Lemon drop hill

Duluthians will understand this reference to the hill that is the last major obstacle to runners at our famous Grandma’s Marathon. That’s what today was like for me until Claudia suggested we go to Tavern on the Hill so she could use their WiFi connection to finish her third paper this week for this quarter’s seminary classes.

While Claudia worked I tapped out a one finger email to myself to incorporate into a blog post. It was a little like breaking out of writer’s block. It would take editing but I had it ready. (yeah sure, just like the latest MAJ post) I had to attend a meeting first, however. It was a Committee of the Whole on a pretty trivial subject having to do with the City of Duluth’s Civil Service Commission and the District’s maintenance bargaining unit.

I’d already told our Education reporter Jana Hollingsworth I didn’t figure it would end up being particularly newsworthy. That turned out to be the truth. What I didn’t expect was that I would get really angry with Chair Seliga-Punyko who interrupted me to tell me my questions were not appropriate during my questions related to the subject we had met to discuss. Art stepped in to stick up for me which is about the reverse of how it usually works.

I wasn’t eager to attend this meeting. It turns out no one was. I was tired as I collected the paper work I’d already read through pertaining to the issue. So here’s the issue and a little background on why we were meeting tonight.

There is one extra layer of bureaucracy where our maintenance staff is concerned. It is a Duluth Civil Service Commission that was created in 1933 in state legislation which included over-site of School District maintenance staff. In 1971 the new PELRA law led to its most recent changes. In other words the Civil Service Commission is really old.

It serves two functions that I can detect. 1. It classifies jobs for the City’s employees and our maintenance unit. 2. It can act as a place to appeal decisions the District has made regarding our civil service employees. The School Board, according to our lawyer is not bound by their decisions as our Board has management rights. That is not what the union employee’s attorney says.

Our School Board recently authorized a number of changes to the maintenance staff. The staff didn’t like the changes and when the proposal went to the Civil Service Board they voted not to accept them. There is a question as to whether the School Board needed to obey this decision and I wanted to follow this with a number of questions so as to understand an issue I’d be asked to take a position on sooner or later.

I asked how many other school districts had to take employee appeals to a local civil service commission. No one knew but the guess was only schools in Cities of the First Class. There are three of them be no one knew if St. Paul or Minneapolis’s school district operated under a similar rule. I also wanted to know if about a hundred thousand in additional pay we had sweetened a recent reorganization of our maintenance staff was at stake if we abided by the Commission’s no vote. These were additional money’s the union didn’t have to bargain to get.

To fight my fatigue I was animated in my questioning. I had begun by telling the chair I had quite a few questions and telling her that if I got long she was welcome to ask me to defer to another questioner. Chair Seliga-Punyko stopped me after one of my questions and said something to the effect that I was straying into negotiations and that we should not be asking questions at all. That was because a task force had been suggested between the administration and the union to discuss these issues.

Being told that I had no call to ask questions related to the meeting I had never wanted to attend irritated me greatly and I said so. Its a pity I don’t have a recording of the exchange to help me remember why I was so perturbed and I’m about ninety percent sure she said something like I was interfering with the administration. She said my questions were micromanagement. I’d have happily relinquished had it been to yeild to some other board member but I didn’t like being told I didn’t know what I could ask questions about at a meeting designed for that discussion. Art then got the floor and defended me having had the same sort of treatment on other occasions.

It was a complete change from recent meetings that Judy had not attended which had gone quite well. I’m sure we all looked like idiots. My punishment was to have to cool my heals for half an hour with my light on while Judy called on everyone else but me. She had tried to shut Art up early too and he told her that she couldn’t do it as long as he had the floor. Judy said, I can too but didn’t try to shut him up after saying so.

She had fewer board members present to back up her misapplication of Parliamentary procedure. Mernicki and Westholm didn’t show up. Annie and Rosie had both wanted to table the motion to consider the Civil Service changes brought to us and after the meeting Judy told me she had been against having the meeting. Well, then who the hell wanted to meet? Art and I are never consulted about anything. The meeting was simply announced and we dutifully attended and I was shushed up for asking questions. She told Art he couldn’t ask any questions of the attorney for the maintenance department.

When Judy had no choice but to call on me after giving the floor to everyone else I said I had no objection to the task force. I mentioned that I was frustrated that we held the meeting but never asked out attorney to come and give us background. I tried to be jolly but when Judy adjourned the meeting I got up and stalked out. The superintendent was at my side and told me that he understood where I was coming from suggesting some sympathy at my treatment.

I decided to turn around and tell Judy that she would have more harmonious meetings if she didn’t try to muzzle board members. She didn’t concede any mistakes but told me that I had been long winded and that others around her were telling her I should stop. The others around her were Annie and Rosie and I pointed that out. Judy told me that the Superintendent told her the same thing. Well he told me he sympathized with my irritation I told her. On that uncomfortable note we were joined by several other folks who sidetracked us from our having it out with each other.

I started this post at 3 after shedding my feelings of fatigue……”Lemon Drop Hill.” Damn, but the fatigue is back. I hate it when the school board acts like a bunch of chuckle heads.

About the author