A scramble of words to live by

I’ve currently got four adages competing for space in my head. One of them is primal and comes from my elementary school years. It’s almost trite but oh so true. Its the slogan on my lawnsign “Honesty is the best policy.”

The second is one my Mom always told me, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” The next is a phrase that comes from my Dad and isn’t quite an adage “self fulfilling prophecy.” Perhaps it could be made a full fledged adage with the inclusion of one word, “Beware self fulfilling prophecies.” The last comes from the book of Mathew in the New Testament and it is one I latched onto twenty years ago. “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

These four are always in a kind of competition with each other in my mind. (a good competition) For instance when in the heat of the Red Plan struggles I wrote that someone had suggested that School Board Chair Nancy Nielson needed to be hit upside the head with a brick it didn’t really meet my Mother’s admonition that honey is superior to vinegar.

That episode was used against me by Paul Goosens, recently of the Edison sale debate, to blacken my reputation. It was also highlighted by the attorneys for Johnson Controls and the School District to suggest I was threatening school board members. The Court paid very little attention to that allegation.
I guess in retrospect I would say that honesty trumped Minnesota Nice on that occasion.

The bricking I suggested is a little harder to place on my serpent vs. dove scale. I’d say that Nancy had been far too much the dove in accepting Red Plan propaganda instead of a serpent. My brick was meant to wake her up and put a little serpent into her.

What was the wisdom Nancy missed? Well, 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.

The same laws which the District and JCI used to circumvent a public referendum on the Red Plan also allowed the District to keep adding to the cost without going to the voters. At least another 60 million was added to the cost. And for every dollar of principal payments there were dollars spent on interest. This fact was pooh poohed by many including the Duluth News Tribune which famously opined that when you buy a house you don’t consider the cost of interest payments in the price tag. I might add that this was during the height of the housing speculation during which millions of homes were purchased with criminally faulty data about the owners ability to pay off mortgages. It was a banking crisis and it damned near brought about a second great world wide depression. Fortunately the bankers were mostly spared too much grief for their recklessness and many got big bonuses for which they paid the nominally low GOP approved income taxes on their ill gotten but legal gains.

As for self fulfilling prophecies…….I’ve thought a lot about that. I remember reading stories in Ripley’s Believe it or Not of people who’s deaths were foretold years in advance by fortune tellers. Remarkably on the day of the predicted death some of these otherwise healthy people died. I’ve mostly chalked this up to the self fulfilling part of the prophecy. These people locked onto the prediction so heartily that they practically willed their death dates to come true.

I made some prophecies concerning the Red Plan. I warned of massive teacher layoffs and an exodus of students and increased segregation. These prophecies have come true in a more spectacular fashion than even I could have imagined. Ah, but had I not predicted them would they have still come true? I honestly don’t know. Maybe the thousand parents who pulled their kids out of the ISD 709 schools would have paid more attention to the Red Planners predictions of glory if I’d just kept my mouth shut. They might not have run for the hills and the resulting losses would have been marginal so that today the District would have new schools and all the resources it needs to be a happy place.

Two things keep me from feeling that my predictions were at fault. For one thing there is the gross overspending that the District did over and above the original cost. They spent ever more over Let Duluth Vote‘s demands for a more modest plan. What if no one had been on the District’s back? Would Keith Dixon have limited himself to boosting the principal costs by a mere sixty million dollars? I doubt it. We might have been stuck with a three quarter billion dollar plan.

And the other thing that assuages my conscience is the wrinkle Dixon put in the plan to pay it off. The plan gambled that it could use five million operational dollars to pay for the Red Plan. The District assured the State Dept. of Education that paying off the bonds with five million a year in classroom dollars would be offset by millions in annual energy savings (courtesy of JCI’s brilliant use and knowledge of energy saving technology) and the ability to lay off hundreds of unnecessary staff.

I don’t think my predictions of disaster would have been any less self fulfilling considering these two fatal misjudgements by the District. I really do think the District needed a brick upside the head. Instead the Duluth Public Schools got it.

Still, I feel it is only honest of me to admit that my predictions may have had something of a self fulfilling pull on the Red Plan’s outcome. That is only honest of me. It is an honesty born of my desire to be like a dove rather than a serpent albeit a dove with a brick curled up in his wing.

I hope the Russians reading this aren’t too puzzled by my English language colloquialisms.

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