Monday, January 31, 2011

Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees

The entire publication can be accessed at the web address at the bottom of the first page.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Please Join Us

When: Monday, January 31 @ 6:30 PM
Where: Independence Fire Station

Please plan to attend our organizational meeting tomorrow evening to discuss plans to recall Susan Stoops from the school board. Many of us have become convinced that things will not change for the better in our district until she is removed from the board. As chair she has been a consistent and enthusiastic supporter of Joseph Hunter and it's time for a change. Our district is governed through the elected board of directors. We do not have the power or authority to remove Joseph Hunter as superintendent but we do have the power and authority to remove board members who, despite all that has happened, continue to support him. At tomorrow's meeting we will have to decide whether it is just Stoops we wish to remove or all three board members who have been aiding and abetting his bad behavior.

A recall is a daunting challenge but it can be accomplished if we have the manpower and the willpower. At tomorrow's meeting we will have to make that assessment and decide whether to go forward. If we do, we will need to establish an organizational structure with a chief petitioner and a treasurer and familiarize ourselves with the process and its attendant regulations. I've spoken with County Clerk, read the Recall Manual, and downloaded the forms we will need. We will need to proceed "by the book" but it's not difficult or complicated. While we shouldn't underestimate the effort that will be required neither should we shy away from it.

District staff are welcome. Your participation in an electoral process cannot be restricted by your employer (i.e., the district) so long as you do not use work time to advocate for or against the recall. It's very important that no one use a position of authority over others (administrators over teacher, teachers over students) whether at work or not to advocate for or against the recall. Interestingly, the law does allow public employees to wear political buttons to work. I know most of you are very familiar with these rules as a result of our recent bond campaigns but it is helpful to refresh our memories.

In the Oregon Recall Manual, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury writes, "Recall is one way Oregon pioneered citizen control of government. Oregonians amended the State Constitution in 1908 to allow citizens to vote to remove an elected public official from office. The active participation of Oregonians in ensuring the quality and integrity of our elected public officials is a welcome and valuable contribution to an effective democracy."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jo Dee Messina - My give a damn's busted

Can This Possibly be Legal?

At the November board meeting I submitted a complaint against Joseph Hunter. I didn't hear anything for an entire month (in violation of board policy regarding public complaints) and when I made further inquiries at the December meeting, I was told that the complaint had been forwarded to the board's legal counsel who had hired an investigator to look into the matter. I did hear from the investigator within a few days and we had a number of communications over the next couple of weeks. He indicated he would also be talking with staff in the district office. I was impressed with his professionalism and commitment to being thorough and unbiased. He told me at the time that he hoped to have his report ready for the board by Christmas. He did not discuss the results of his investigation with me at any time; he was working for the board and prepared his report for them. I don't know what the report says but the way it has been handled by Susan Stoops would suggest that it is bad news for Hunter.

Given the time line he indicated, I was expecting some kind of response from the board by now. On Monday, I asked a couple of board members when I might hear something and they said that they hadn't seen the report and didn't think it was ready yet. So today I contacted the investigator to see if his report was done. Imagine my surprise when he let me know that he had turned in the report to the board's attorney on December 30. The investigator was very surprised that board members had not seen the report and that I had not received an official response. He said it was "very peculiar to have a complaint response delayed this long." The normal procedure would be for the attorney to forward the report to the board chair and there is certainly no reason to suppose that he failed to do so.

It would appear that Susan Stoops has been in possession of that report for nearly a month! And that she has been withholding it from other board members! This kind of thing happened when I was on the board - the chair and the superintendent would consult and decide what the rest of the board needed to know. It was infuriating then and it is infuriating now. The board as a whole is legally responsible for this district. How can board members make informed decisions without information? But maybe that's the whole point.

I wonder what's in it that she doesn't want them to see - it can't be very flattering to Hunter. She gives every appearance of having allied herself with him against other board members. If so, she has abused her authority as board chair and should be removed immediately. It is not up to the chair to decide what other board members will be allowed to know. This is especially true in this instance - I certainly hope she did not share the report with Hunter before the board got to read it. But it wouldn't surprise me if she did. In the case of complaints against the superintendent, the attorney and the investigator work for The Board - not the board chair and certainly not the superintendent.

Unbelievable? Manipulative? Shameless? Unethical?

Recall Meeting

There will be a meeting on Monday, January 31 at 6:30 pm at the fire station in Independence to discuss the recall effort. This will be a large undertaking that will require the efforts of many people. If you are interested in this going forward, please plan to attend.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let's Roll

There will be a community meeting in the very near future to discuss a recall effort to remove Susan Stoops from office. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What does it take?

I've heard that question a lot lately - "What does it take?" And the answer is, "It takes four votes."

Executive Session

I don't know what happened in the executive session on Monday. I waited outside but they did not come into open session to take any action. The agenda said the session was to hear complaints or charges brought against an employee and, based on their demeanor coming out of the meeting, board members were not very happy with the discussion.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Executive Session Monday, January 24

According to the district website there will be a special executive session tomorrow, Monday, January 24 at 6 p.m in the district conference room. According to the agenda, the purpose of the meeting is "To consider the dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent who does not request an open meeting." The executive session will be closed to the public but I will be there waiting outside in case the Board decides to enter open session for the purpose of taking action. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Government Transparency Initiative

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger announced plans this week for a significant overhaul of
Oregon's Public Records Law with the goal of creating more open and transparent government. According to the Oregonian, "the proposals, which now go to the legislature, stem from growing concerns from news organizations, watchdog groups and others that obtaining documents and other materials from public agencies was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive."

Among the proposals that I find particularly interesting are the following:

Repeal of many of the 400+ exemptions to the law including the disciplinary records of senior managers not represented by unions. Currently the personnel records of all public employees are exempt from public examination.

Reports of waste, fraud and abuse would no longer be exempt from public examination once investigations were complete.

Stricter deadlines for agencies to respond to public records requests from journalists or other members of the public. More reasonable limits on what agencies can charge for making those records available.

A requirement that all governments (including local school boards) digitally record their meetings and that those recording be made available to the public within seven days.

A requirement that all executive sessions be recorded. Since executive sessions deal with legally protected information, those recordings would not be available to the public but recording them would help to insure that the executive session does not stray into topics that should be discussed and acted upon in an open meeting.

I applaud AG Kroger's proposals and wish he would also tackle the Public Meetings Law. We need legal updates that specify how meetings are to be noticed and we need better enforcement of the law's provisions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Board-Facilities Work Group Meeting

There will be a school board meeting on Monday, January 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the CHS library. The meeting will be conjunction with the Facilities Work Group and will address plans for the funds remaining from the 2008 bond and the disposition of the portable classrooms at the high school.

The district did make good on its promise to send notice to the Itemizer-Observer, which is how I found out about the meeting. They did not, however, fulfill Supt. Hunter's pledge to post this type of information "conspicuously" on the district's web page. After seeing the notice in the paper today, I went to the district's website and it took some work to find the information there. I had to: 1) Go to the home page; 2) Go to "News and Calenders;" 3) Go to "Calenders and Events;" 4) Click on the date on the calender to find the time and place. Why not just post it on the home page as they did when they moved the date of the January board meeting from the 10th to the 3rd?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth

FF&E Complaint

Reproduced above is Supt. Hunter's response to my complaint regarding FF&E purchases. For details of that complaint please see my post "Why Pay More Than List Price?" dated January 2, 2011.

In his response, Hunter discusses the service provided by the furniture vendor, Saxton Bradley, who purchased the bulk of the furniture for the newly renovated high school. In addition to purchasing the furniture, they also stored it until needed, delivered it to the school, performed whatever assembly was required, and hauled away the packaging materials. The fact that Saxton Bradley performs a real service was never in doubt. The question is - How much did it cost us and was it a wise use of resources?

As Hunter says in the first sentence of the third paragraph, "The entire package of 3PL services has a cost and a value." Yet nowhere in district documents is that cost itemized - something my contacts in the Oregon State Procurement Office said is required. Hardly the "industry best management practice" Hunter claims. He seems to suggest that the 3PL services are tacked onto the original purchase prices (including shipping) of the various furniture items.

The examples I have uncovered, where we can actually see the cost of each item and its associated shipping costs, would suggest that Saxton Bradley charged us over 50% of the purchase price plus shipping for their additional services. Since our total Saxton Bradley bill came to $332,000, that means we paid roughly $110,000 for those extra services (storage, assembly, and disposing of dunnage). In the case of the students chairs from the Wenger Corporation, Saxton Bradley charged us an additional $42 per chair for pre-assembled chairs that retail for $76 and ship for $12.

Was it worth it? Hard to say. It was certainly a good deal for Saxton Bradley. It was certainly a convenience for the bond manager who did not have to find a local crew to unpack and assemble furniture (which would have been easy to do given the high rate of local unemployment).

A good deal for those of us who pay the bills? You've seen my report and you've seen the superintendent's response - you be the judge.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Public Notice Complaint

At the January board meeting I filed two complaints, one of which concerned the lack of public notification for the December 16 Facilities Meeting. A quorum of board members was present at that meeting and voted to use some of the "bond surplus" for several projects. Unfortunately, neither the media nor the general public was notified of this meeting which left the board in violation of Oregon's Public Meetings Law. The Polk County Itemizer-Observer also complained about the lack of notification and published an article about its concerns and the district's response in last week's edition. The I-O has proven itself quite capable of defending its own interests in this matter. I am far more concerned with the public's right to know what is going on in our district and how the board is spending our money.

Reproduced above is the response to my complaint from Supt. Hunter. In it he conflates notification of the media with notification of the public. Media and the general public are not the same entities, however, and the Oregon Revised Statutes he cites make that distinction. Moreover, the newspaper that covers local school issues (the I-O) publishes only once per week so, unless the paper is notified well in advance, the public is unlikely to learn of a meeting until after the fact.

My requested remedy was that the district develop better procedures for notifying the public, including posting meetings on the district's website. Previously, the district did two things to notify the public: they sent notice to the newspaper and they posted a written notice on a door - although which door is not exactly clear. So if members of the public were interested in attending board meetings, which they are legally entitled to do, they had to either rely on the newspaper or drive around the district everyday checking doors and looking for announcements. It will take only a minute of two to post meeting notices on the district's website and I am glad that the district will begin doing so more systematically and "conspicuously."

Decisions made by a governing body in violation of the Public Meetings Law are voidable but they can be reinstated in a future, legally noticed, meeting. I'm presuming this is true even when the work authorized by the board at the December 16 meeting has already been completed. I'm not sure what voiding the decision would actually entail in this instance. The statute does suggest that the courts might permanently void any decisions when there has been intentional disregard of the open meetings law or willful misconduct. That does not seem to have occurred in this case but now that the board and district staff have been challenged on this issue we should be able to expect better compliance with the intent of the law in the future.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thank You

Thanks again to our videographers, Braeden and Wendy. They got the job done this month with very little advance notice of the changed meeting date. Their videos of the board meetings are among the most viewed blog entries which indicates a high level of interest in knowing what happens at the meetings.

Wendy and Braeden, you are performing a valuable service and we appreciate your time and efforts!

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 1

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 2

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 3

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 4

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 5

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 6

Central 13J School District 01032011 Part 7

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 8

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 9

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 10

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 11

Central 13J School Board Meeting 01032011 Part 12

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


At Monday's board meeting, representatives from the firm of Boldt, Carlisle, and Smith presented their annual financial audit of our district. There were several problems/issues they identified.

One of those was a lack of documentation regarding bids related to bond purchases. State law requires public entities to get three competitive bids for all items costing over $5,000. In some cases the district was unable to provide documentation that this took place. The auditors randomly selected approximately 35 items to test (out of how many I don't know) and, of those, four (15% - their math, not mine) were missing the required bid documents. They mentioned that in at least one case it appears that items were simply purchased out of a catalog with no bid at all. In other cases, bids may or may not have been solicited; it's impossible to tell as there are no documents.

Some board members seized on the idea that there were only these four sets of missing documents/non-bids but that is not what they auditors said. They said that of the 35 items they tested, these were the ones that were problematic. I would want to know what proportion of all required bids those 35 items represent (35 were tested out of a total of 50? 500? 5,000?). If there is a 15% failure rate for the bond as a whole then we could be talking about some serious money.

Paul Evans asked about potential penalties the district might face if this issue reached the Secretary of State's office. The auditors said nothing would happen to the district for failing to keep proper documentation and/or follow the bid process as required by law. That makes me wonder - what is the point of the law if it is never actually enforced? I'm also not sure why Evans seems to be mostly concerned with the legality of this issue. To me, the bigger question is whether we can have confidence that district manager's perform their duties competently and ethically.

Members of the public have been asking for a performance audit of the bond for some time now. The financial audit that was just completed (and that is done annually) just looks at the district's bookkeeping practices. A performance audit would look at actual expenditures to see if the district spent its money wisely and for the intended purposes.

At Monday's meeting the issue finally came up for discussion by the board (in the Work Session not the regular board meeting). Hunter said it would cost the district between $20,000 and $30,000. He suggested that the board review the internal checkpoints within the construction process - architects and construction managers, for example, have to sign off on certain issues at particular stages during planning and construction, While there may well be some internal checks and balances in place, a true performance audit must be done by an outside entity rather than someone who was part of the process to be scrutinized and who has a stake in the outcome of the audit.

Paul Evans and Kathy Zehner both pushed hard for the audit as a way of restoring public confidence; Traci Hamilton and Sarah Ramirez worried about the cost. Ramirez said she just couldn't support it as it would adversely affect teachers; Zehner replied that there are other monies that could potentially be used, including budgets allocated to administrators. There is also the possibility that a performance audit could be paid for out of remaining bond funds and the business manger was instructed to check on that with the district's bond counsel. For her part, Susan Stoops argued that she didn't think it would help restore public trust as everyone has already made up their minds.

I don't agree with that. Questions have been raised and it is the stonewalling of the superintendent and the board with regards to a performance audit that have deepened public suspicion. There is still time to make this right. The fact that those board members who have been most skeptical of the concerns raised are now the ones most opposed to the performance audit is not going to help the situation. One would think they would jump at the chance to prove their detractors wrong.

There are essentially three things that can happen: 1) They don't do the audit. This will only deepen the public's mistrust, particularly given the problems identified in the financial audit and the formal complaint that I lodged at the meeting regarding the overpayment on some FF&E purchases (see "Why Pay More Than List Price?" below for details); 2) They do the audit and more problems are uncovered. This is undoubtedly the potential outcome that most worries them; and 3) They do the audit and only very minor problems are uncovered. This WOULD help to restore public confidence.

If they are concerned about the expense, my recommendation would be to first audit anything that was outside of the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price - the construction part of the project that was controlled by Pence). Start with the parts of the bond that are most likely to be problematic, especially the FF&E purchases and the musical instruments. Of course, this course of action depends on those four problems identified by the financial audit. If they were part of the GMP then that needs a full performance audit too.

I would also strongly suggest that the board not simply rely on the superintendent's recommendation in choosing someone to do the audit. If the district is going to pay for an audit, it needs to be completely independent. Allowing the superintendent to control the process will undermine confidence in the outcome before the audit even occurs. Brian Hungerford, one of the district's attorneys, helped them hire an investigator already. Why not ask for his assistance in finding an auditor?

There are ways that a performance audit can happen that do hold the very real possibility of restoring public trust. It is up to the board to take the necessary steps.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why Pay More Than List Price?

The purchase of "furniture, fixtures, and equipment" as part of the high school reconstruction has remained a point of contention. Over a year ago, Mike Maloney was asked why it appeared that the district paid more than list price for some items and he said the invoice prices reflected not just the cost of the items but also charges for delivery and hauling away the dunnage (packing materials).

Most of the furniture purchases were handled by a company called Saxton Bradley which is headquartered in the Seattle area. As part of my inquires into the FF&E purchases I have acquired from the district copies of all the Saxton Bradley invoices. Because they make volume purchases and can get educational discounts, Saxton Bradley is able to pass along considerable savings on many items.

For some items that we purchased through Saxton-Bradly, however, we paid over list price.

Here are some examples:

50 Mahasset Music Stands - Through Saxton Bradley we paid $49 each ($2,450.00 total). If we had purchased through Musician's Friend we could have bought them for $29.99 each delivered ($1,499.50 total) - a difference of $950.50!

A Conductor Stand from Wenger - Through Saxton Bradley we paid $561. If we had purchased direct from Wenger we could have bought the same stand for $359 plus $35 shipping and handling - a difference of $167!

50 Student Music Chairs from Wenger - Through Saxton Bradley we paid $131 each ( ($6,550 total). If we had purchased direct from Wenger we could have bought the same chairs for $76 each plus $643 shipping and handling ($4,443 total) - a difference of $2,107!

3 Expanded Music Lab Workstations from Wenger - Through Saxton Bradley we paid $2,368 each ($7,104 total). If we had purchased direct from Wenger we could have bought the same workstations for $1,360 each plus $456 shipping and handling ($4,536 total) - a difference of $2,568!

4 Folio Band Carts from Wenger - Through Saxton Bradley we paid $1,945 each ($7,780 total). If we had purchased direct from Wenger we could have bought them for $1,090 each plus $782 shipping and handling ($5,142 total) - a difference of $2,638!

Note: The documents above are copies of Saxton Bradley invoices with my notes; pages from the 2009-2010 Wenger catalog; and an on-line order form from Musician's Friend. In order to determine the shipping and handling charges from Wenger, I created an account and set up orders with the exact same items we purchased. They then calculated the shipping and handling charges. The prices paid to Saxton Bradley include delivery and installation. Most of the items we purchased through them required minimal or no assembling.

On just the items listed above, we overpaid by a whopping $8,430!! The total of our Saxton Bradley purchases was $332,000 dollars. For what other items were we overcharged? How do we even know if they gave us a good deal overall or not?

The whole point of ordering through Saxton Bradley is to get good deals. If they can't get us good deals, why would Maloney not just order these items separately? It doesn't make any sense.

In my quest to get some answers I've spoken with representatives from Saxton Bradley who each said they didn't know why we paid so much for these things. I've also spoken with the state procurement office and head procurement officer for the Oregon Department of Education. So far no one has an explanation. When pressed for an answer, the Saxton Bradley representative responded with "Have you seen the high school? Doesn't it look great?" - a laughable attempt at distraction. The head of procurement for ODE said she "would want to know why we paid more than the catalog price - that shouldn't ever happen."

But it did. The question is "Why?"