Art Johnston’s Statement on Resolution SP-5-15-3269.

(For which I stood to applaud afterwards in breach of school board etiquette.)

It is with a heavy heart that I see the school board refusing to consider any alternative action to this Resolution, which continues the Board’s and Superintendent’s personal attacks on me and my family. This will not heal this community and school, nor improve any relationship in the school board, nor allow us to be role models for the school. It would be easy to laugh at this impotent resolution after the direction provided by the Federal Court in that they cannot remove me. But the school board has a knife in by back.

I would like to start by quoting George Orwell (the author of 1984 and Animal Farm): “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

What is obvious? Continue reading

I desperately want to write about mowing my lawn

That’s a joke.

I mentioned at the beginning of today’s posts that I walked around dictating words or phrases into my cell phone for later reference. I did that a few days ago and it led to a long post requiring a much dreaded proof reading. Well, I don’t know how many of these terms I’ll use as the day progresses but here are last night’s batch of them:

Hocking a loogie, Chest pounding, my 60% property tax appraisal increase which I was to busy fighting for Art to contest, bears in a cave, Max Senate comedies, “Me thinks the lady Mern Doth protest too much, Shyster and his pound of flesh, “what was that motion?” Paul Goossens, Jude Goossens, popcorn, impotence, laughing stock, poor kids story & athletic fees, All Quiet on the Western Front, possibility of Judge Davis awarding Art $60,000 for the Board’s bad faith?, walk along the Lake walk, my daughter’s baptism, the plane crash, the christening dress, months afterwards remembering every detail in chronological order, Summary of my first two years on the School Board including 1st 3 months, Mike no more red plan, Judy’s PSTD ETC., the epilogue/de·noue·ment of the Board’s year long assault on Art Johnston.

The first time I desperately wanted to write

Claudia and I took six or seven years to decide whether to bring children into this crazy world. It meant a couple strong hints from my parents with baby booties in Christmas socks. When it happened Claudia’s Mother who had experienced the glass ceiling was a little distraught for her daughter thinking she had given up the possibility of being anything other than a wife and mother.

Babies can make everything OK. When our daughter was born we made plans for her baptism at our church, Glen Avon. My Grandmother had sent me the Christening dress she had been baptized in back in 1900. That in turn had been sewn by her great grandmother who was born about the same time as Abe Lincoln and the War of 1812. I loved the thought of putting our daughter in it for the next baptizing. (Ah, Pandora is playing the theme to the movie To Kill a Mockingbird)

My parents weren’t particularly fussy about religious stuff and a baptism was not a draw for them. Neeither was Claudia’s Mom all that churchy but she wanted to fly up on Saturday before hand so she could be there with us. Her new husband Charlie was a pilot. He would fly them up as well as his grade school daughter. Saturday was gray and drizzly and we got the word that if the weather was bad (Charlie wasn’t rated to fly instruments) they might end up somewhere else until the sky cleared.

Claudia and I along with our new baby went up to Butler’s Air Terminal (If I’m recalling the name correctly) to wait for their arrival. After an hour beyond their scheduled arrival time we were getting worried. I’ll cut to the chase here. Charlie got them all killed. We didn’t know this for some time and the next 24 hours were seared in my brain for months to come. Every minute by minute detail, was lodged in my head and seemed dreadfully important. I thought I ought to write them all down for, I don’t know, posterity I guess. As the months slipped by the details blinked out but I could, even now, tell you a lot of details about the Civil Air Patrol, A funeral service filled with all the kids in Christie’s fifth grade class and one body not so badly disfigured that an open casket for one of the three deceased was possible, bears covering the bodies they found at the crash site with leaves, Neighbors bringing us casseroles, Months of clearing out Shirley’s home and settling her estate.

My grandmother’s christening dress still hangs in one of our closets never used by us. Even so, it brings back memories. It took me ten years to start writing and that required an Apple Computer and software that allowed me to correct my copious keyboarding mistakes. Those are still plentiful as are poor story telling which requires some serious proof reading. There are no spell checks for sloppy prose.

There are a lot of epigrams about how writers can’t be trusted. I can’t recall the one I had in mind by a quick google search found, “A writer is always selling someone out.” That’ll do. I still apparently want to write pretty desperately. I get withdrawal symptoms when I don’t blog for a while. I also get anxious because of how far behind I feel.

My Mother-in-law would have been a very cool Grandmother. Damn Charlie. He wasn’t rated for instruments.

I’m going to mow my lawn today

At the end of last night’s school board meeting those of us on Art’s side walked around looking relaxed and a little self satisfied. That was sort of a suprise considering the brutally nasty series of Whereases promulgated by the Whereasses on the School Board. (Bored, forgive me, for I have punned)

Art had used the word impotent during a short peroration that I stood and applauded for (bad form that I don’t regret at all) at the beginning of the actual school board meeting. The resolution was so much sticks and stones and that impotence probably explains the friendly attitude at the end of the meeting. Art was supposed to be gone long ago and now he will fulfill his full term of office so long as he doesn’t tap the Superintendent on the shoulder and send him skittering across the floor.

Chair Seliga-Punyko lost what I’m almost certain was her stealthy attempt to be given a free year of service without benefit of election. All around it was a good day for Art’s side and a bad run of events for his detractors……which may explain the “vitriol” in Mike Miernicki’s whereases.

If you want the run down without all the soap opera I’ll probably get around to detailing its here in the Trib. The part of Jana’s story I like most is the comments of the audience that told the whole board we are a bunch of horse’s asses. I wear my self loathing with pride. If I was a medieval Monk I’d be wearing a hair-shirt.

At nine after two hours of business like discussion following the tempest I helped carry a satchel of camera equipment that recorded the tempest to its cameraman’s car then hopped in my own. I called Claudia and told her I was famished. All she’d eaten were some stale taco chips. I stopped at Micky D’s and the drive up person recognized me and asked how my meeting went. I said something rude and we laughed came home and stuffed waay too much in my tummy for so late in the evening. That woke me up three hours after I hit the sack and spent an hour mulling over the day. I got up to write and thought my head was still too crowded with metaphors to untangle. So I put on my coat and took an hour and a half walk along Lake Superior and back. I did dictate twenty or thirty key words and phrases into my cell phone to remember them for when I finally got around to describing yesterday………..

Do I have a choice?

I linked to a blog post from a very bright analyst of the Duluth Schools last week. Karl Schuettler is an East Grad now at Grad School who has an exceptionally rational and fair-minded way of looking at things. When I wrote about his recent blog post and linked to it I gave the impression of being hit pretty hard by it. So should all of the Duluth School Board members.

I think I may have alarmed Karl a bit and he sent me an email to offer a little hope. I only finally found time to reply to it this morning. Here’s what Karl wrote me:

On Sun, May 17, 2015 at 6:58 PM, Karl Schuettler wrote:

Thanks as always for the blog plug, in spite of my nastiness. And I don’t for a moment think “mediocrity” is a permanent state–for anyone on the board, including Art. It can change if people change.

Setting aside whether or not the Board should pay Art’s legal fees (and I am frankly ambivalent about it either way), you and I both know what’s going to happen if you bring it forward for a vote. We have to deal with the political environment as it is, not as we wish it were. 

Dragging this out will also make this fall’s election into a vote on Art. I won’t pretend to know how it’ll play out, but I do think taking the high road and re-focusing on kids is way more likely to get you your majority than turning this into an election about Art. There may be a lot of sympathetic people, but there are a lot more people who are sick of it all either way.

You have a choice.

To which I finally replied:


I meant to write back to you after getting your email and link. It really is nice to get a rational analysis of events in good old ISD 709.

Don’t take my dreary commentary about it as a sign of my unhappiness with an honest outside evaluator. I was very pleased with most of it and understand the part of the analysis that I didn’t much care for. And I don’t take the mediocrity bit nearly as personally as it might have appeared. You are right. We are all to blame and that includes me and Art.

My “Buddy” wrote a very complimentary email about your blog and he was right to say good things about it. My only quibble is the stuff about Art. Oh, Art can be a downer at Board meetings but that should be put in the context of how he’s been treated for six years of which the last eleven months are only the black hole of Calcutta finale. Elected officials denied public data for years on end are liable to be a little dyspeptic and I can’t blame Art. I’ve had two years of the same treatment.

I wish I had the choice that you suggest but the penalties imposed upon Art financially and publicly with today’s crude resolution leave my conscience little choice but to redress the school board’s wrongs by revealing the truth behind this ugliness. Depending on what happens I might yet keep my lips sealed but that depends on coming events.

I don’t think mediocrity is a permanent state either. Until he became President Abe Lincoln was a nobody. Once elected he became transcendent although it took the Civil War and his martyrdom to drive that point home. I will be keeping my eye out for John Wilkes Booth. I have no personal desire for martyrdom…….I’ve already have one of those on my hands.



Member ________________________ introduced the following resolution and moved its adoption:


WHEREAS, on June 10, 2014, the School Board authorized an investigation into allegations against Board Member Art Johnston;

WHEREAS, the detailed and comprehensive investigation report completed by independent investigator Mary Rice, substantiated a number of allegations against Member Johnston, including allegations that he improperly used his position as a School Board member to attempt to influence the outcome of a staff meeting on May 12, 2014, and that he physically assaulted the Superintendent and a fellow School Board member in front of students, parents, and members of the community following a June 4, 2014, graduation ceremony.

WHEREAS, on December 2, 2014, the School Board adopted Resolution HR-12-14-3215, proposing to remove Member Johnston based on the conclusions in Ms. Rice’s investigation report and pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 123B.09;

WHEREAS, on December 9, 2014, Member Johnston requested a hearing to contest his proposed removal;

WHEREAS, on March 4, 2015, Member Johnston initiated a federal lawsuit against the School District and five School Board members, seeking, among other things, money damages for claims related to the proposed removal;

WHEREAS, representatives of the School Board and District Administration made multiple good-faith, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to resolve Member Johnston’s claims against the District;

WHEREAS, School Board members are expected to serve as role models for District students and staff;

WHEREAS, it is unacceptable for a School Board member to improperly use their positions of authority as School Board members or to physically assault or threaten to physically assault anyone, including District staff and fellow Board members;

WHEREAS, the School Board’s primary mission is the education and well-being of the District’s students; and

WHEREAS, Member Johnston’s litigation against the District and his fellow School Board members has the potential to result in a drawn-out, time-consuming and expensive legal process which would distract the School Board from focusing on its primary mission.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of Independent School District No. 709, Duluth, as follows:

1. Resolution HR-12-14-3215 is hereby rescinded to the extent that it proposes Member Johnston’s removal from the School Board.

2. The hearing, regarding the proposed removal of Member Johnston from the School Board is hereby cancelled. The School Board will not take any action to remove Member Johnston from the School Board based on the conduct described in Resolution HR-12-14-3215.

3. Member Johnston is hereby publicly censured for his conduct on May 12, 2014, and for his conduct on June 4, 2014.

4. Member Johnston is hereby warned that any future attempts to use his position as a School Board member to improperly influence a District personnel matter, where he has a personal conflict of interest, or to engage in unwelcome physical contact, or threatened physical contact, with any District employee or School Board member may result in further consequences, including, but not limited to, removal from the School Board pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 123B.09.

5. The School Board reaffirms its commitment to setting a positive example for the District’s students and staff by holding all School Board members to the highest ethical and professional standards, including prohibiting conflicts of interest and unwelcome physical contact by School Board members.

6. The CFO/Executive Director of Business Services is authorized and directed to make all arrangements necessary to cancel the removal hearing.

The motion for the adoption of the foregoing resolution was duly seconded by Member __________________________ and upon vote being taken thereon, the following voted in favor thereof:

and the following voted against:

whereupon said resolution was declared duly passed and adopted

I kind of wish Erik would have run for Mayor

Representative Simonson signed on to the legislation that would have made what happened to Art impossible for a school board to pull off again. That bill will have to be revisited next year because those of us who lobbied for it got started too late in the session despite finding quite a few supporters.

Here is an email he just sent to the Board:

Erik Simonson
11:33 AM (3 minutes ago)

to anne.harala, arthur.johnston, me, judy.seliga-pu., michael.mierni., rosalie.loeffl., william.gronse., william.westho.
Good morning,

A wise man once told me to never meddle in the affairs of local elected officials. And I generally adhere to that.

I am writing to you as I sit in St. Paul, on the last constitutional day of the legislative session, where I and each of my House DFL colleagues have elected to stand with Governor Mark Dayton and not accept what would be a disastrous E-12 education bill. I have decided, that even a risk of a special shutdown is worth standing strong for the future of our children, and I am not interested in seeing districts such as ours make even more difficult decisions about how to address budget shortfalls. After all, it is about the children.

Now, I am asking you all, to please, please find a way to set aside your differences and move forward together. Much damage has been done, both personally and as a community. And we are all to take part of that blame. But now is not the time to blame, now is the time to stand up for our children and move ahead. Showing solidarity now, will go far in repairing good will in our community.

I know, trust me I know, there is unresolved differences. I am only asking as a friend, if nothing else as a friend to the school district, to please, drop the issue that purports inflammation and move ahead on behalf of the children.

Thank you for your time. And best of luck in difficult times.

Representative Erik Simonson
Room 221 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155

Art sent the School Board an email regarding tomorrow’s censure resolution.
8:21 AM (2 hours ago)

to william.gronse., michael, anne.harala, rosalie.loeffl., judy.seliga-pu., me, william.westho.

The school board is at a potential junction where we can finally move forward and show leadership; or we can bull forward with the same animosity as the last 11 months.

The action that is proposed by Resolution 3269 is a clear indication that 5 members of the school board and the Superintendent have decided to continue the animosity.

I find this very sad. I propose that we take another route and try to heal and show leadership.

Art Johnston
School Board member

It was prompted by this email from retired Board Chair Mike Miernicki to a constituent:

michael miernicki
May 15 (3 days ago)

to *******, anne.harala, arthur.johnston, rosalie.loeffl., judy.seliga-pu., me, william.westho. [note that Harry Welty is not included]

Dear Ms. *********,

Thank you for your letter. I totally agree with you. I was a student in the Duluth School District and received an excellent education. I also worked as a teacher, advisor, and administrator for 36 years in the Duluth District. I ran for office to see if I could help out. I felt the Red Plan controversy was over and that the new Board could move in new directions. I underestimated the hatred and vitriol still carried by a small group. I am frustrated because we spend too little time on the very issues you raised in your letter. At next Tuesday’s meeting, instead of discussing those issues, we will be bombarded with more anger and accusations. I decided to not run for reelection this Fall because of all of time wasted by the anti-Red Plan group. What we need are School Board members like you, with your ideas.

Best Wishes,

Mike Miernicki

Confidentiality Notice: This E-mail message, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply E-mail and destroy all copies of the original message.

NOTE: About this disclaimer (found at the bottom of all or most District email) which I have italicized. I think it is illegal. It is too broad and is aimed not so much at protecting “privileged information” but the actions, statements and thinking of some of the people who are passing information back and forth on the School District’s website. When I receive them and publish them on my blog I am usually careful to ***** out the names of the innocent. I don’t generally obscure the names of School Board members. We have much less protection from this cloak of “privilege.”

Why I need to write “Good People For Kids…”

The Duluth News Tribune has aided and abetted the folks who despise Art Johnston. It follows a pattern I’ve seen in Duluth over the years of a kind of piling on of dissenters, and gadflies along with real villains. The first such victim in my forty year life in Duluth was a City Counselor, Tom Agnew, recently deceased.

Just before the Red Plan saga began I put together a fat little notebook of news clippings about Tom that I gathered at the Duluth Public Library in preparation for a book I intended to write about the biggest Minnesota political scandal of the Twentieth Century. The scandal cost a popular former Governor his US Senate Seat in what was called, at the time, the “Minnesota Massacre.” The “Massacre” followed by seven years his designation as the man who presided over a miracle – the “Minnesota Miracle.” Tom Agnew was a bright, earnest harbinger of the scandal I was researching busily pointing his fingers in too many directions at shady going’s on in the Zenith City. For this he was put through a public ringer from which he emerged a few year’s later a broken man with a broken family.

Agnew’s lesson was one I’ve taken to heart. Make sure your aim is true before you point fingers. Continue reading

A blog haiku for u

Haiku – I will write a book -Judge Hylden – Lusitania by Eric Larson – wrestling with my conscience – Tom Agnew’s example -“They was just Niggers” – where my home is – How my blog is a very big part of everything that is wrong with the Duluth Schools – Cosmetics – My parent’s example – Sophie’s Choice…….

Since waking up at 5 this morning these are a few of the things that have run through my mind to blog about…..a few of them. I am a writer, a half-ass writer probably but a writer nonetheless. When I was younger I considered politics to be my future thus setting off on a career leading to my achieving mediocrity as a Duluth school board member. That seemed to be seconded by my [“Buddy”] who emailed me yesterday that he really enjoys reading this blog that I frequently link to – that described me as mediocre. Of course, my Buddy would say this. I emailed my Buddy back and wrote that if I could stand his calling me a “bigot” I could handle being described as “mediocre.”

Currently my writing career is even less stellar than my political career. I do, however, make nice snow sculptures. That’s to my credit. I think! There is one thing I do believe about myself and have since getting elected to the Mankato State Student Senate as Vietnam roiled my college campus along with marijuana smoke, Earth Day, a-riot-a-year that burned down whole (usually black) neighborhoods across the nation. What I believe about myself is that I am the most reasonable man. I know that is a tall claim for a man of such demonstrably limited accomplishment but I believe it – to this day. I work very hard to put myself in the other fella’s shoes; to see things as he sees them……and yes, of course, I’m using one gender in this sentence when I mean both, although really…I’d have a hell of a time standing in, let alone walking in, high heels.

Long time readers of my blog (poor benighted souls they) will probably recognize hints from the partial list at the beginning of this post of things I’m alluding to. If they are long time residents of Duluth they will recognize even more. I’ve got a lot of things on my mind. The writer in me, in every good writer, must choose to tell their welter of thoughts one word at a time, one idea at a time, one sentence, paragraph, chapter and book at a time until Cat’s Cradle or War and Peace emerge apparently fully formed.

The book Ulysses by the author James Joyce is famous for being the best mostly unread book in English literature. It’s a quarter million words long and it’s all about a single day in Dublin back in 1904. I’ve never read it although I’m suddenly tempted to add it to my list of about a thousand must reads. The Wikipedia entry offers one of its many delicious sentences which I would alter thusly: “History [Our school board] is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

A quarter million words about a single day in Dublin! Imagine that! Now imagine a novel of similar detail dedicated to a year’s worth of days or a lifetime’s. Its amazing to think that each of us could live a novel’s worth every day of our lives. My lousy little blog only manages a few posts of miscellaneous length on about two of every three days. Even so, in its own way, it’s a little Joycian especially the “mostly unread” part of it.

My greatest preoccupation is not the school board. It’s me, as the viewer of my life. Too often it is written without the benefit of being able to put on other people’s shoes because they’ve been hidden in a closet to hide the scuff marks. If Ullysses is a quarter million pages long it’s got nothing on Years ago I calculated that I had written a couple million words just on the “Red Plan.” All of it has been hurled over Niagara one word at a time.

I’m not poet. I could never be satisfied with haiku although that might make for an easier summary of the Duluth School Board. To wit:

Good People for kids
Learning to hate each other
Wrecking their own schools

If I wasn’t impelled to keep writing I could stop there. Actually my haiku could be altered slightly to cover just about every news story I’ve ever read.

So, I’m reading a fantastic book out loud to Claudia. Its “Dead Wake” by Eric Larson. It’s the nonfiction story of the Lusitania’s sinking. It was an event that my Congressional Medal of Honor winning Grandfather didn’t think merited America’s entry to World War I – which he blamed on causing World War II. I know already that we will finish the book (unlike the last two novels that I only managed to get two thirds of the way through before our interest in them petered out).

That’s the kind of book I would like to write only in my case I’ve got much smaller stories to tell: my Mom’s determination to become an abstract artist; the Duluth School Board through the years I’ve haunted it; Minnesota’s biggest, but now forgotten, political scandal that had Duluth as its point of origin; my Grandfather Robb’s experiences that, while extraordinary, didn’t quite elevate him to the level of heroism that the flawed little man, Martin Luther King, managed to take on.

I will write a book – barring my getting hit by a car. That’s an echo of my childhood mantra: “I’ll live to be 100 barring my getting hit by a car.” Or in my book’s case getting stopped by being hit by a lawsuit. Ex Senator Ralph Doty begged the corporate behemoth Johnson Controls to do that to me in the Duluth Budgeteer five years ago. That would have been a mismatched fight. Even Art Johnston is only facing five clumsy school board members trying to push him off the School Board with a couple hundred grand of taxpayer dollars. By comparison, Johnson Controls employs twice as many people as live in the whole City of Duluth. They also have better lawyers than those at the disposal of the Duluth School Superintendent. Trust me. I keep lawsuits in mind every day I blog.

My conscience is wrestling with the problem outlined in yesterday’s Tribune. Do I defend Art Johnston by telling his side of the story even if it prolongs the trauma of the Duluth Schools? Well, I would drop the story like a brick (even stop blogging about it and the school board) if the five nice people in the majority paid the extortionate forty thousand bucks they forced Art to pony up when they attempted to do to Art what Johnson Controls had the good sense NOT to do – persecute and prosecute an honest man.

I assume that the majority will risk my further scrutiny despite a year’s worth of warnings from me not to go where they seem determined to head. If they go ahead and exact that small minded revenge against Art Johnston I will feel duty bound to help him pay those expenses. I believe I can find 2000 people who will donate $20 bucks each ($40,000) to Art on the off chance that I might actually do what I promised but failed to do five years ago – write a book about the School Board’s misadventures.

Like Michael Fedo’s unsavory book about Duluth in 1920 with its first unsavory book Title it’s a story worth telling although I’d really prefer to write it ten years from now so I could write it with a little more perspective. That would also let me get on with my other preferred writing projects.

Here’s the deal:

1. I may or may not complete this book. If you spend your money on it it’s for Art’s legal bills not for my guarantee of completing this project. (In my defense I did refund everybody that last time. In fact, I got a call from one of the buyers yesterday who told me that he kind of wished I hadn’t returned his $100 donation back then.)

2. Should I get it written I’ll see to it that everyone who helps pay Art Johnston’s legal bills ($20 dollar minimum donation) gets a copy.

3. If it is completed it will not be available until after the general election this November. And again with my record it may never be written in full.

4. It will probably borrow heavily from my blog……which will make it easier for me and will finally give folks who have never found their way to the Internet – good reliable senior voters – a chance to see why Ralph Doty wanted Johnson Controls to sue me.

5. If Art is not compensated I will continue to harp on our school board on my blog book or no book. I’m a lousy politician. I’m a lousy writer. I do, however, still consider myself a reasonable man. I believe a reasonable man has an obligation to stand by the truth at least in most circumstances. I hold on to the hope that a different school board will put our children on a higher level of priority than the seven of us on it now currently do. That alone justifies my faith, that “honesty is the best policy.”

We will learn on Tuesday whether this book project will commence that being the day the Board considers my proposal to pay off Art’s bills for the sake of putting the last eleven months behind us. By the way, I understand that my threat is a compelling reason for the Board not to do what I ask of them. I don’t respond to threats well either. They make me stubborn too. Therefore, if you see any of my colleagues (because they won’t be reading my blog) point out that their vote shouldn’t be in response to my threat. They really should vote for it to insure the peace and calm of the Duluth Schools and for our children’s sake. For that, $40,000 is a pittance.

A shot over the bow

Chair Michael Miernicki once said when he prevented Art Johnston and me from getting information related to something, probably the Red Plan’s financing, that “We are not sweeping things under the rug.” Like Hell.

Mike’s blindness is not really meant to be a part of this post which could be the start of a busy day after I get back from swimming 1000 yards to relieve stress, and donate blood, and serve food in the Damiano’s soup kitchen. But my actions are very much a result of the entire School Board’s blindness and refusal to acknowledge the elephant in the Room. We have to figure out how to do more than put salve on the Red Plan’s wounds, fewer teachers, more kids in class, fleeing families (another 36 kids this month Art told me), stories of teachers struggling to keep things in order.

My old Buddy sent me this question to tease me, (I hope) after my post about keeping our eyes out for today’s Trib story on my recent activities:


What are we going to do for drama after the Art Johnston matter is settled?

[your buddy]

This morning I woke up early dreading to see what would be in the Trib. It could have been hideous. A recounting of my whereas’s directed at the Superintendent would have soured Duluth for weeks to come. So, the first thing I did was to go through the last week’s news clippings. Jana Hollingsworth has been busy writing about both the School Board’s indigestion and – get this – children. I know, I know. She has no sense of priorities. The egos of seven petty adults is so much more entertaining and that’s what we are about – Soap Opera slathered in frosting and fecal matter.

Well, I was almost as ecstatic when I finally read the article as Art was when the Board realized it was over-matched in points of law and fact and crawled back to the Board Room looking for some new indignity to heap like the sore losers they are. The story was accurate and left out all the fecal matter. It gives me room to withdraw my motion but it does not prevent me from going into detail at some later point perhaps in a book this summer which is increasingly becoming my sole option to find a way to pay for Art’s legal expenses something I told the Trib yesterday that sickens me. Furthermore, to a board that hides from meeting with me or reading my blog it gave me a chance to let them know what is at stake and how far I’m inclined to go to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It was my shot over the bow. There will be a new school board and I will have two years to prove that I can once again be a productive Board member instead of a scold, a tattle-tale and a guy pulling out my hair at my powerlessness before such spiteful – yes that’s the word – vengeance.

My session with the Trib left me searching my conscience for the right thing to do. I have much more of a story to tell but two other items I read today should be read by my eight loyal readers.

Karl Schuettler, a young fellow whose analysis of the School Board I’ve highly recommended before wrote another thoughtful piece our our current contretemps. In his email he apologized before hand was mostly “nasty” to everyone. It was, and it was largely deserved. Art resents Karl’s barbs when they are directed at him and I must admit I’ll defend Art later in the day from Karl’s barbs. But after the last crumby eleven months no one on this board deserves a pass. As my Mom always told me “it takes two to have a fight.” In our case it just happens to be seven. There is however one thing that Karl said that should appeal to Art. Unlike the prissy News Tribune editorial yesterday Karl sees this as a total victory for Art. I agree. Oh, and what nastiness did Karl write about me? Well, I’m a mediocre school board member for one thing and I am unable to argue that point with Karl. He wrote:

I am most curious to see how the victorious minority now responds. It is a real win for Johnston and Harry Welty; perhaps the first of any substance they can actually claim in their sometimes noble and often floundering attempts to stand up to the overpowering majority. If they can be magnanimous after this success and return discussion to the pressing issues facing the district class size, charter school questions, traffic concerns, and so on, without belaboring old grievances too much, they’ll be in great position to seem like the winners of this whole mess, and the momentum could carry them into the November elections. If bitterness over their treatment over the past months rules the day, then we can expect more of the same, and their victory over this past week will be nothing but a hollow settling of personal scores. They’ll spin a narrative in which they’re the defenders of liberty or some such thing, hiding the fact that they have so far been mediocre and largely ineffective legislators. Being a gadfly is all well and good, but anyone who thinks that this is an end unto itself completely misunderstands what Socrates was up to.

and Loren Martell wrote a masterly analysis on the recent hearing before Federal Court Judge Davis. It shreds the District’s legal defense of both the Federal free speech issue and the State case that the Board gave up on pursing. I wish Jana Hollingsworth had been more savvy at reading the underlying legal issues and arguments instead of just the Judge’s theatrics to impress everyone that he wasn’t taking sides when in fact he barely acknowledged any of the School District’s legal arguments. The extent of his concession was that free speech can not be used to cloak misbehavior. Then, he utterly undid the precarious timetable of the alternative state case by imposing one more federal mediation session on the same day as the hearing that would have allowed the school Board to proceed with its removal of Art.

There is plenty here for my eight readers to chew on. I’ll see if I have any finger dexterity left after my busy morning and the sacrifice of a pint of blood. Even if I do once again turn my attention to our children this blog will continue looking over my shoulder for some time to come.

Sorry for the hurried non proof reading. I may come back and clean this up later.

Keep your eye out for tomorrow’s DNT

I wrote and distributed a letter and two possible resolutions for next week’s meeting to the five majority school board members last night and this morning. Next week’s meeting is set up to exact retribution against Art Johnston for escaping the majority’s attempt to remove him without just cause. One of the board members took the package to the Duluth News Tribune today.

This took me by surprise when I showed up to give the Editor a peek at the self same resolutions. Let’s say my resolution is just as incendiary as anything the Board threw at Art Johnston over the past eleven months. However, I have far more confidence in the validity of the allegations in my resolutions than in those aimed at Art Johnston.

I talked for an hour and a half with the editor and the Trib’s education reporter. I left the meeting uncertain as to what I would do next week. I told them that the discussion we had left me torn between two powerful impulses. On the one hand I see great value in putting the Board’s focus back on the needs of our school children. Now that Art has been saved from this travesty of justice perhaps I too should refocus. On the other hand fairness demands that I expose the tactics of Art’s accusers and stick up for the First Amendment rights our Board has tried to obscure with grossly exaggerated claims of misconduct. I’ll be doing a lot of thinking over the weekend.

I told the Trib they have the goods and left it up to them to report the story as they saw fit. What they report may alter my course either way. I may want to give my eight loyal blog readers my response to whatever the Trib publishes. (Actually it was 637 readers on Tuesday when I could get no sleep and decided to write a couple resolutions to even the playing field instead of tossing an turning all night.)

Parsing the District’s generous press release and…

…the establishment of our new “Censured-Member-of-the-Month-Club”

“While the Board believes that Johnston’s misconduct is sufficient grounds for his removal,

But not willing to prolong a fight that would almost certainly be lost on the grounds of free speech violations leaving the Board looking like fools and giving Art Johnston a likely court ordered reimbursement for his attorney fees.

Johnston’s subsequent federal litigation against ISD 709 and five Board members has the potential to result in a drawn-out, time-consuming and expensive legal process

But we the majority take no blame for this. Its all Art Johnston’s fault for defending himself from our exaggerated accusations and not quitting in shame after eleven months of newspaper shaming over abuses that its own investigator refused to characterize as violating any state statutes.

which would distract from focusing on the primary mission of our schools, which is the education and well-being of our students.

Which we all just sort of forgot about for eleven months.

Therefore, the Duluth School Board will consider rescinding the removal of Johnston and replacing it with formal censure at a special School Board meeting to be held next week.

And we will institute a new Censured-Member-of-the-Month-Club which, however, will be limited to a membership of two censured monthly on a rotating basis.

The Board expects Johnston will then dismiss his federal lawsuit, for which he is seeking monetary damages.”

And we get the satisfaction of seeing Art Johnston pay out $40 grand for a case against him that couldn’t get out of the gate.

Pound the table

I just read the District’s email regarding their wild goose chase here:

“While the Board believes that Johnston’s misconduct is sufficient grounds for his removal, Johnston’s subsequent federal litigation against ISD 709 and five Board members has the potential to result in a drawn–out, time–consuming and expensive legal process which would distract from focusing on the primary mission of our schools, which is the education and well–being of our students. Therefore, the Duluth School Board will consider rescinding the removal of Johnston and replacing it with formal censure at a special School Board meeting to be held next week. The Board expects Johnston will then dismiss his federal lawsuit, for which he is seeking monetary damages.”

There is an old legal maxim. “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

Ah, but will the Board reimburse Art for his legal expenses or will I have to fund raise all summer?

There is still so much more to tell.

Oh, an in case you were wondering………This is a real threat! I’ll be damned if Art Johnston or any other school board member will be made to suffer such financial hardship by his/her colleagues for exercising his/her first Amendment rights.

If you want to read my long post on how Federal Court Judge Davis gutted the District’s case you can find that post here.

The School Board backs down


May 12, 2015

FROM: Art Johnston, Member of the Board of Education, Independent School District No. 709 (Duluth)


I received a letter from a school district attorney stating that the Board of Education of Independent School District No. 709 will unilaterally rescind the December 2, 2014 resolution proposing my removal from the board. This letter followed another full day of unproductive settlement discussions, most recently on Monday. I am thrilled they have finally changed their minds. I look forward to focusing on what I was elected to do—to speak freely and advocate for what I believe is best for the Duluth Public Schools. This is a victory for the people I represent in West Duluth, all the people in Duluth that want transparent and accountable government, and all school board members throughout the State of Minnesota who are now protected from precarious removal.

This is the result that I sought from the very beginning. If my colleagues follow through on their promise, I am extremely pleased with the result. Last week Chief Judge Michael J. Davis of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota made absolutely clear during a hearing in Duluth it is improper for the Board of Education to remove a member for expressing his views.

The allegations against me—including the disturbing allegations of assault and racism—were baseless distractions from what I was elected to say and do. I am thrilled my board colleagues appear to have finally recognized this.

I sincerely regret that the School District spent thousands of dollars to investigate the charges against me and to bring the removal resolution, only to withdraw it after appearing before Chief Judge Davis. The entire school district needs to put this behind it and concentrate on the many problems facing our schools. I intend to continue to do my best to fulfill my obligations to the voters who elected me and to the children of Duluth.

For further information: Contact Art Johnston at 218-***-*** or 715-***-***.

Why am I holding my tongue right now? or…

…as it would be sounded out “Uai annnmh eye hoading by ton weye dthow?” Try holding your own tongue and see if it doesn’t sound like that.

Well, Reason Number two – I’m organizing forty years worth of paperwork so that this summer I can write about my family or, if necessary, write a book to raise money for Art Johnston’s defense. I raised two grand in a couple weeks time five years ago on the promise of writing about the Red Plan. (I gave all that money back to the donors becuz I decided I had a life to live.)

And Reason Number one – this is holding me back.

Stealth is for ninjas

I’m not a ninja.

I’m not an open book but I presume anyone who visits this blog with some regularity does it to find out what’s going on, in my head at leas, if not in the Duluth School District. Therefore, I’m puzzled that some people bend over backward NOT to read what I have to say. Oh, I understand that fragile egos may quail at the prospect of my saying something unflattering about the ego’s possessor but really. Folks who run for public office should have egos big enough to take a few knocks. That’s what the Federal Judge said about himself when presiding over the first inconclusive hearing of Art’s suit last week.

I am vigilant about defending myself from accusations when they are made in print. I can even address a whisper campaign by at least offering my own interpretation of events here in the blog. Some things said about me have been nasty enough for me to label them character assassination. The first beneficiary of such a bashing was our current Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko who defeated me three days after a scurrilous attack on me was put on every front porch in Duluth. I’ve always presumed that she had nothing to do with that. I wish I could say the same of other similar attacks like those on Art Johnston.

What prompts me to write this now is a stray comment in an opinion piece today about incivility that takes for granted that Art Johnston’s suit is based on Art’s incivility. Trust me, if that’s all it had been Judge Davis would have dismissed it out of hand last Tuesday. The writer was from Superior, Wisconsin, so I’ll cut him a little slack for his ignorance.

I’ll give you an example I find humorous if a little pathetic about the degree to which my fellow board members misunderestimate my blog.

I’ve mentioned Tim Davis in several posts. Mern knew him before me because Tim transferred into East High about ten years ago from Chicago before Mike retired. I saw Mern go out to greet Tim at the last school board meeting and put his arm around Tim in an avuncular manner. Tim told me later that he had scheduled a meeting with Mike.

When the meeting was over I sauntered out of Old Central with Art and Tim and we kibitzed a bit as Mern and Bill Westholm departed the building from a different exit. As I left my trio (actually there were four of us) to walk around the building to the car park on the Eastern side Mike walked over and told me earnestly that someone else who had read my blog told Mike of a warning that he should not talk to Tim. I was taken aback and said I had no objections to such a conversation. Then I told him I never wrote any such thing and that I would be sure to compile a list of all the people I disapproved of his talking to. I said that in good humor because it was so silly.

Who knows how Mike’s informant got that garbled message. On reflection it might have been my post in which I described a series of email Tim got from someone warning Tim not to talk to me. That was almost certainly in response to my blog as well which had mentioned Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s patronizing treatment of Tim.

Judy Seliga told me in my one on one with her that she didn’t want me to blog. At three or more closed meetings I’ve had other members broadly hint that what was being discussed could not be made public. Of course, I was censured in December for my gaff disclosing Central property’s firesale price. But I believe in transparency and am not afraid of it myself. I’ve always enjoyed a joke on myself and was once advised by the Trib’s Jim Heffernan not to be so self deprecatory as it seemed to him to be an impediment to winning over voters. But my idol Lincoln did the same and I’m just following in his footsteps.

I am sensitive to the power of my blog to injure the egos of those I must work with. After the year I’ve had, however, I’m far less concerned about it. Right now this blog is all about shining a Klieg light on it no matter who ends up in its glare.

As for the evil Art Johnston, a few days ago in a phone conversation he paused to wax rhapsodically about the first vireo of the season that he saw at his bird feeder. On Cinco de Mayo I had supper with him and Jane and their new foster child. Yeah, he can rant at a school board meeting when he is deprived of public data, or when the two of us are denied the Parliamentary protections our Code of Ethics requires, or he’s investigated for phony charges that are spread all over the media to make uninformed folks like today’s op ed writer despise him.