Monday, May 28, 2012

Fiddles, bows, and a culture of well, you can decide….


Knowing you were so delighted by our prior multiple choice question, we decided to present you with another.

Question:  Would you prefer to be governed by officials who:

A) deceive us?

B) or who game the system?

C) or who are clueless?

D) or who are incompetent?

E) or all of the above

Why do we ask?  Because what we are about to tell you brings all these possibilities into play.  We have discovered an act of such conspicuous malfeasance that it raises a number of critical questions, and we will do our best to list them for you.

So let’s get to it.  In a post earlier this month, we explained that the School Board apparently was asked to vote on a teachers contract without seeing the document.  We further explained that the School Superintendent provided an erroneous summary of the contract salary increases to the town council, and as it turns out, to the general public after the vote to approve the contract.

We now know that the School Board vote to approve the new teachers contract, conducted in executive session on April 11th, was based on a written summary that materially and substantively misrepresents and distorts contract realities resulting from ‘negotiated’ salary increase figures.

Some would say that using these erroneous figures is an act of fraud.  Some would say no; other factors may be involved. Hence the multiple choice answers given above.

In the worst case, all are part of what transpired.  This all goes to whether misinformation was willfully provided, or those involved were willfully uninformed.  These are terms handed down to us some years back by the editors at The Ostrich, you may recall, when they accused certain councilors of not behaving diligently regarding the Oxford Aviation proposal.

We responded that The Ostrich has been willfully misinforming and uninforming readers for decades.  It’s one thing to have a newspaper that does so; but what do you do when your government and its elected officials are distributing and acting upon critical information that is shamefully incorrect?

Here’s how things played out to the best of our knowledge.  Negotiations between the school board reps and the teachers union were all but concluded when incoming school board members were sworn in (December, as we recall).

Not a word was made public about the ‘negotiation results’ for months, so all the ‘softening up’ presentations provided by the School Department before serious budget voting was to take place were conducted without knowing what effect the salary demands in the contract would have.  Conversely, agreement between the negotiating parties was reached before a full understanding of budget effects and tax effects were known.

In other words, in keeping with the priorities we asserted in recent posts, the teachers’ raises were negotiated and agreed to long before any other budget particulars. 

Yet the School Board was not asked to vote on the results until April, nearly 3 months after negotiations were largely completed.  Just as inexplicable, the new contract is not yet available, nearly two months after the vote on the 11th of April.

Now the kicker.  We are in possession of the document used to inform the school board at the Executive Session in April as they prepared to vote.   You can see it here.  The document was no longer confidential as soon as the vote was taken; it became a part of the public record.

You can see very clearly that the document includes the deceit that step increases are 2%, which is absolutely false, as we illustrated to you, the town council, and the school board with these documents:

The School Board now looks like a string section with the union and the School Superintendent wielding the bows; and by extension, the public and the town council have picked up their instruments and allowed themselves to be played in the same way.

We’ll give Brunswick Community United an award for most  supportive accompaniment to the establishment, led by a willfully uninformed and mis-informed Associate Professor of Art, of all people.

Is this fraud?  We’re not an attorney, so we can’t say.  But we can say that since the School Department and the teachers union have the current and past contracts in hand, the characterization provided to the School Board for the vote appears to have intentionally distorted the facts to achieve a desired outcome: approval of the new contract.

Now the relevant follow-up questions.

- Who prepared the one pager: was it the teachers union, who then provided it to the Superintendent, or was it prepared by the Superintendent and his staff?  (We suppose it could have been prepared by the Board members who took place in the negotiations, but we doubt it.)

- Was the School Superintendent a part of the negotiations? If so, why, and what role did he play in them? Isn’t this supposed to be between the board and the union?  And why is he in the Executive session when the vote is taken?  Isn’t he supposed to be a neutral party?  (Yah, sure!)

- How long has this been going on?  How long has the 2% deceit been used to mask reality?  Did they use 1.5% in the past?  Have School Board members read and understood the contracts?  Ever?  Given conversations we’ve had with past board members, we’re inclined to think not.

- If so, how could they have stood by and let the Superintendent state that there was a ‘salary freeze’ in the current contract?

- How do we know that the annual dollar costs of the salary increases in the summary are correct?

- Does the School Board really negotiate with the teachers union, or does the latter, together with the Superintendent, decide how it’s going to be, and leave the Board with virtually no say?

- What was the foundational basis for negotiations between the board and the teachers union? What numerics were on the table to inform the discussion? Was this a case of the blind leading the blind, or a one eyed king leading the blind?

- What should happen to a contract that was approved on the basis of a willful misrepresentation of the particulars?

- Who is the main perpetrator of the fraud?  How should they be held accountable?

And then of course, the opening question.  After reading the foregoing, you can ponder whether deception, gaming, cluelessness, or incompetence is at the heart of the issue.  Or all of the above.

We have our own conclusions, but we’ll keep them to ourselves, at least for now.

The real shame (and crime) here is that in all likelihood, there will be no consequences for this abuse of office and trust; no one will be held accountable; no one will take responsibility; and nothing, repeat nothing, will change. This will at best be a footnote in the annals of the Brunswick Hall of Shame, and nothing more.

So who should we blame for allowing such an atmosphere to exist and thrive?  Hint: if you’re about to pass a mirror, look away; you may not like what you see.

Now would somebody wake up our government watchdogs, please?

Why Does My Dog Move So Much When He's Sleeping? thumbnailSleepy Watchdog

Really, we like the one below best; we are dog-lovers, you know.

It best captures the essence of keeping an eye on things in our local government, as practiced by our media outlets.  Especially the ones who don’t pay their property taxes.

Oops….one more question before we sign off; have you ever heard “Who’s zooming who” played on a fiddle?

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