think she, like many others, was taken in by the promises of Johnson Controls and Supt. Keith Dixon.

Ms. Sconiers will have a tough few years at Denfeld and I wish her well. The same forth rightness that she demonstrated to me will be needed.

She is not like the blustering Congressman West and not like the bowing and scraping Michael Steele.

I need to keep my adversaries separate and unconflated. School board foolish. GOP Bolshevists scary. They are not the same and besides, Ms. Sconiers is in neither camp. She just has to pick up the pieces from their failed local and national policies.

PS on the swimming pools

I suspect that the JCI/Red Plan schools are saving no more energy than the JCI schools built for the St. Louis County School system. Add to that disappointment some rumors to the effect that some of our new school classrooms are every bit as uncomfortable as they ever were being hot one moment and then cold the next. This would make them lousy environment to study in especially if they are as overcrowded as reported. Who can blame the old members of the Duluth School Board for not wanting to know how this all came to pass?

When I first moved to Minnesota a new kid told me that the pool at Mankato High School was unheated in the winter and kids had to jump through ice on top to swim. I was worried he might be telling the truth. I used to be a high school swimming coach and all I can say is that it doesn’t sound all that far fetched here in Duluth.

About those swimming pools – Pt. 2

As the last post pointed out Duluth’s mega school plan was never voted on in a referendum which made it as unique in Minnesota history as its vast scope at $450 million.

Superintendent Dixon and JCI cunningly crafted a finance package which made use of four different funding sources that carefully exempted them from having to face the voters. They expressly avoided the most common legislative authority for such funding that gave them the chance to pay for the Red Plan but which gave voters a chance to petition for a “reverse referendum” to reverse the building if enough no votes were cast. The new legislation they relied on, authored by Rep. Mike Jaros, permitted them to ignore a referendum if it could be justified based on a need to racially integrate the Duluth Schools. Mike raised hell about this use because, ironically, the consequences of the Red Plan would almost certainly concentrate the minority population. Sadly Mike’s DFL colleagues, encouraged by the local unions who wanted public construction, took JCI’s and the School Board’s side as did Governor Tim Pawlenty.

I’ve never attempted to explain once consequence of the Red Plan’s implementation that I’ve always found very intriguing and which Dr. Dixon must have savored. It was the tremendous freedom to alter the Red Plan that he enjoyed because he was not limited by the wording of a referendum which would have listed the projects and the total cost which could not have easily been deviated from had it been basis on which the building proceeded.

Old timers might recall that JCI offered three patriotic plans for consideration in 2006 a Red Plan, a White plan and a Blue plan. The Red Plan was the least expensive at $257 million. When it was chosen its more limited cost was trumpeted as one of the reasons. And yet today the plan is coming in at $315 million.

It didn’t take long for some of the expensive items from the white and the blue plans to find their way into the Red Plan. Some extravagances never contemplated in the Red Plan got added like the new stadium at Ordean/East high school. After swimming enthusiast Judy Seliga-Punyko defeated me in our 2008 campaign two $8 million dollar swimming pools were added to the Red Plan. The result, as folks at Congdon Elementary can attest to is that some of the later school projects got unexpectedly trimmed as the Red Plan began running into the Red.

Dr. Dixon was able for three years to reward his friends with all sorts of new Red, White and Blue goodies although he did have to go to the State once to ask that he be allowed to spend more money boosting the cost to $315 million.

How did we pay for all this? What couldn’t be taxed was instead bled from the school program to the tune of 5 million annually. That’s because promised staffing and energy savings never materialized requiring that we trim operational costs by 5 million annually. That means classrooms in the high schools of nearly 50 students. Its yet one more cost of the Red Plan despite the lies of our School Administrators who are still defending Keith Dixon.

About those swimming pools – Pt. 1

Part of the justification for building the Red Plan was that the District would save a great deal on energy costs. JCI estimated it would amount to about 2.5 million dollars annually. (Correction – in a recent post I wrote the total savings for the plan would be six million annually. I should have written $5 million)

I don’t know where these “energy savings” were supposed to come from. Long before JCI entered the picture and when I was on the School Board there was a lot of talk about our schools having to maintain far too much building space for the shrinking number of students we were education. It was suggested that we had something like 25% more space than was required. It was space that had to be heated in the winter so I suppose this was the original source of the JCI energy savings. You have to wonder however, how trimming the square footage of our District’s buildings would yield $2.5 million in annual savings. Transportation was never even figured into the energy needs and the fact that fewer buildings would require longer busing commutes by more children should have been analyzed. That may be why oil and gas costs weren’t considered. It would have interfered with the sales pitch.

Ironically, the current Red Plan buildings may take up nearly as much space as the buildings they replaced. That was Art Johnston’s contention. If so they house an even smaller student population than before the Red Plan. Of course, the current school board has made no inquiries that I know of concerning these costs or, if they have, the Duluth News Tribune has failed to highlight such discussions.

That leads me to the timely story of the Timberjay which was sent me this morning by a couple different friends. As I’ve pointed out before the Timberjay has done what our exalted DNT has failed to do – dug deeply into JCI’s energy promises to the St. Louis County School Board. After a prolonged legal fight, ignoring threats by JCI to sue the hell out of the Timberjay, the State Supreme Court acknowledged what I’ve contended for five years – that JCI’s work with a government entity makes its paperwork public.

Soon, thanks to a real journalist, the rural residents of St. Louis County may get a peek at a fraudulent sales pitch on energy savings by JCI which induced that community to vote (narrowly) for a $70 million dollar building spree.

The pathetic voters of Duluth’s school district by comparison will continue to live in ignorance because my court challenge was squashed by JCI and we don’t have much in the way of investigative journalism in Duluth. Perhaps owing to Let Duluth Vote’s fight the City of Duluth exposed another fraudulent energy savings scam by JCI and collected a cool million bucks on the old steam plant.

Maybe if we could get a school board to uncover the original JCI energy calculations our school district could get a crack at some compensation too.

Anyway, here’s the story from St. Louis County thanks to the work of a real news paper:

Timberjay makes new information request to JCI

REGIONAL – The Timberjay has filed a new public information request to Johnson Controls, Inc., seeking documentation in support of the company’s projections of energy savings for the South Ridge and North Woods schools.
The company had indicated in documents provided to the Minnesota Department of Education that it’s proposed restructuring plan for the St. Louis County School District would slice $380,000 annually from the district’s utility costs. But a Timberjay analysis of utility bills for the first year of operation of the new South Ridge School found that the bills exceeded those from the AlBrook and Cotton schools combined, by nearly 50 percent. The AlBrook and Cotton schools were closed as part of the restructuring and students were consolidated into the new South Ridge School.
“It’s pretty clear that the district isn’t going to see the utility savings that JCI promised,” said Marshall Helmberger, who submitted the latest information request for the Timberjay. “Given that the new North Woods School is an identical design, we expect it will be at least as costly to operate as South Ridge has proven to be.” Helmberger said he’s been assured by professional engineers that JCI would have developed detailed energy calculations in order to make projections of utility savings. “We want to see the original calculations that JCI or its subcontractors used in making these claims,” said Helmberger. “We had hoped the school board would request this information when the high operating costs became known, but this board seems unwilling to seek any accountability for the problems associated with this project,” said Helmberger.
The information request was initially made to the St. Louis County School District, but school officials indicated that the district does not have the information and that the newspaper would need to request it from JCI.
While JCI, as a private company, is normally not subject to the state’s public information laws, when it contracts with public agencies, such as the school district, to perform a governmental function, information related to its contract is public. That legal principle was upheld earlier this month in a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled that JCI must provide the Timberjay with a copy of an architectural subcontract that JCI had entered into as part of the school district project. JCI has been refusing to comply with that request since March of 2011. The company has until Nov. 8 to file an appeal in the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
As for the paper’s latest information request, JCI attorney David Lillehaug said he is reviewing the request with company officials and should have a response soon.

While David Brooks correctly sees the GOP for what they’ve become…

Peggy Noonan returns to the fold with a historical fantasy about Obama’s ultra liberal attack on the Grand Old Party.

He misread his Republican opponents from day one. If he had been large-spirited and conciliatory he would have effectively undercut them, and kept them from uniting. (If he’d been large-spirited with Mr. Romney, he would have undercut him, too.) Instead he was toughly partisan, he shut them out, and positions hardened.