What could have been and what will be

Today the DNT’s editorial board asked the question: Should Duluth have gone to 1 high school? They answered that momentous question with a big shrug and the obvious conclusion its too late now! That’s a pretty safe editorial.

I lived through much of that debate before the Red Plan decided our fate. My conclusions at the time were these:

1. Going to one high school wasn’t politically feasible and might only prove temporary if the city started growing again.

2. Two high schools would be the right size for Duluth but, to lesson the East West divide, we should stick with the historic Central High School as our eastern School and leave Denfeld alone because West Duluth would raise hell otherwise. I thought eastern Duluth would be more pliable politically if it got a great new high school out of the deal.

For me item two had a couple of conditions.

Condition 1. This would be a financial savings that would permit more spending on the classroom. The estimate twelve years ago was that by having two high schools we could save $1.2 million. I didn’t intend to give that back to taxpayers. I wanted it spent in the classroom. Instead, under Dr. Dixon, we leapt to the conclusion that all our schools were crap and decided to raise nearly half a billion dollars to replace or fix them all.

Condition 2. I wanted to treat the two high schools as one school and encourage travel between the schools so that kids at East (Central High) would need to go to Denfeld at some point to take classes not offered at East (Central High) and vice versa. This was my attempt to solve the vexing problem of bridging the east/west divide. Both schools would have their separate sports teams and identities but otherwise they would serve as two campuses of the same school system.

I called this the Zenith Plan and it never had much of a chance at winning political approval. If you read it now (I put it on my old website) you will see it was primarily aimed at saving our elementary schools which we had been poaching children from to fill our middle schools which we had already poached ninth graders from to fill our three high schools. You will also note I don’t mention the idea of treating the two remaining schools as two campuses in this early stripped down proposal. I started talking about that later.

I returned to my idea of two campuses a month ago when a flock of Denfeld students showed up at our Board meeting to decry the shrinking course offerings because of their falling enrollment. BTW. Much of that enrollment decline is the loss of students to Proctor, Hermantown and other schools. I mentioned this concern about losing students in the Zenith Plan but no one seems to have given the threat much thought during the development of the Red/White and Blue Plans.

Tough luck Trib. The Red Plan is not over. We are still in the acrimonious phase of the Red Plan. And you are writing editorials about what might have been. It saved no money and that is what Art and I want to understand. We simply cut staff and crammed more kids into classes to pay for the bonds. Had it saved money (like simply closing one high school) we could have added staff and reduced class size. Sadly any savings through new staffing efficiencies or energy savings were grossly outweighed by additional borrowing and lost revenues from fleeing students (and just maybe billing by JCI that was never admitted to from the outset). All these fiscal consequences necessitated staff layoffs.

I had a cordial meeting with the Superintendent yesterday for the first time since I met with him prior to the alarming investigation of Art Johnston. Since that last meeting was followed by such a hideous miscarriage of justice I might be forgiven for taking my time to set up another meeting.

The Superintendent led me to believe that it was the School Board not the Administration that should be held responsible for the current investigation by attorney Mary Rice. He may not have said it in so many words but that is what I drew from our conversation. I explained that what Art and I had been trying to do is figure out how (if not why) our District finances took such a tumble. A couple of paragraphs ago I explained my theory – unrealized savings. I’d like to back it up with data or have my theory debunked. The Superintendent also led me to believe that it was the School Board and not the administration that stood in the way of this line of inquiry. CFO Bill Hanson made much the same comment to me months earlier. He told me I’d have to get a majority of the Board’s OK to proceed with that data search.

The Board was not so inclined a month or two ago when Art and I made inquiries about “soft costs,” reimbursables and change orders that were not voted on by the Board as a whole. The later two issues have been explained away but it wasn’t until the State Auditor’s report that Art was given definitive information about the total “soft costs.” As Art deduced they totaled $84 million invisible dollars paid to Johnson Controls and other co-managers of the Red Plan. Seven years ago they were only supposed to total $33.4 million but back when I was running to slow down the Red Plan the Administration denied that any of these Red Plan costs would end up in JCI’s pockets. JCI was only supposed to be paid $4.5 million.

Art and I are determined to learn how this 14% turned 27% of Red Plan costs were paid out and to whom. We want to know how much JCI, Bossardt and Krause Anderson were paid for program management. Yes, this is old news but its news that has yet to be reported. Possibly JCI, Bossardt and Krause Anderson will refuse to explain how these payments got spent despite Minnesota’s statutes that clearly state that these are public dollars. If they choose to hide this information that’s not the School Board’s fault. But it is the School Board’s fault if they refuse to ask for this information. I would hate to think that our School Board is more interested in conducting an inquisition on an inquisitive Board member than simply asking these contracting behemoths for some transparency in how they spent $84 million precious local tax dollars. For crying out loud, had that money been used in the classroom we wouldn’t have had to cram ten more children into our classrooms.

I think I mentioned in a post a couple weeks ago that on a rainy morning a few days after the inquisition was approved I hand delivered a four-page history of Art’s (and his significant other’s) persecution. I explained to my fellow board members that I would need to mail it out to raise money for Art’s legal defenses. It makes for pretty compelling reading. So far Art’s legal costs are close to $2,000. Yesterday, I told the superintendent that I planned to ask the School Board to cover Art’s costs should Mary Rice’s report indicate that there is no there, there. Once again the Superintendent indicated that this was a decision for the School Board. I can’t deny that.

By the Superintendents reckoning it’s the School Board I need to be worried about rather than the Administration. Hmm. Maybe. I’m not so sure that the letter I delivered to the Board demonstrates administrative neutrality. If I should mail it out and or put it on my blog I suspect it will stoke some serious community outrage and do much to cover Art’s legal expenses. Of course, outrage may not help us find a solution to our massive classroom overcrowding. (I’d prefer to have JCI help us out with that.) However, if the allegations against Art are batted away but he’s left holding the bag for the costs of defending himself against scurrilous accusations I’ll be outraged. I also be miffed it if the Board continues to resist Art’s and my questions about our District’s finances. It will be fascinating to see how our Board acts with these most unexpected distractions as we close in on a new school year.

I’m sure my eight loyal readers will be every bit as fascinated as I am to see how this soap opera turned saga unfolds. Will the School Board pull in its horns on its persecution of grumpy Art Johnston? Will the School Board smile on requests for financial data? Will the editors of the Duluth News Tribune have more cause to editorialize about the School Board’s dysfunction? Will anyone ever see the forest (our children and our schools) for the trees (the school board’s petty squabbles)? Only time will tell. Que Sera Sera!

a little help?

I am cleaning out my attic. If anyone knows a candidate who would like free “wires” on which to put their lawnsigns have them give me a call. I have at least enough for 500 signs.

Also, I need to store 500 lawnsigns in someone else’s garage in case I run for reelection Three years from now. I’d be grateful for any one willing to store them for me until 2017.

Swallowing moles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biting my fingers (tongue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers in search of an audience

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

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

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

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

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

Always grateful for some feedback

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

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

His acquaintance then wrote me:

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

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

Harry’s Buddy’s Acquaintance

Which really demanded some reply from me, to wit:

Harry’s Buddy’s Acquaintance, thank you.

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

Harry

And another thing about our CFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not mollified

Jana Hollingsworth’s coverage is fair enough and the headline is right on. I’m not mollified. I’m pretty annoyed that an investigation touted as taking a year to complete yielded 8 pages of such anemic results. Among my takeaways: a little less than 30% of the cost of the Red Plan which ballooned to over $300 million ended up being paid to a troika of program managers. Their loot ($84 million) is easily double what most projects should have paid out for “soft costs.” Its a little like Duluth’s voters had three vampires at their necks at the same time for six years. Red planners probably thought of them more as little piggies suckling at their mother’s teats.

JCI couldn’t handle the project on their own so they shared the duties and the looties with Bossardt and Krause-Anderson because there was plenty of spoils for all.

Krause Anderson had a guy on the Board which oversees the ethics of architects who had no objections to JCI using unlicensed architects despite state rules against this to come up with the initial Red Plans. Art Johnston discovered this (be forewarned, this post has a long icky prologue) to his chagrin six years ago. They profited handsomely from the decision to let fly-by-nights get the Red Plan underway. Duluth has ten too many kids in its classrooms as a result.

Chair Miernicki, who appeared the very essence of a pro-Red Planner, couldn’t wait for our meeting yesterday to conclude and hectored Art and me not to ask questions which he considered off target. That was most of our questions. He didn’t have to worry. The State Auditor’s team offered no opinions. They will be sending us a bill. I’m guessing it will probably cost us a thousand dollars per page. As mentioned before this was not an audit despite the petition requesting it.

If we had any doubt how seriously this would be taken by the State Auditor we might have gotten a better sense by looking at the history of audits prompted by petitions. I’ve been told by others who perused this whole page of the Auditor’s activities that you only find such audits being done once back in 1995. Its for the City of Cambridge and its at the bottom of the list.

And yet the TV advertisements the Auditor will soon be putting on air touts her as having discovered hundreds of millions of mispent public dollars according to the Forum’s Don Davis:

She begins her commercial saying that she ran because she discovered “hundreds of millions of dollars in errors” in local government audits. She ends it with: “I will make sure the numbers add up.”

The ISD 709 report does not seem to have made it yet on her vast website.

The Minnesota State Odditor

I woke my wife up in St. Louis this morning at 2:30 a.m. to get into our car in drive for ten and a half hours straight to get to Duluth and the State Auditor’s presentation. I unpacked the car and printed out a dozen pieces of paper related to the Red Plan the District’s finances and messages sent back and forth between the Auditor and Loren Martell who got the ball rolling. I hustled over to the Board room groggy from my long drive but twenty minutes before the presentation. I was handed the exhaustive 8 page report which concludes with a sentence that begins, “We were not engaged to, and did not perform an audit…”

No kidding. To every question Art Johnston and I asked the three, count em three, auditors did their impression of the great Hogan’s Heroe character Sergeant Schultz,”I know nothing.”

The only information they reviewed came from the folks we wanted audited. They declined to offer any opinions even when asked such safe questions as would the State Auditor frown on double dipping by vendors bilking local government? I asked that question although not perhaps as succinctly.

In my email to her staff member Mark Kerr I mentioned that my grandfather had been a state auditor until Kansas abolished the office years after his retirement probably for being redundant. I think it might be time for Minnesota to consider doing the same thing. After what I heard tonight I am sure all of the embezzlers in Minnesota’s local governments can rest easy.

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

$56 million is the latest figure for what Johnson Controls Inc. got from Duluth for the building of the Red Plan. And the U.S. suffered virtually no inflation in the Red Plan years!

State Auditor’s assistant Mark Kerr, who I hope will be in Duluth Tuesday, describes one $8.7 million payment to JCI that Art Johnston and I have been kicking about as legal. But as I’ve enjoyed pointing out many times throughout the Red Plan’s juggernaut its legal to hang an innocent man for murder in the U.S. just so long as he’s found guilty.

Literary criticism

My old buddy quite rightly poked a little hole in my literary interpretation. I observed that the “Zenith City” of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt described a much bigger metropolis than Duluth has ever been. Duluth is often said to have served as the inspiration for this turn of phrase in Lewis’s books.

Well, I can’t argue with Vic’s reply on this point as I often do when we debate national politics:

Oh, Harry. Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth? That’s like saying that Shakespeare’s plays aren’t about us, because they were engendered long before all of us were born. Babbitt and Main Street and Elmer Gantry are everywhere.

Your Buddy

From http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=11301:
Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth. Its going on a million people ten times the size our our fair town. He’s a man too shallow to realize he’s not an honest fellow, a little too extreme…but that seems to be the point for Sinclair Lewis. He was beating up middle class boosterism and self satisfaction.

Babbittry

I read about 62 pages of Babbitt off and on to Claudia in our first leg of the St. Louis trip. There was a lot of description in the first couple chapters which was a bit off putting but did remind me of how the houses of people who were newly married in the 1920’s looked and smelt by the time I was a kid in the 1950’s. Babbitt’s “Zenith City” isn’t Duluth. Its going on a million people ten times the size our our fair town. He’s a man too shallow to realize he’s not an honest fellow……a little too extreme…..but that seems to be the point for Sinclair Lewis. He was beating up middle class boosterism and self satisfaction.

We stopped by Claudia’s farm to see if the corn would be as high as an elephant’s eye come August. It looks unstoppable. Only tornados, hail, wind and other assorted weather disasters stand in the way. Good. We can keep those ethanol prices low.

I haven’t revisited the notes I wrote about yet. Not sure there’s that much rush and I haven’t quite figured out the best way to deal with them. I jotted them down many hours after my meeting and they are randomly recalled things I remember telling the troika. It too is six pages but not taken down on a legal pad. I jotted these down on a pocket sized notebook.

I won’t be shortchanging myself by leaving my son early to return home. Instead I’ll get up at 3AM on Tuesday and make the long trek home beginning in the early morning hours. Thirteen hours should give me an hour to spare unless the car breaks down……Cars don’t do that much these days. I hope Ottos don’t either.

Oh, last night in an Iowa City motel we watched “The Rake” mentioned in a post a few day’s back. Its on Netflix and its not the newer Fox version. It was the sixth of about sixteen total episodes. I think we hit the big plot point last night around which the remaining episodes will likely revolve. Our hero “Greene” is a cokehead Australian attorney who loves the fairer sex and has such bad judgement where they are concerned that most of his loves dump him for good reason. Still, they remain as fond of him as well as weary of his chaotic choices. He is the polar opposite of Babbitt. There is no feigned respectability, no smug superiority, only a virtuous self acknowledgement of his faults. He’s no hypocrite. He won’t lie. Last night he did and he’s not happy about it. I predict there will be hell to pay. OLD FOGEY VIEWING ALERT – Aussie television isn’t afraid of naked breasts.

Did I say before that his first client of the series ate a man?

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

Darn.

I just got my Board packet delivered by mail announcing various meetings. The State Auditor’s office will finally report out its analysis of Duluth’s practices at 4:30 next Tuesday at a special school board meeting in HOCH (2nd floor Old Central). The audit was required by Loren Martell’s petitioning two plus years ago. I guess I won’t have to beat up Becky Otto after all even if her ill timed presentation costs me a precious day with my son.

The car’s packed. Time to go.

I found those notes

I’m heading out of Duluth as the best weather of the summer arrives to refresh us. I’ll be retrieving my air conditioner from my son in hellishly hot St. Louis to bring it back next week when our temps warm up. I’ll check the news from Duluth online while I’m away in case I find something in desperate need of linking to on my blog. I also found those notes of mine from my meeting with Superintendent Gronseth. That’s when I went in to warn him that he was about to step into deep doo doo by going after Jane Bushey. I didn’t tell him everything I knew when I arrived to find him surrounded by his right hand men who might tell different stories of my message to him.

I promised to send those notes and my fuller typed recollection of my monologue (I was about the only person to talk for the 35 minutes I was there) to Attorney Rice.

The weekend approaches and I’m in no hurry to start typing them up. I’ve already sent Mary nearly 3,000 words about a much abused minority school district employee. That’s still in rough draft form. I’ll be in the car for a couple days down and back and I’ll be reading the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt to Claudia on the drive. I think its a novel about an eager beaver businessman who scratches for money and status in Duluth or as Lewis and the CEO of our Chamber of Commerce are want to say the “Zenith City.” Oh yeah, in the latter’s case its the Emerald City.

Q: Why don’t sharks attack lawyers?

A: Professional courtesy.

Think attorneys representing school boards are all smart and public spirited?

Think Again! From the mighty Timberjay’s coverage of the ongoing saga of the Duluth School Board’s greatest rival for the title: “most incompetent Minnesota school board:

The St. Louis County School District’s pursuit of legal disputes on the advice of its attorney has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on education.

Attorney Steven Knutson claims taking issues to the courts has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims filed by contractors, but he doesn’t tell the full story. One contractor that the district has fought for years offered to settle for $86,000 and change over a year and a half ago. Since then, Knutson has racked up more than $116,000 in legal fees on the case and the district is currently on the hook for the contractor’s legal fees on top of that. And just this past week, Knutson filed a notice of intent to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The meter, in other words, is still running. While Knutson benefits financially from protracted litigation, the district would have been far ahead by negotiating settlements rather than waging questionable courtroom battles.

It gets much worse. In a second longer editorial there’s this:

While these three cases proved extraordinarily lucrative for the Knutson Flynn & Deans law firm, with total billings in excess of $395,000, they proved of questionable value for the school district. In total, between awards to contractors, attorney’s fees to Knutson, and attorney’s fees currently awarded to plaintiffs (which the district is appealing), the district has incurred total expenses and obligations of approximately $704,000 in just the past two years. The final tally is likely to be significantly higher.

Yet the school district’s total original financial liability in the three cases was no more than approximately $555,000, and that figure certainly could have been negotiated downwards significantly had the district and its attorney made the effort. Instead, the district, following Knutson’s advice, pursued a confrontational approach in every case, filing unsubstantiated counterclaims against contractors and openly ridiculing complainants in the campaign finance case. In no case, did the district or Knutson reach a settlement ahead of court action.

Maybe if the St. Louis County School Board looks for a new attorney Duluth’s Kevin Rupp could apply.

My preface/prologue

I’m not yet prepared to publish the six pages I’ve written of the notes I took of our District’s black ex employee but turned over to Attorney Mary Rice. They are still in draft form and subject to further amendments……..I just realized I forgot to describe how she described being pressured (unsuccessfully) to forge public documents…..damn. More work.

Here’s the prologue with names blacked out much as all the email the District had pertaining to Jane Bushey blacked out (redacted) the names of the accusers and senders of said email. (Geez, its as though the District thought it was protecting the identity of spies from terrorists)

The experience of XXXX XXXXXX as an employee of the Duluth School District 2012-2013

This is a first draft of my recollections of an Interview with XXXX XXXXXX conducted at Grizzley’s Restaurant, in Superior Wisconsin on Monday, July 14, 2014. These notes are written to support Art Johnston as he faces charges of racism. They are based on six pages of notes taken by me, Harry Welty, and my subsequent fleshing out of those notes based on additional recollections of information provided by XXXX XXXXXX in my interview with her/him. These have been written with two views in mind.

First, I mentioned this interview and notes to Attorney Mary Rice the following day, Tuesday, July 15, during a two hour interview/deposition which was mandated by the Duluth School Board. The Rice Interview was authorized for an investigation of charges leveled against Board member Art Johnston. Ms. Rice requested my notes from the XXXXXX’s interview and I agreed to give them to her along with my extended typed recollections of the meeting. I had not intended the information to be considered complete after one meeting as my note taking is hasty and crude and was not tape recorded. I had intended to interview XXXX XXXXXX in a follow up interview to clear up any misconceptions or mistakes I might have made in typing up my original notes.

Second, from the outset of the charge of racism made against Art Johnston I intended to write an extensive rebuttal to said charge. I have been leaning toward a theory that, in fact, it has been the School Administration that has played fast and loose and carelessly [with] our minority population. Further, it is my opinion that this carelessness was accelerated with the inception of the Red Plan which divided Duluth geographically in such a way as to isolate, concentrate and disadvantage poor and minority children.

As mentioned at the beginning these notes are a rough draft. They contain additional questions for XXXX XXXXXX to clear up which can generally be read in parentheses (). I have sent this version, sans this prologue, to XXXX XXXXXX in hopes he/she will offer corrections and amendments. I am sending it to Attorney Rice in this early rough draft stage to expedite her investigation. It is not intended to be my final word or description of the interview with XXXX XXXXXX, his/her story, the larger story of race and the Duluth School District or the efforts of Art Johnston to mitigate the District’s imperfect record of dealing with its minorities.

Harry Welty

Thursday, July 17, 2014