Martell’s Heartbreak

I met Loren Martell’s wife briefly once or twice at her back door when I delivered things to Loren a few years back. We didn’t talk to speak of. She seemed a quiet woman who, it appeared to me, did not interfere with Loren’s unexpected crusade against the Red Planners. I did do a fair amount of talking with Loren in those early years for him, but did it as a man in the process of absenting myself from the madness. I’d hit my head against the wall for better than three years and was at my wits end. Even some of my folks in Let Duluth Vote were put out with me convinced that my tell-all approach to blogging was hurting the cause.

I’d started my crusade against the red planners with a column pointing out that 1. a plan being justified as a long overdue closing of one too many high schools was God-awful expensive and that 2. it was being done without a public referendum. I had written the column under protest because I didn’t want to get into a fight over something I’d paid little attention to after leaving the Board three years before. After that I found myself in the middle of a fight and one of its chief spokesmen. Over the next four years the organization I named, Let Duluth Vote, went from failed tactic to failed tactic in a vain search for compromise. Attempting to convince the School Board to put the plan up for a referendum went nowhere. When that became a non-starter I ran for the Board again confident that I could change the Board’s majority to make a referendum possible. Ralph Doty put an abrupt end to that.

Next I started a petition calling for a referendum which though signed by thousands did not have the force of law. The School Board ignored it. My crowd at Let Duluth Vote then pushed a Plan B despite my considerable misgivings. I worked on it as a servant of our group’s majority from a sense of duty more than confidence that it would get us anywhere. I knew that we were ill prepared and too few to attempt to rival an army of Red Plan architects. Furthermore, it was only a matter of time before our plan drew fire as inferior. Ironically the Red Planners said our stripped-down plan would cost more than theirs and managed to convince the editors of the Trib and large portions of the public. Then we moved on to our last resort – a law suit for which I volunteered to be one of five plaintiffs. That required finding a lawyer, finding a case, raising money to pay the attorney. Once in court we were required raise $100,000 to post a bond in case the delay of the construction cost the Red Planners (and thus the taxpayers) money. Finally, at the conclusion of three and a half years fighting we had our attorney removed a month into our court proceedings. A lot of Let Duluth Vote blamed me for this and with some cause.

My final act was a double project. We tried to elect a new school board and figure out how to collect the $100,000 bond from the court without surrendering too much to the defendants Johnson Controls and ISD 709. It was about at this time when things looked black that I met Loren Martell.

I’ve often joked that I’ve written a million words about this fight in my blog. Without going back and rereading them I’m a little fuzzy on some details. I was burnt out but Loren had become a glowing ember. We talked him into running against Judy Seliga-Punyko when he really wanted to run an at-large campaign. He stepped aside and Tom Kasper was elected at large only to become a great disappointment to the Let Duluth Vote crowd. Loren meanwhile faced an East Duluth juggernaut hellbent on getting a new high school with their own football stadium “for equity’s sake.” This was four years after Judy had beaten me in the 2007 election, with the help of Doty’s last minute smear, so the Red Plan still had the benefit of many people’s doubt while it was also two years away from making drastic cuts in the teaching corps necessary to pay for a plan that had grown by tens of millions of dollars.

I understood that the Red Plan would maintain its benefit of the doubt until such time as it began to disappoint the community but I was too stressed out to continue a fight that was already lost. If you hit the search button for the word ”sleep” you will find that it becomes a great preoccupation of posts starting in 2009. If I don’t live to be one hundred I’ll blame it on the Red Plan fight.

There was no guarantee that the Red Plan would disappoint but I was pretty confident that it had been too good to be true from the beginning. From my retirement, I continued to point fingers at the disconcerting consequences of the Red Plan. I also applauded Loren Martell would remain a lonesome fighter in these years. The soft-spoken Martell would frequently have his microphone turned off under the pretext that he had been uncivil or out of order. Once, during the School Board’s most highhanded years, he was handcuffed by a policeman when the microphone had been turned off on him but didn’t back away from it. He’s had to live with the accusation that he had behaved badly ever since when it was a thin-skinned School Board that had really been at fault.

I helped Loren raise money for two campaigns. During that time Loren became an expert, of sorts, about the District’s finances. I say “of a sort” because the District didn’t really share its finances candidly with outsiders and lied through their teeth repeatedly sucking in such as the editors of the News Tribune with nonsense. This was during a seven-year period in which the Administration got used to the Board not asking questions and even actively denying its minority access to routine public information.

It is all of these things Chair Miernicki refers to in his riposte to Martell in his Duluth Reader rebuttal, “I understand that Loren Martell is angry with the outcome of the audit. He has spent a great deal of personal money and time fighting the Red Plan. The State Auditor’s Office found that the District had done nothing wrong.”

Mern couldn’t have been more wrong about the last half of this claim. The Auditor didn’t expose anything illegal but she did not in any way vindicate the District. To the contrary she found that the District operated under a set of assumptions that had no basis in reality. As for the condescending remark that Loren is angry because he wasted his money Mern is clueless. The treasure Loren used wasn’t monetary. It wasn’t even the hours and days and weeks he spent in research, petitioning and campaigning. For Loren, this was but a call to public service. It wasn’t even the assault on Loren’s dignity by having him handcuffed and scolded in letters to the editor although I understand what this meant from personal experience.

I know my family winced at unflattering stories about my public service. My daughter, who had lived through three of my unsuccessful school board campaigns joked that she could finally go to school without wearing a paper bag when I finally got elected on my fourth try. I can only imagine what Loren’s wife, a school teacher herself, thought about her husband’s unflagging opposition to the District’s stonewalling. The heartbreaking price Loren was to pay for all his dedication was yet to be exacted.

Loren’s Hail Mary pass was the petition to audit the District. He started three years ago and singlehandedly got the audit in motion. Or so he thought. I’ll simply leave it to Loren here and here to explain how poorly the State Auditor fulfilled her role vis-a-vis the Red Plan. (BTW – the first of these Duluth Trib columns by Loren had a headline written by the Trib’s editors. It was they, not Loren Martell, who described Duluth as being “hustled and bilked.” I take their words as a sign of grudging respect for Loren by editors who have not always been kind to him.

I discovered during my school board campaign last summer that Loren’s wife, the quiet woman who had taken materials from me to give to her husband, had died suddenly and unexpectedly because of a lethal cancer. I didn’t even know her name as all my dealings had been with Loren while she remained tucked out of sight. My old pastor who now teaches at Marshall School told me that her death came as a shock to everyone. Loren’s wife had been an art teacher.

Loren’s family was a twosome with no children. They were best of friends. She proof read his columns. Little did Loren know that while he was insuring that the people of Duluth would finally get an honest accounting from the State Auditor about the Red Plan his wife was dying of cancer which overwhelmed her mercilessly and swiftly. Loren was left in shock. When I saw him last fall he was a lost soul. He was wracked by the guilt for having spent his wife’s last six months immersed in the Red Plan and the Audit which was supposedly being conducted. “We could have spent that time together,” he told me, and gone on walks like we used to before the Red Plan took him door to door for signatures on petitions.

Loren called me up a couple weeks ago on a very tough Friday after the Auditor’s fiasco of a report. He had just been at work up in Silver Bay the last scenic place he had been with his wife before her death. Not only was Loren preoccupied with those memories but now his Father was dying as well. He had come home to Duluth with little to look forward to but the letter he had written to defend himself from Chair Meirnicki’s complaint that Loren had lied about him cutting the school board meeting off with questions left hanging. It was a kick in the teeth for him to discover that his publisher, the Duluth Reader, had not put his reply and defense in the paper. (It turned out to be an oversight)

Although I had company I knew Loren needed someone to talk to and I met him and we talked for a couple hours. I told my family that I had to “talk someone off the ledge.” In some ways it wasn’t far from the truth.

I believe people need purpose for life. Loren Martell’s purpose has been to expose the dark underbelly of the Red Plan in hopes of excising its shortcomings if not its evil. Today, he can’t bring himself to quit despite the terrible suffering its caused him. In fact, quitting would probably make his suffering worse, like quitting a battle with buddies still behind enemy lines. And yet he has managed to write a great many sage and witty columns about the School Board that has only vexed him for the last four years. His knowledge has come at a great and terrible, personal expense.

One reader of an early version of this blog post put it very well:

Thank you. That was a lovely blog post you wrote about Loren Martell. Kelly. I believe his wife’s name was Kelly. I’m sure she was — and is, if you believe in an afterlife — very proud of him.

Loren is exactly what a citizen in a healthy democracy should be. If it seems otherwise, it’s only because he’s up against such an unhealthy, undemocratic situation.

The most pernicious way he’s been treated is to portray his persistence as unbalanced. Acting like he’s a crackpot is particularly mean-spirited, dismissive, and condescending. (Dare I call it “bullying”?)

I don’t wish to plead for any special sentiment for Loren. Ann Wasson suffered from a cancer in her last years on the Board and I’ve seen other school board members grieve. What I do wish to testify to is that Loren Martell has been unselfish in the extreme. Yes, like Art Johnston and me, he has been a little too driven for his own good. Nonetheless, I am grateful for those who work with this kind of public spirit despite derision and against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Any city with a Loren Martell in it has at least one beating heart.

Martell’s heartbreak – just kidding

This is the fifth post in a series. To read them in order I’d suggest going back five posts ago to “Promises, Promises” and read them in order to this one.

[I’ve only just finished this post now a couple days after first uploading the title. I didn’t proof it and Loren deserves better. I’ll work on it and put it back when I find time. In the meantime my growing backlog of ideas for posting will be held in abeyance. (Love those fifty cent words)]

I’m turning this into a Harry’s Diary Post. The real deal will follow.

I’m about a week away from having more time to blog, should I still feel like it. I’m pretty sure I will. But at the moment I’m still racing around with lots of projects to tidy up. Yesterday I spent six hours of perfectly good sunlight to help out Tim, the young black man who I blogged about a few days ago in regards to his complaints about, six DWB’s (Driving while black). According to my buddy I should have said “alleged” in describing the six incidents Tim claims he endured this summer.

Well, my buddy has tattled on me to Gordon Ramsay, Duluth’s Chief of Police. Chief Ramsay thanked him for keeping him abreast of local comment on the Department. My Buddy sent me the Chief’s reply which hinted that Tim’s word wasn’t above reproach. Sheesh! It wasn’t that long ago that I engaged in an email debate with the Deputy Police Chief. That’s when I spoke up for keeping our high school lunch hours open describing their closing as turning schools into prisons. Deputy Chief Tusken would have none of my libertarian clap trap.

Golly, now I’ve gone up one rung on the police radar. Will I have to worry about DWBSB’s? (Driving while on the School Board) I woke up this morning deep in thought about the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, that prompted some of my recent posts. There is a lot of very rational questioning now of how we police our racial differences. Are the police racially sensitive enough? Are they too aggressive? Do they shoot first and ask questions later (and shoot a lot)? Are they too militarized?

My buddy and I have sparred for twenty years on issues of race sometimes quite testily. This morning I imagined doing a lot of blogging on the issue of race but I’ve got a lot of other issues to write about more pertinent to my current concerns as a school board member. My buddy recently sent me an email asking what would be accomplished by giving the Red Plan a “colonoscopy.” He’s practically a recluse and has all the time in the world to stir up my blogging by sending me email like the time he kept calling me a bigot for my constant barbs aimed the new Republican Party. I’ll hold new posts in abeyance for now. I’ve got a garage to paint and a lawn to mow now that I’ve got another crack at a sunny day.

lie, lie, lie

Chair Miernicki was so incensed by Mr. Martell’s assertion that he had abruptly adjourned the meeting with the state auditors that he wrote in to correct Mr. Martell. Mike’s letter contained the world “lie” three times as if to reinforce how he felt about Mr. Martell. In response Art Johnston and I along with Loren himself all wrote to the Reader Weekly. If you stop by the nearest convenience store you will find out three replies.

For the purpose of this post I will include only Chair Miernicki’s letter followed by my own.

Chair Miernicki, the floor is yours:

I recently read the July 31st article by Loren Martel entitled “A Few Words About the State Audit.” In it I was personally attacked by Martell. He claimed in the article that as chair of the School Board, I had “shut down the meeting” while “Board members still had lights on. That is a lie. That did not happen. When I read the Martel article, I did two things. I asked other board members if they saw any lights on. All said, that they there were no lights on. I then went to the district office and listened to the recording of the inside of the meeting. In the recording, I asked Art Johnston if he had any more questions. Mister Johnston said he had one more and asked the question. We had three state auditors present, and 1 of them answered Mister Johnston’s question.

I have a computer monitor in front of me that shows who else on the board has his/her light on. There were only two members who still wanted to comment. Annie Harala went next and thanked the auditors for their report. That left Rosie Loeffler-Kemp. I called on Ms. Loeffler-Kemp who also thanked the auditors for their time and effort. There were no further lights on. There were no names on my screen. Mr. Martell claims in his article that I have that I “seem to have trouble with representative democracy. Board members still had lights on.” He was sitting at the back of the room and could not see my computer screen. I swear to the readers that there were no lights on and it there were no names on my computer screen. I thanked the Auditors and said “Welcome to Duluth.” We then adjourned the meeting. No one was cut off from asking further questions.

I understand the Loren Martel is angry with the outcome of the audit. He has spent a great deal of personal money and time fighting the Red Plan. The State Auditors Office found that the district had done nothing wrong. What bothers me is that Martel chooses to openly lie about what happened at the end the meeting. I will say again that there were no microphone lights on and no names on the computer screen. To clean otherwise is a lie. Mister Martell owes me a retraction or an apology. I doubt if I will get either.

Mike Miernicki
Chair, Duluth Board of Education

BTW – the Auditor did not find that “the district had done nothing wrong.” Instead they offered no opinions and refused to speculate about whether the District had made mistakes. As Loren pointed out they repeatedly refused to give the all clear to Duluth when prompted repeatedly by Member Loeffler-Kemp to do so.

Here’s my letter in reply to Mr. Miernicki:

”That is a lie.”

“That is a lie.” So wrote Duluth School Board chair Mike Miernicki in a bitter rejoinder to the excellent Duluth Reader column of July 31st by Loren Martell. Mr. Martell was detailing the recent State Auditor’s report on the District’s financial management of the infamous “Red Plan.” Loren, who had singlehandedly brought the audit into existence, had to endure the presentation of eight skimpy pages after his two-year wait. The Auditor’s final page summed it up nicely “W” did not perform an audit.”

Chair Miernicki’s dismissal of Loren’s column ignored the first 23 paragraphs to highlight the “lie” in Martell’s next to last paragraph describing the Chair’s announcement that the meeting was over at 6pm sharp. Chair Miernicki backed up his accusation by saying he had asked other Board members if this was true. Apparently, these other board members agreed that no Board member’s microphone lights (which signal questions) were still on when he stopped the meeting. Then the Chairman listened to the audio recording of the meeting.

There are two problem with the Chairman’s research. He only surveyed some board members and I wasn’t one of them. I sit directly opposite Art Johnston and clearly saw Art’s resignation when the meeting was called off while his microphone’s light shone brightly. Art and I joked darkly about this after the “adjournment.” Secondly, an audio recording would fail to show a bright microphone light.

The Auditors had retreated to “we have no opinion” in answer to most of our questions. Art and I simply decided it wasn’t worth a fight with Chair Miernicki when he ignored Art’s light. If Mr. Miernicki did listen to the audio he must have heard his own thrice announced proclamation that the meeting would close at 6 sharp. This annoyed me greatly because I had woken up in St. Louis, Missouri at 2:30am that day for an eleven-hour drive back to Duluth to make the damned meeting.

Often a lie is little more than two people having an honest disagreement. I can easily follow both Mr. Martell’s and Mr. Miernicki’s logic about what constitutes a violation of parliamentary procedure. Art and I should have objected but we didn’t and Mr. Miernicki has conveniently failed to mention his thrice stated declaration that he would shut down the meeting regardless of our questions.
Mr. Martell and Mr. Miernicki both feel that they have accused each other of lying. That’s too bad. As for the Chairman’s thin skin I’m not sure it’s all that warranted. He recently sent me an email accusing me of lying in a four-page analysis I wrote about Art Johnston’s recent treatment. I had threatened to make the four pages public and when Mike claimed my analysis contained lies I asked him to point them out so that I could correct them. He told me I’d find out what was wrong when I published them. That was not a very helpful way to get me to the truth.

Furthermore, I had only shared my lies, if that’s what they were, with my fellow board members and the Superintendent. That can’t be said of Chair Miernicki’s accusations against Art Johnston. Last week the front page of the Duluth News Tribune had this charming headline: “Email accuses Johnston of “slandering’ district employees.” To date the worst Chair Miernicki has suffered was the description of how he abruptly ended a meeting in the 24th paragraph of a 25-paragraph column. It’s hard to imagine how such an easily bruised man would feel had he been the one made to suffer a summer’s worth of nasty headlines brought about by a fellow school board member.

Harry Welty
At large member of the Duluth School Board

Martell’s longer column in the Reader, post auditor

I have already commented favorably on and linked to the earlier and extensive piece Loren Martell wrote for the Reader Weekly about the presentation by the State Auditor’s staff to the Duluth School Board. If you have not read it you might want to for the posts which follow.

It was deft and humorous but nonetheless damning. One consequence was that it smoked out one of the Board members who took great offense at it and uncharacteristically lent it credence by disputing it. That’s the next post.

Martell’s Tribune column, post auditor

It was a brilliant summation of Mr. Martell’s position regarding the value of the long awaited and disappointing non audit by the State Auditor. Here is his column. Here is a sample:

In an editorial on July 23, 2010, the newspaper claimed the Red Plan was $32 million in the black. That was just 10 months before it was revealed to be

$19 million in the red.

Further, the News Tribune reported on June 19, 2007, that the district’s consultant, Johnson Controls, would make “about $4.5 million” from the Red Plan. The state auditor verified in its limited engagement that more than $56 million went to Johnson Controls. One of the shortcomings of the petition engagement was that it did not break down how much of that was paid to subcontractors. Common sense, however, suggests the company’s take was more than $4.5 million.

Mr. Martell ends his piece with this paragraph:

I continue to be involved in this issue despite surviving a heartbreaking personal tragedy over the past year because I believe the public has a right to answers about what is happening in its town. How foolish to suggest I would have spent so many hours of precious time just “riling up” anyone I can.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write about this “heartbreaking personal tragedy” but it did not seem my place to do so. Loren has referred to it several times since once at a school board meeting when addressing the Board and also in a recent letter sent in to to the Reader Weekly. I think that permits me to add my two cents which I will do in my last post on Mr. Martell today.

Promises, Promises

I’ve promised readers that I would explain my theory that one tool used in the courts is to impoverish court adversaries. This relates to my dubious expectation that the District pay for Art Johnston’s court costs if he is exonerated. I’ve promised myself to explain my conviction that young black Tim was pulled over for being black by the Duluth police. That’s because my old buddy and email sparring party accused me of making assumptions that young black Tim was telling the truth without giving the Duluth police a similar assumption. I think that is an important assumption to defend. But I will first devote myself to Loren Martell in several successive posts which are timely.

Good news, Bad news

The good news is that Minnesota tops the nation in ACT scores. The bad news is that its for our white students.

I suspect that for Duluth the bad news is worse regarding minority students. According to the Tribune’s story linked to above every junior in a Minnesota high school will be required to take the ACT test next year. That’s a test to see if students have what it takes to be enrolled into college. The result will be a drop in Minnesota’s ACT test ranking as the 30 percent of Minnesota students who are least likely to and least prepared to go to college will bring our average test results down. I don’t mind that change but its a heads up for my readers not to be disappointed when that news is reported next year.

The good news for me is that I’m beginning to find time to catch up. I saw and sang to my Mom today. Its been a long eleven days since I had a chance to see her. Its the longest I’ve ever gone without leaving town on a vacation. Singing to my poor demented Mother is good for my sanity so I’ve missed it. As I kissed her on the head I promised her I’d be back more often to atone for my absence. Its a promise she no doubt could not understand let along remember.

While I was with her I made a call to Art’s friend mentioned earlier and got a chance to talk to him before rushing home to tend to my grand-sons. We had a fun conversation about his ten years in Duluth. He wants to sell his car because its been a discouraging hassle. He’s been pulled over for DWB (driving while black) not just the one time I mentioned previously but six times and just this summer. Last month it was three times. I told Tim I’d only been pulled over six times over the past forty years and almost always for speeding not for being white. BTW, His 2003 Montecarlo is a nice looking car if anyone is interested in spending about $3000.00 to take it off his hands and free him from being pulled over so often. Send me an email ( if you’re interested and I’ll put you in touch with him.

A sane, fair, and neutral appraisal of the Duluth School Board

One of the pleasures of being in the public eye is the chance to meet folks who are passionate about the same sort of things you are. Last summer during the campaign I met a fine young man, Gosh that makes me sound old and patronizing, Karl Schuettler. Karl is a bright young fellow of his generation with a formidable collegiate education and limited employment prospects. He will be remedying that, or delaying a return to underemployment, by heading off to graduate school soon.

His chief interests are International relations, East High and hockey. In pursuit of all these ends he has taken on the masochistic task of attending Duluth School Board meetings. Its been painful but he has taken pains to post thoughtful, insightful and diplomatically candid assessments of these meetings and the characters he reports on. I know he is neutral because Art Johnston once griped at one of Karl’s posts when I sent it to him because it was apparent that Art is not one of Karl’s favorite board members. Karl has done right by me so, of course, I’m happy to describe Karl’s assessments in superlatives. That doesn’t mean I always get a pass from Karl. In fact, one of my proposals at this week’s board meeting gets a serious and probably accurate critique from Karl to wit: paying Art Johnston’s legal fees should he be vindicated. Its a serious issue that I’ve thought a lot about over the years and I hope to write a post on the issue of bleeding the accused into a state of financial impotence as a police tactic.

Whatever else you read about our last meeting, if you really want to get a good look at how dysfunctional we are, read Karl’s take. Things will likely get much worse so I’m glad Karl is heading off to some place more uplifting.

Oh, and I knew I had to link to Karl’s blog post even before Claudia came down in her bath robe to ask me what made me laugh so loud I scared the cat off the bed a floor above. It was Karl’s gnats.

How to still Fergusson and ISD 709 – Abracadabra

Visitors to this blog know I opine about all sorts of stuff. The list on the right confirms that. But sometimes I switch to a single topic and stick with it even when other things are on my mind. Ferguson, Missouri is on my mind at the moment. Its not far from my son and brother who both live in St. Louis.

My brother actually lives in Clayton and I’ve just heard that Clayton and Ferguson are polar opposites in terms of family income. This post from the Daily Dish shows how impoverished the folks in Ferguson are and how black.

I’m broaching this subject because it ties into one of my long term concerns about Duluth and its schools – the condition of the minority, especially the black, community.

Its ironic that our brave School Board has libeled Art Johnston by accusing him of racism. The District and some of the personalities accusing Art of this have a pretty dubious past themselves on this score which I’m more inclined to write about every damn day they continue harass Art and Jane Bushey. I sent a roughly written four-page discourse on this subject, including examples, to attorney Mary Rice a couple weeks ago. She’s the one sniffing out all the evil details about Art. I send out a lot of roughly edited stuff now. I’m busy. The last post,r break in continuity.Its ironic that our brave School Board has chosen to libel Art Johnston as a racist. The District and some of the personalities accusing Art of racism have a pretty dubious past which I’m more inclined to write about every damn day they continue harass Art and Jane Bushey. I sent a roughly written four-page discourse including some examples of the hypocrisy to attorney Mary Rice a couple weeks ago. She’s the one sniffing out all the evil details about Art. I send out a lot of roughly edited stuff now. I’m busy. I should have reread the “Whereas” post once before uploading it but I took my chances that my readers aren’t too fussy about typos and the occasional awkward sentence or break in continuity.

Mary Cameron, who didn’t much like Art, at least appreciated his generous spirit when it came to his racial judgments. Today her brother drove past my house as I was making magical totems with my grandsons to hang from a tree in my front yard. He rolled down his car window and gave me a cordial greeting and told me who he was when I couldn’t squint hard enough to catch his identity. I’m set to have coffee with a young black man that I met when I saw him talking with Art a couple weeks ago. He told me that he had recently been pulled over in Duluth for a DWB, driving while black. (Drat but that doesn’t seem like the right acronym) Last year during the school board campaign I was invited to a remembrance of the murdered Trayvon Williams by Art’s young black campaign manager. Two weeks ago I went to a meeting headed up by one of Duluth’s young black up and comers at Art’s recommendation. No other school board member to my knowledge, including me, has gone to such lengths to cultivate friendships across races in Duluth. Ah, but there is one black school administrator who I’ve seen give Art a tongue lashing so its not all unqualified love.

I keep getting three and four hours of sleep at night and full days with grand-kids. That’s my excuse for not uploading the dozens of blog posts I’ve had half a mind to write up. Until school starts and I get Claudia off to seminary again I’ll only have half a mind for the School Board. As much as I’ll miss so much time with my boys I’m looking forward to giving our schools my full attention, especially with all the magical charms I’ve got hanging in my front yard to give me courage.


Tenacity and perseverance are usually held up as virtues. Stubbornness is not.I’m not sure where the issue of disclosing the truth about the Red Plan fits in. I feel that I have been tenacious, dogged even in trying to win transparency where its finances are concerned. That was not possible when I ran for the school board seven years ago as the Red Plan basked in a kind of nether world with the benefit of the doubt behind it. For the following years the School Board majority refused to question or allow questions about its finance. It was a period of darkness where happy talk and purposeful ignorance prevailed in 5-2 and 6-1 votes not to provide information to the minority. It was a time when it was first falsely claimed that JCI would only get 2% of the Red Plan’s cost and that there would be a $32 million windfall for the District from savings and that no money was being taken from the general fund for bond repayment. To call these claims anything less than lies would be fatuous.

So today, now that the Red Plan construction is behind us but its calamitous results will be with us perhaps until its paid for in another twenty years seems the opportune time to get past the head in the sand Era. I don’t think refusing to look at Red Plan finance for the seventh and eighth years after its commencement can in any way be considered perseverance. I think it can only be considered stubbornness, willful ignorance even. To beg repeatedly, as Chair Miernicki has, for us to look to the future would be comical if he wasn’t so determined to keep his head in the sand at the expense of truth and resolution.

Mike and I are entering a cold war which, I’ve told Art Johnston is a tragedy. I’ve described Mike as big hearted in the past. Since his charge that Art assaulted him, a charge I don’t believe in the slightest, I’d have to describe our chairman as a Grinch in reverse. His heart has shrunk two sizes. He has read my blog regularly so he won’t appreciate this analysis. There are likely to be a lot of things I’ll be writing in the future that he will find even more infuriating.

Last night the School Board had a visit from the national poobah of the Civility Project. I wonder what she though of our meeting. The discussions I introduced were all conducted in a formal and civil manner. The resistance to let the minority speak was not, however, particularly civil. Chair Miernicki’s guiding stars are apparently Senator Reid and Congressman Boehner, not exactly paragons of civility. After the meeting Mike told me angrily that my call for giving the minority a chance to place issues on the agenda would have no place in either Congress or the State legislature. He was perturbed my my observation that it might be against state statute for an elective body in Minnesota to deny the right to discuss issues to members of an elected minority. He told me he would welcome my lawsuit. Should that come to pass he would expect to pay for his own attorneys as he also refused to let the Board discuss a motion I want added to the agenda to pay for Art Johnston’s legal bills should the investigation Mike instigated prove to be a joke.

Mike did not fully succeed at preventing either of the two discussions I wanted to engage in. He was not a swift enough parliamentarian to prevent that. I introduced my requests for additions to the agenda when we were to adopt the agenda so he was forced to let me read them aloud and then explain why I thought we should be permitted to discuss them.

In short I explained that in all the years I was on the board two members were assured by polity that subjects of interest to them would be placed on the agenda. That policy was done away with in the Dixon regime. It will probably not be allowed to resurface in the Dixon-lite regime. I brought forward that policy change at the end of the meeting during question time.

I pointed out, as did Art, that just because a minority is permitted to debate issues it is no guarantee that they will win the day in a vote. I explained that under Parliamentary procedure the minority is guaranteed a voice in deliberations and that repeated my claim, much to Chair Miernicki’s annoyance, that shutting up the minority was tyrannical, thus Mike’s defense that he was simply acting like a Congressman.

This is the resolution I offered but which was denied a formal discussion by a 3 to 4 vote:

Whereas the initial estimates of “soft costs” for the Long Range Facilities Plan were placed at about 16 percent of the overall cost and

Whereas the recent abbreviated report by Minnesota’s auditor confirmed that 27 percent of the spending on the Long Range Facilities Plan went to pay for “soft costs” and

Whereas there has not been any detailed documentation yet presented to the School Board for this public spending and

Whereas the Duluth School Board has a fiduciary responsibility to its taxpayers to ascertain that these $84 millions of dollars were spent for the benefit of the Duluth schools and

Whereas the Duluth School community has been suffering decreases in programming such as music, increased class sizes, diminished transportation and increased student activity fees as a result of borrowing from the general fund to pay for LRFP bonds and

Whereas there have been calls for greater transparency by the community including, recently, the editors of the Duluth News Tribune, to insure good governance:

Therefore be it resolved, that the Duluth School Board demand that all entities who helped complete the Long Range Facilities Plan and who made soft money expenditures towards its completion be directed to give the Duluth School Board full spread sheet documentation of these payments as soon as practicable.

Garbage in, Garbage out – for real this time

Art Johnston noticed a couple figures in the millions in the Auditor’s report that didn’t make sense. The Trib’s education reporter noticed some of them too. So last week Art called me up on Wednesday with the news that the Auditor had made a two million dollar error in her spiffy little report to the Duluth School Board. That’s when I first typed up this post’s headline. Its the familiar old line about what you get out of computers – “garbage in, garbage out.” Maybe you can guess where I’m going with this………


I’m unimpressed with the work of the State Auditor. I was in high dudgeon when I began this post last week. Learning that the Auditor put actual numbers in the wrong columns and signed the mistake did little to improve my attitude. But I told Art Johnston recently that I’m inclined to err on the side of even handedness. To that end I was pleased to read the Zenith City Weekly’s take on the Auditor’s report which came out tonight after the School Board meeting. I’m very impressed. First with Jennifer Martin-Romme’s understanding of our finances and second by her ability to explain them. There is nothing about the Auditor’s report to lend any credit to the pro Red Plan side. Her story is a measured story.

I do have much to report about tonight’s school board meeting and Chair Miernicki’s huffy claim that he is simply following the example of two of the nation’s most popular politicians, Congressman John Boehner and Senator Harry Reid. But I’ll beg off tonight. I came home to news that one of my Grandson’s good friends, aged six, is the young boy who was killed when he rode his bicycle into a car a couple days ago. Its the sort of news that puts things in perspective. For tonight I’ll let the Zenith speak for me.

Garbage in, Garbage out – it turns out this is just a prologue

Its 3:30AM. I’ll bank on the last post to keep you interested to see what I write here until I’m good and ready to do a little more posting. I’ve got grandchildren for the next couple days and family visitors from outstate. I’m also in the middle of a small but fussy project to make my garage presentable. Claudia is tired of banging car doors into shovels and I think, after a quarter century its about time I paint some bare sheetrock. I really need more sleep. So, stay tuned.

As the amended title/headline says, it turns out this is just a prologue. I’ve added “Harry’s Diary” to the categories.

450 new visitors have perused this blog since I stopped adding posts four days ago. That meant that they plus probably an equal number of readers have read the previous post. That means that this school board member can be reasonably sure that a thousand folks have read that I was exposed to an STD by an older woman back in my collegiate years. I didn’t mean to part this particular post. Parking is what I call posts that are particularly telling when I don’t add to them so that my regular readers will be sure to catch the contents of a particular post. I didn’t plan to park the last post but I’m not particularly sorry I did. I’ve aimed with a grim determination to assure my readers of my “honesty.” I can’t think of many things that assure my transparency more than the revelation that I had sex before marriage and that it got me a shot to prevent a very nasty STD. I want my readers to conclude that if I’m willing to bear this personal detail that there won’t be much school board related stuff I’d be inclined to withhold. Ah, but I have been discrete. This may not continue for long.

I’ve got a good half dozen posts I’m eager to unload but once again that will have to wait. I’ll crank out Garbage in Garbage out tomorrow but I’ve got four or so things to type up afterwards which will delay adding any new posts till perhaps tomorrow night or Wednesday. The priorities include a resolution to ask for an accounting of the mysterious 27% of the cost of the Red Plan. The School Board is sure not to want the accounting but I’ll be asking for it anyway. The second, Art Johnston has agreed to type up. It is a return to a policy whereby two Board members can get an item placed on the agenda for discussion at a school board meeting. The next will be a letter to the Duluth Reader assuring then that I think Loren Martell’s version of the meeting we entertained the State Auditor’s staff is pretty much what I remembered it to have been like. This despite our chairman’s sober assessment of his report to have been a lie. Chair Miernicki sent in his rebuttal the week afterwards and poor Loren was a tad upset that his riposte was not allowed to follow up the drubbing the Chair handed him.

Here’s why I stopped writing four days ago. I’ve been busy. I’ve explained before that for this third term on the School Board I intend to put my family first. So, a couple days before my last post my father and brother in laws showed up for a visit. I spent much of the sunny days smearing joint compound on one half of my garage, my daughter started a new job as a teacher necessitating my becoming a grandson sitter, Con artists got into my computer requiring me to take it up to Best Buy’s Geek Squad for a three day check out, We spent a day picking and prepping thirteen pounds of blueberries, We went fishing with two small boys, oh, and Claudia and I celebrated our 40th Anniversary on Sunday by taking eight dozen cupcakes to church.

I know I could have taken a dip into blessed ignorance’s cesspool but, golly, its still summer. If the School Board is hellbent to let the ridiculous persecution of Art Johnston linger into the beginning of the school year and smell up autumn just like it smelled up summer, who am I to hurry the stench along. I’m getting pretty used to wearing clothespins on my nose. The cesspool has only robbed me of good night’s sleeps. I’ve had two good night’s worth over the past seven days. I’ll be waking up at 4AM to get my father-in-law off to Florida tomorrow morning. I’m hoping that having finally turned my attention back to the blog that this start on tomorrow’s “garbage” will get me one more good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s school board meeting. I could really use it.

I’ve got stories to tell that are far more harrowing than my pathetic visit to the Mankato State University Health Center to get a shot in my tush to forestall syphilis. Geez, I’m sixty-three years old! I can afford to show off a few blemishes. Its only saints that things to hide.

Pulling our trousers down

Prepare yourself for a little TMI. Not up on your acronyms? TMI = “too much information.” And to start this post at 2AM here’s a little for you in preparation for the next post that can’t let me get back to sleep at 2AM this morning.

I vividly recall my visit to the Mankato State Health Center for a syphilis shot. The Doctor there was the mother of a friend of mine from high school. That would have been about 1971. I say syphilis but frankly I’m not sure what she treated me for. Maybe it was that other disease Gonorrhea. The later was no big deal then but it is today as an incurable strain seems to be busy infecting the careless.

I found out that I had been exposed to one or the other by my first lover, a much older woman. She was hugely embarrassed to tell me this but she did and I was nothing if not incredibly sympathetic with her and I took the information with aplomb assuring her that it was no big deal. I’ll still confessed to being chagrinned to realize that the Doctor about to give me a shot in my tush was the mother of a friend. There are a few things all of us really don’t want the mother’s of our friends to know about us.

Perhaps the reason I could be so chivilrous had to do with my attitude about secrecy and a movie I had seen back in junior high school. I say movie but I could be wrong. It might have been a television production but I rather think it was a 1950’s black and white movie. Just now I tried to google it but was unsuccessful. I found the startling (for 1940) movie Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet. I may have seen this but its not the movie I was looking for. Then there is 1997 made for TV movie I’d not heard of about the infamous study of black Mississippi men who were never told they had syphilis so that they could be studied until they died of the disease. There are also a couple movies about Gonorrhea.

Here’s what I recall about the movie I had watched back in about seventh grade, although I might have seen it in grade school. A doctor was trying to prevent the spread of the disease, S or G, but it wasn’t easy. To do this he had to get victims to tell him who they had had sex with. This was necessary to find them and treat them. Funny, but the folks in the movie didn’t want to cooperate even though the result of non cooperation was possibly fatal to unnamed sex partners. Not surprisingly I took the doctor’s point of view which is what the makers of the movie had in mind for their audience. Consequently I was inclined to take my lover’s revelation quite evenly.

What started me thinking about this was an NPR story on “information aversion” I heard a couple days ago. The story only referenced sex in passing:

VEDANTAM: That’s right. It’s the idea that information can sometimes be scary. And in those cases, people can sometimes avoid that kind of information. I did a story a couple of weeks ago that looked at college students who didn’t want to find out that they had sexually transmitted diseases for example.

The issue in the story was about the surprising finding that women who knew someone who got breast cancer were less likely to have mammograms than those who did not have such acquaintances. I think my biggest problem on the school board is Information Aversion. I have a majority of the school board who don’t want to know how we got from some truly great educational opportunities for our children to piss poor after spending half a billion (or six hundred million) on brand spanking new buildings. How great is this aversion? Cripes, they’d rather frame the most rigorous investigator on the Board of bullshit accusations in order to remove him than peek under the Chairman’s carpet.

We’ve got syphilis, folks, and we need to get a shot for it. We better be prepared to pull our trousers down to get it just like I had to forty-five years ago.

Today’s third email between Chair Miernicki and me

Mike to me:

Again I hear “sweeping Red Plan under the carpet.” I agree with the News-Tribune. It is over. We need to move on. You and Art want to keep looking backward to justify your campaign against the Red Plan. Fine. But do it on your own time. The schools are built and we have issues to tackle. You and Art can raise your red flags. You can stage your “public shoot out.” I will move on. When you get your majority in next year’s election, you will be able to spend a lot of hours and a lot of money proving your Red Plan theories. I wish you luck.
Mike Miernicki

Me to Mike:


I think you believe you are being high minded. I’m reminded of Bobby Burns poem about the flea in church. I’m sure you can google it. You have a lot more eyes focused on the back of your head…..that’s true of all the school board members….than the subject of Burn’s poem. 

I must tell you, and it saddens me to do so, that when it comes to reckoning which of you is the more truthful, Art Johnston or Mike Miernicki, my head tells me I’ve got to go with Art. 

Canceling meetings with me to play in golf leagues is just one small piece of data that leads me to this conclusion. 



PS. As I am inclined to treat all my school board email as public information. Please be advised to consider what you write to me in emails very carefully before you push “send” as it could very well end up in my blog.  And by the way,  I’m not sure the editors of the Tribune would appreciate your summation of their thinking on the Red Plan. They have their pride but they are not ostriches. They are still journalists. They will be happy to cover a dysfunctional school board and write opinion pieces describing our futile efforts to keep people happy with too few resources.

PPS. Ask Bill Hanson if the school board has the authority not to repay all our bonds thus forcing the state to pay some or all of them. If that is possible I’d like to consider putting that on the ballot for the people of Duluth to decide. It was a decision they were denied making from the beginning of the Red Plan when they were denied a referendum. It would please me to rectify that crime and give local voters the decision that Governor Pawlenty said should rest in the hands of the School Board.

It would be crazy for Duluth to spend a half a billion dollars on new schools…

…so said Johnson Controls:

. . . if you go back to the JCI salesman, Jeff Schiltz, he memorably said after the School Board fixed on one of the smaller plans the “Red” plan over JCI’s White and Blue alternatives that this choice made sense because its more modest $257 million price tag was in keeping with Duluth’s finances. Then he added it would have been crazy to expect Duluth to spend half a billion dollars on new schools. This is ironic because today the cost of the Red Plan is just twelve million shy of half a billion dollars. Maybe Schiltz was trying to warn us but I doubt he turned down the extra commission.

Golly, the price went up by a hundred million more!

Here’s more of the Duluth News Tribune tough investigative coverage of the 2% JCI would earn for managing the building of the Red Plan.

The Trib’s editors recently opined that Art Johnston ought to examine his conscience and decide whether he should step down from the Duluth School Board. Somebody ought to be examining their consciences but its not Art Johnston.

The third email I sent Chair Miernicki today


I just looked at the Red Plan amortization tables.

It turns out the Red Plan didn’t cost just $435 million which is what our lawnsigns claimed five years ago or the $480 million I claimed in my campaign ads but $600 million. I’ll be rechecking my figures.

You can spend a lot of effort trying to shut me up about this but if you do you will simply be tarred and feathered as an apologist for the plan that crammed ten kids too many in our classrooms. 

I won’t shut up and I hope that even your modest powers of political analysis will conclude that it is better to look at this disaster the way the NTSB looks at plane crashes than hope that it just goes away. It won’t. Neither will I.


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Taking the starch out of me

My last post resulted in my Buddy, oft mentioned in this blog, sending me a teasing but nonetheless serious question. To paraphrase he asked, if we can’t get any money back why pursue figuring out where it went if it will cost us money to do so.

I roughed together an instant reply but so roughly late last night I did not have the starch to give a reply its due. This morning I began working on it and found myself getting long winded with a long ways to go when the grandsons woke up and needed breakfast. I had to play Bear cave with the little one.

I didn’t have time to return to the treatise after the cave because I had a funeral to attend for Jim Gustafson a long time friend and former State Senator from Duluth. My daughter was singing for his funeral and that seemed right. Jim used to grade me whenever I led the singing at the Glen Avon Men’s group. Mostly I got B’s. Continue reading

Something our school board Chair chooses not to investigate

Est. Red Plan cost 2007……..actual Red Plan costs today

…..$257 mil. total……………………$310 mil. total
….-$ 34 mil.………-$ 84 mil. (soft costs)

…..$223 mil. construction……….$226 mil. construction

Johnson Controls’ no bid contract ended up with very little increase in construction costs but nearly a three-fold increase in “soft costs” for professional services.

But…….that’s looking back. The Duluth School Board only moves Duluth forward…… laying off teachers, increasing the number of kids in classes, decreasing its music program and providing unequal educational opportunities for children in neighborhoods where children constitute a higher proportion of the free and reduced lunch population.

Will the Board majority follow the lead of the Chairman?

Throttling the Grizzly

Just short of 2AM I was in the midst of a colorful dream too peculiar to make sense of the details. I had been watching ant sized people conducting business on a lake surface which had frozen overnight. I was waiting to see if any of them fell through the ice when suddenly a huge wave washed over the ice from the appearance of what looked to be a twenty foot grizzly bear. I rushed from my home downstairs and out a back door onto the shore of the lake. As I did so the bear suddenly rose up from just below me and I reached for him to throw my arms around his head to protect the people below on the ice. Reaching for the bear over the side of my bed woke me instantly. Second night in a row for a 2AM wake up.

Last night I couldn’t bring myself to blog or read a backlog of newspapers. I threw on some cloths and hiked up Woodland Ave past the new Dinkytown and spent the early morning walking under the stars until daybreak. Tonight I laid in bed with a lot of thoughts to accompany me. When I was younger and slept through the night more predictably I thought sleep was greatly over rated. Lately I’ve read far too many news stories on the “science” of sleep and the conclusion that not getting enough shortens one’s life. Rats!

I’ve never been one to see much in dreams. Perhaps my Grizzly was the School Board but that’s an analogy that is too easy. Dealing with it won’t be easier if I stare at this blue screen any longer at 3AM. I just had a good yawn. Maybe all the other posts I imagined typing up will drift away if I try to catch a little more shut eye. Another yawn……Let’s give it a try.

The Board Chair suggests…

“The Board Chair suggests that it is usual and customary for elected officials to cover their own legal fees when it pertains to their own wrong doing.”

I’ve been thinking about this line from the Superintendent’s email to me for a couple hours now. Art’s “wrongdoing” seems firmly established in Chair Miernicki’s head now.

It leads me to wonder if Attorney Mary Rice’s report can truly be expected to be neutral as she promised Art Johnston.

It leads me to wonder why my qualification that if the investigation draws a “blank” or in other words finds no wrong doing the Board would not quickly make financial amends to the wrongly accused Board member.

It leads me to wonder at the Board Chair’s and Superintendent’s assertion of wrong doing as though it was already an established fact even though they are Art Johnston’s principal accusers.

Art Johnston already has had to spring for $1,800 to cover legal fees as a result of all the mud that has been thrown his way. If you want to know who really is guilty of wrong doing I suggest that instead of Art’s house you look for traces of mud on the mud thrower’s fingernails.

If you are appalled and inclined to think, like me, that this has been a travesty you can help Art out with a donation to his legal defense fund.

Mail a check to:

Johnson legal defense
PO Box 3075
Duluth, MN 55803

What this Board ought to be investigating is how $84 million of Duluth tax payer’s dollars was spent mysteriously by Johnson Controls and other entities accepting “soft costs.” That’s $50 million more in soft costs than the original Red Plan envisioned being spent. Shame on you Art Johnston for asking such impertinent questions. So says the School Board majority.