Remember Frank Spinelli? You know, the CSFO that Dr. Wardynski “brought” with him to Huntsville from Aurora, Colorado at a cost of $130,000 a year? Remember the night that Dr. Wardynski made a point of saying he was ignoring any rumors about sexual harassment that involve “strong leaders” such as Mr. Spinelli?
Do you remember that Dr. Robinson told us that Mr. Spinelli “has authority for certain expenditures” which include the hiring of the LEANFrog auditors who were supposedly at the time finding that there was “significant opportunity for fraud” in the district?
How about the time when Mr. Spinelli claimed that there were “no documents responsive to your request” concerning $28,790.00 of district funding that had been paid to LEANFrog over four months spanning 2011/2012? Clearly the “significant opportunity for fraud” in the district didn’t include spending nearly $30 grand without any paperwork of any kind.
Still don’t remember who we’re talking about? Well then what about last October when Mr. Spinelli offered his resignation and then, the same night, his consulting company was hired at a rate of $175 an hour?
That was quite a raise for Mr. Spinelli who, according to Dr. Wardynski, had family concerns that he needed to take care of in New York.
State Code Violations
At least it was until Mr. Culbreath, the new District Five board member started asking questions of the Alabama Ethics Commission about the legality of paying Mr. Spinelli as a consultant to his former employer within two years of his employment. Alabama Code Section 36-25-13, “Actions of Former Public Officials or Public Employees Prohibited for Two Years After Departure” is fairly clear when it says in paragraph (a):
No public official shall serve for a fee as a lobbyist or otherwise represent clients, including his or her employer before the board, agency, commission, department, or legislative body, of which he or she is a former member for a period of two years after he or she leaves such membership. For the purposes of this subsection, such prohibition shall not include a former member of the Alabama judiciary who as an attorney represents a client in a legal, non-lobbying capacity.
Thanks to the questions Mr. Culbreath asked back in October 2012, Mr. Spinelli’s contract as a consultant with the board was ended. In Mrs. McCaulley’s words, the board “severed all ties.”
Except they didn’t.
The Tie That Binds
I was watching, as always, to see if the four-year contract that had been approved in September 20th Temporary Agreements (four years doesn’t seem too temporary to me, but whatever) would be formally rescinded. Strangely enough, it never was. My thinking at the time was, “well, maybe they’re just running behind.”
But then, Mr. Spinelli showed up for the January 8th board meeting. Now, there’s no rule that says that he can’t attend a public board meeting, but since he so often seemed to be somewhat put out by having to attend the meetings when he was employed by the district, it seemed strange that he would choose to attend a meeting without being paid to be there.
Maybe he was just going to dinner afterwords with Wardynski and Aaron King, who was there to tell us how great Wardynski’s Digital Initiative was at Huntsville Middle School? Who knows. It seemed like old home week once the meeting adjourned.
Except maybe he was being paid to be there after all.
Spinelli and LEANFrog
You remember the LEANFrog contract that paid Mr. Headrick $28,790.00 in funds, without any documentation whatsoever? (Of course you do, I just reminded you.) Well, that number has dramatically increased since February 2012. You see, since November 2011 until October 2012, LEANFrog has been paid $715,308.59 according to the district’s check registers.
Nearly three quarters of a million dollars in one year paid to LEANFrog to find “significant opportunity for fraud.”
And now it seems that Mr. Spinelli, whose own company’s hiring was deemed unethical and illegal, has now returned to Huntsville City Schools as a LEANFrog consultant.
Yep, the company to which Mr. Spinelli oversaw the payment of $715,308.59 for the period of one year has now hired Mr. Spinelli to work with Huntsville City Schools.
Reportedly, Mr. Spinelli currently holds a five-year contract with LEANFrog to work with the district. I don’t have any word at the moment on what kind of salary he’s pulling in. Anyone wanna bet it’s around $175 an hour?
Is it illegal for LEANFrog to have hired Spinelli? Well, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV, but I can, you know, read. And when I read the code cited above, it seems to me that if it was illegal to hire Spinelli’s company as a consultant firm, it’s also illegal for LEANFrog to hire him as well.
But let’s assume that the board actually did their due diligence. (Nope can’t type it without laughing either.)
Let’s assume that it is completely legal for Spinelli to work for a company that he basically hired to work for the district.
This turn of events raises several interesting questions.
- How can it be ethical for a company to hire the person who gave them such a lucrative contract? I know this happens all the time in Washington, but this is Huntsville. I’d like to believe we have slightly higher standards than our legislators. (Nope, couldn’t type that without laughing either.)
- Why is a company like LEANFrog, who makes their living on their reputation, so willing to throw their reputation out the window like this?
- Why does Spinelli, who voluntarily resigned his position, want to be a district employee again so badly? (I never got the impression that he actually liked living in Huntsville.)
- Why is Mike Culbreath, the one ray of light on this school board, suddenly so silent on the rehiring of the employee he single-handedly kicked out just three months ago? (So much for being “worth watching.”)
- (And this is the big one.) Why is Wardynski so dead set, so willing to violate state code, state ethics laws, and simple common sense, so committed to having Frank Spinelli on his payroll? Surely there are other qualified certified accountants in this town, state and nation who don’t bring with them all this baggage?
If nothing else, this should give you insight into how Dr. Wardynski operates. When he doesn’t get what he wants the first time, he keeps pushing, cajoling, and manipulating until things go his way.
Common sense be damned. Education be damned. Teachers be damned. Students and parents be damned. Whole neighborhoods be damned. Ethics and the Alabama State Code be damned.
He reminds me of a two year old who didn’t get the cookie that his mommy took away from him: he cries, screams, kicks, and finally climbs up the cabinet knocking the cookie jar over, ruining the cookies for everyone just because he didn’t get his way.
I really wish we were dealing with a rational adult in the position of superintendent. Heck, I’d even settle for a teenager.
Welcome back, Mr. Spinelli. It hardly seems you were gone.