Art Johnston’s data requests

When I came home from the Geek Squad with my computer I found the mail waiting for me including one of my big yellow envelopes from ISD 709. It had a couple interesting items in it. It included our monthly payment of claims and I leafed through it awkwardly because every other page was upside down. I saw the recent charge from Mary Rice’s law firm for her calculated kneecapping of Art Johnston. I worried that it was a second $43,000 charge so I called Art up to compare notes. He thought this represented the only charge from her firm. I’ll ask about that at our next business committee meeting.

Art was driving off to a skiing race in the Twin Cities when I called him. This is how he’s been coping with the stress of shuttling between board events and his attorneys. (I’ve done the same but I started swimming again – 1,000 yards at a crack) This hasn’t stopped him from going above and beyond his board duties. Last week he attended both the appearance of Malcom X’s daughter at Myers-Wilkens Elementary and a meeting of the Civility folks down my street at Pilgrim Congregational Church. No other Board members attended either function.

About the latter he passed on one interesting observation. Its speaker told the gathered that one thing missing from the Civility list is an instruction to always speak to facts and always present evidence for your opinions. This is above and beyond Art and my call for “truth” in the pledge but it is a bird of a feather.

Of course, so much evidence is withheld from Art that it makes his job very difficult. A recent example is the refusal of the School Board to ask for an accounting of the mysterious $84 million in “soft costs” that were spent on the Red Plan. Only God and JCI knows where it went.

The principle justification for the Administration to deny his requests for information seems to be that the majority of the Board is unwilling to let it be ferreted out. That’s what our CFO told me last year. If a majority of the Board approved my requests he’d oblige me.

Art has kept some track of the many requests he’s put in that have been ignored for the past five years. His attorney gave him some boilerplate language and directions on how to make such requests. He told me during our conversation that he’d put in eight completely formalized requests for data in recent months including costs of attorneys. To date only one has been acknowledged formally and that’s one of the things I called to tell him.

In today’s packet was a letter from Bill Hanson to Art copied to all board members. It says:

I am writing in response to your January 26, 2015 Minnesota Government Data practices Act (MGDPA) request for information on five years’ worth of legal bills. As you realize, this represents approximately 200 multi-page invoices. The MGDPA does allow us to redact any data that would reveal privileged information. We will do this redacting at our expense, as required by the MGDPA. Any copies you request would be charged at our standard rate.

This letter leaves me with a couple questions. One, if Art is a Board member and privy to all privileged information why should the district take time to redact any of it? Golly, Art only wants the hourly billing not the legal work. And besides, we board members all got the un-redacted report from Mary Rice. If the redacting is unnecessary I would much prefer that it not be done at the public’s expense. As for charging Art for photocopies I can only expect that this will be a bit of a cash cow for the District. I’ll bet they (we) don’t charge 10 cents a copy times 200 times X number of pages.

Anyway, its nice to know that one of Art’s eight data requests is being addressed. Only seven to go.

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