There is no way to sugar coat this. Our District’s Human Resources Director said the most shocking and unforgivable thing I can recall ever hearing addressed to the Duluth School Board at last Tuesday’s meeting. Janna Hollingsworth’s story in the Duluth News Tribune did not come close to capturing its awfulness. Art Johnston to whom the remarks were directed demanded an apology. He is owed one. And yet I did not acknowledge this at the meeting. I chose instead to play the role of harmonizer. I made the sensible observation that demanding public apologies while tempers flared was unlikely to achieve them. Of course, speaking in the moment I was not nearly as concise as this.
I’m going to take a ten minute break to see what I said and more importantly what HR Director Tim Sworsky said.
At 52:30 Art Johnston calmly returned to his and Jane Bushey’s grievance against the District and tied it to our ongoing discussions about bullying. There is no doubt that this has become tiresome for everyone. We know the grievance and yet no one can fault Art for bringing it up. It has been allowed to fester for almost half a year and Art and his significant other, Jane, have found themselves written about on the front page of the newspaper. I’m pretty sure I know almost the whole story and if I’m right Art has been treated thee way I used to treat ants by throwing them in spider webs or focusing the sun’s rays on them with a magnifying lens. At some point a victim can begin to lose sympathy. At church choir on Wednesday after Janna’s story, a fellow I’ve been singing with for twenty years turned to me and suggested that Art was pretty much crazy. Good work School Board, Red Planners, Superintendent, Duluth News Tribune. Mission accomplished. Art Johnston is a crank.
During Art’s litany of ill treatment our Director, Tim Sworsky, got visibly agitated. Now give me another couple minutes to review when he interrupted Art’s litany. at 52:53 less than thirty seconds into it. Art acknowledged Sworsky when Tim moved to the lectern and gave him the floor saying that it looked like Tim wanted to contest Art’s accusation of bullying. Tim came out swinging, “Mr. Johnston I’d like to congratulate you on your wedding.”
Only someone driven to distraction would have slapped Art with this snearing condemnation. Art and Jane are not married but have lived together for 14 years. That’s double the old 18th Century Common Law standard that was legal through nearly half of America states at one point before it fell out of favor. The Age of Aquarius brought the practice if not the law back to life.
Sworsky begins grilling Art without enough prepositions “Is your wife, spouse, Correct? Tim asks staring hard at Johnston.
“What’s your point?” Art responds laconically but no doubt taken aback.
“I don’t believe it is your spouse. If you look up the definition of spouse.”
It was painful to watch Sworsky ridicule Art marital status. (I used the euphemism “significant other” to begin this post.) Sworsky would have been better served had he stuck to his real complaint; Art’s allegation that Sworsky’s office bullied Jane Bushey. Recall that one of the six charges against Art is that he had a “conflict of interest” in intervening in Jane’s employment status with the District. I suspect that recent case law will not support the District’s complaint. I suspect that the Courts are likely to view Art’s intervention as being defensible on the basis that he is to all intents and purposes Jane’s spouse of 14 years. To do otherwise would give the School District the upper hand by saying a School Board member can only defend his/her spouse’s ill treatment when actually married.
And yet this is extremely awkward for the District. The conflict would relate to Art’s sitting on the School Board. Typically these conflict charges relate to money as when someone stands to gain something financially. Of course, Jane Bushey contributes her income to their joint household but anyone thinking that money was at the heart of Art’s complaint would be wrong and Tim Sworsky is very wrong. The Age of Aquarius has come to the court’s attention and state by state case law has begun to treat term couples as though they were legal spouses. It get’s uglier.
“That woman is not your spouse, or your wife!”
When Tim spit this last imprecation out I suspect everyone in the audience would have given a million bucks to be anywhere else.
Art begins to speak. Chair Miernicki asks about a point of order although no one has called for one. Tim Sworsky realizing that things have spun out of control stretches his hands as though reminding himself to speak on topic. He retreats to a justifiable concern over the public hashing out of confidential information.
I’d make this point before going on. At this point the confidentiality justification is being used to protect administrators not employees. This is ass backwards and I give Mr. Sworsky very little credit for hiding behind it. Its true that Tim feels he is being put at a disadvantage by these folks airing their and his dirty laundry but it is also true that the District is more interested in hiding its own dirt than it is Jane Bushey’s.
“There is also much more to this story than you’re letting on, that can not be discussed in public.” This is Mr. Sworky’s next claim. I’ll confess that I bridle at this claim because I know about more dirty laundry. I’ve hinted as much in my blog. If and when I break my silence I may face a legal attack for breaking confidentiality. Having recently had out retirement advisers remind my wife and me that as a public official my actions could put our retirement as risk this is a point I’ve been forced to consider. Can I allow a known liar to defame Art Johnston and his wife just because this liar’s actions are supposed to be veiled in confidential ten-year old personnel files? Hell, I’ll bet 500 Denfeld alumni know more about this lie than I do but I know enough. Six damn months to keep quiet while the District dances around keeping Art Johnston on tenterhooks is getting hard for me to take and I’m not even on the front pages with Art and Jane.
The next thing of moment before Sworsky leaves the podium gets to this uncomfortable point “…just don’t use some sort of shield to tell your side.”
But this is bullshit. Art’s dropped his shield. Its the District that is hiding behind a shield. I wonder how long it will stay up.
The awkwardness goes one for a couple minutes as the Board tries to remember what is germane to the discussion of “bullying.” Art make the same case I do about who is hiding behind a shield. Chair Miernicki gropes for a way back to the agenda. I interject some calming words that seems all blather. I frankly was as gobsmacked as everybody else and didn’t want to come out taking sides although the only side I can take is Art’s. I make a reference to folks offering to help us work out our differences. I’m referring to the “Civility Project.” In fact just before the meeting I returned a call to the Civility Project’s Rob Karwath and told him I’d be eager for them to referee a meeting between Board members. He told me that it seems the other side is dragging their heels on this using the justification that this stuff is in litigation. That is not true. A lawyer is taking testimony without any court sanction.
The discussion seems to end at this point. I see myself from the camera’s view taking lots of notes to help me remember the dialogue. I can’t recall where Art demands an apology. I didn’t hear myself in this exchange mention “tenterhooks” which is the work Janna Hollingsworth quotes me as saying.
I’m not finished with this post. I’ve been at it from 2 to 3:30 AM. I haven’t got it in me to watch the whole meeting or finish where I plan to on the subject of saints. I mean to elaborate on this old post from January of 2013. I also would be well advised to do some editing on this series of posts. Yawn. But not now.
No rest for the wicked I guess. Just another two hours of sleeplessness despite sleepiness. I must have woken Claudia with tossing and turning as she left to go sleep somewhere else.
Speaking of editing that linked post, “My life as an Anvil Salesman Pt 3,” was another of my late night non stop blog rambles. It surely needed editing too. I didn’t just reread it but I remember writing it because I wrote something that could have been used against me in the school board campaign I was contemplating. When someone did try to blacken my name by claiming at the last minute I had a pedophile as a campaign manager they blew a chance to get some real dirt out on me and give voters the creeps. Except that upon rereading that old unedited post I see I was pretty vague when I got to the big reveal:
The woman who had put me in contact with her rather extensive chain of sex partners infected with venereal disease was one of my Mother’s best friends.
I’ll be plain. That story was prefaced with my description of having gone to my college’s health center to get a shot for a venereal disease I’d been exposed to. The doctor who gave me the shot was the Mother of one of my high school friends.
When I got to the end of my posty ramble I concluded with that vague sentence. I’m sure folks scratched their heads trying to figure out just what I was getting at: The woman I had sex with had an extensive chain of sex partners. One of them infected her with venereal disease. She was also one of my Mother’s best friends. Truth to tell, my infectious partner was my Mother’s best friend.
Its too late for someone to prevent me getting elected to the School Board now. I’ve got better than three years left on this term. Mr. Sworsky is right that its a little unfair for an elected official to point fingers at him when his hands are tied. There is, however, an irony in this that I’ll mention later.
I too am an bigshot elected official and what he suggested about Art Johnston he could say of me. Therefore I’m setting down my shield of righteousness. It seems only fair to give Mr. Sworsky the benefit of my own foibles before I launch into an analysis of what may be his own.