With Dr. Robinson’s claim on Thursday afternoon that it would be impossible for a school board member to recuse herself from every vote the board faced that involved a campaign donor, I decided that it was time to look and see who was giving money to Elisa Ferrell’s funding for her school board run. (The news that Mr. Culbreath is being sued for questionable dealings and espionage with one of his donors Mr. Dallas Fanning–Huntsville’s Chief Planner until 2010–who gave him $200.00 in 2012 also drove me to examine her records as several of the same people who supported Dr. Robinson and Mr. Culbreath have also supported Mrs. Ferrell.) You may look her campaign finance reports for yourself here. Of the five candidates running for the school board seat that is being vacated by Dr. Robinson, Mrs. Ferrell has done the most to align herself with Dr. Robinson and Dr. Wardynski. (She has, in fact, been openly critical of those who actually ask questions of the board and superintendent.)
Mrs. Ferrell has raised the most money of any candidate in district 3 which is evident from the advertising she is doing. As of August 15th, she had raised approximately $11,730.00 as compared to Mr. Knowles’ $7,008.00, Dr. Brusick’s $3,495.00, and Mrs. Rooker’s $3,090.00. (
So far as I have been able to uncover, Mr. Sanders has not filed a single campaign finance report for this election period. Every other candidate has been filing reports since at least the beginning of July.) Mr. Sanders’ reports have been filed under James Patrick Sanders. He has three donors who have given him a total of $1,400.00. One of the donors shares the candidate’s last name.
Surprisingly for someone who has raised nearly twice as much funding as her nearest competitor and nearly four times the amount of Mrs. Rooker, Mrs. Ferrell has only two more itemized donors than Mrs. Rooker as of their most current reports. Mrs. Ferrell has reported approximately 12 itemized donors. Mrs. Rooker has reported 10. By way of comparison, Mr. Knowles has approximately 27 and Dr. Brusick has approximately 20.
So, where has Mrs. Ferrell’s funding come from? Who are these twelve or so donors that have put her so far ahead of her opponents?
Eliza Ferrell’s Funding
For someone who claims that her motivation for running is “advocacy for students,” Mrs. Ferrell does not seem to be receiving much support from parents of children in the district.
She is, instead, receive significant support from area developers many of whom have supported Dr. Robinson and Mr. Culbreath in their past campaigns. As of her latest campaign filing, Mrs. Ferrell has received donations from the following twelve donors.
Here are the actually campaign reports if you wish to verify the accuracy of the chart above.
So who are these twelve donors?
First up is the political action arm of the Committee of 100, BIZPAC. As we discussed last month, the Committee of 100 has three members who have a background in education. None of these three serve on the BIZPAC Board of Directors. In short, BIZPAC exists, as they state, to elect “business-oriented candidates.” They do not exist to elect candidates who are advocates for students.
I believe that the Kenneth Upchurch listed here is W. Ken Upchurch of TCU Consulting Services. I believe that this is the same Kenneth Upchurch who headed the committee to relocate and rebuild Grissom High School at the new location behind Sam’s Club on land donated to the city/district by John and James Hays.
The primary reason that I am uncertain that this is the same W. Ken Upchurch of TCU Consulting Services is the address that is listed as Kenneth Upchurch’s place of residence. W. Ken Upchurch, according to the TCU website, lives in Montgomery, Alabama. The address listed for Kenneth Upchurch, donor to Ferrell is, “927 Merchant Walk SW / Huntsville, AL. 35801.” This is not, however, a residential address but is instead a commercial address. It is either the address of J.T. Couch, State Certified Real Estate Appraiser, or Ted Mullins & Associates, Real Estate Appraiser.
Thus I believe that Kenneth Upchurch is in fact W. Kenneth Upchurch of TCU Consulting Services, but I could be wrong.
TCU Consulting Services works for Huntsville City Schools. Since July 2013, the district has paid TCU Consulting Services a total of $1,591,625.63.
I do not know Mr. Nolan, but I do know that he has been one of Dr. Robinson’s biggest supporters. In her 2010 school board race, he and his wife gave her $5,000.00 a piece. Together they were her largest single donor. In December 2013, they again gave her an additional $5,000.00 for her city council race. (Mr. McGinnis has also received a donation from Mr. Nolan in this election.) Unlike most of Ferrell’s supporters, Mr. Nolan does at least live in this district. He and his wife are the principles of The ELM Foundation. There doesn’t seem to be much information about the ELM Foundation except that they appear to have about $600k in assets and $600k in income. On her LinkedIn page, Dr. Robinson writes:
After fifteen years as a leadership consultant and trainer, I accepted the new challenge in the Fall of 2012 of creating and running a startup private operating foundation. The ELM Foundation takes its name from the expectation of the founders that people in need can “expect little miracles.” I create “little miracles” every day with people in need, by working with them to create action plans focused on self-sufficiency, stewardship, and service.
I suppose therefore that the ELM Foundation creates little miracles for some.
While there doesn’t seem to be much information about this foundation, Mr. Nolan, literally, wrote the book on corporate espionage. Those skills come in handy for people wishing to, as the Mayor denied last night, steal one development away from another. For more information on Mr. Nolan’s Army Intelligence background, you might want to take a look at Merts Center Monitor’s exposé on him from 2012.
Expect Little Miracles indeed.
Mr. Headrick is the President and Co-Founder of LEAN Frog. I’ve written about Mr. Headrick on this site several times before. He has been working for the district since at least November 2011. He was responsible for conducting the efficiency audits that Dr. Wardynski wanted to prove to the city just how terrible the previous administration, under this same board of education, actually was. (Mr. Headrick has also made a donation of $500.00 to the McGinnis Campaign.)
Headrick regularly works, it appears, without an actual contract as Mr. Spinelli once wrote to tell me “the district does not have any documents responsive to your request” when I requested a copy of the LEAN Frog Contract. At that time from November 2011-February 2012, the district had paid LEAN Frog $28,790.00 without a contract. Since then up through June 2014, the district has paid Mr. Headrick’s company approximately $1,960,552.90. I still have never seen an actual board approved contract for that work.
One would think that for nearly $2 million over almost three years, the district would be fair efficient now. “Strong Leadership” indeed.
Mr. Swalley is on staff at Willowbrook at Bailey Cove where I believe Mrs. Ferrell attends church. He, in the past, has been responsible for some of the building projects at Whitesburg Baptist Church. He, too, is one of the few Ferrell supporters who actually lives in the district.
Mr. Ward is a DUI Attorney at Price & Flowers Law Firm. He does not appear to live in district 3. He has also made donations to Mrs. Wilder’s campaign for the District 2 seat and Mr. McGinnis’s campaign for the District 4 seat. He seems quite interested in influencing the direction of the school board for the next four years.
ChapmanSisson Architects is the architectural firm that was hired to design Goldsmith Schiffman, Providence, the New Blossomwood facility and the New Whitesburg facility in Mrs. Ferrell’s district. In the past year, ChapmanSisson has been paid approximately $1,341,205.04 in checks from the district.
Mr. Ritch is a lawyer with Sirotte & Permutt and is also the Chair for the BRAC committee and now TVA. He also does not appear to live in District 3. He has made other campaign contributions to Beth Wilder in District 2 and Walker McGinnis in District 4. He too seems quite interested in influencing the direction of the school board for the next four years.
Alabama Builders Political Action Committee
The Alabama Builders PAC is, “the best chance to sustain positive growth for your business!” They have given donations to Mrs. Ferrell, Mrs. Battle, but seemingly not Mrs. Wilder. I suppose they aren’t expecting any growth opportunities in her district, or perhaps Mrs. Wilder simply hasn’t reported their donation yet.
The Broadway Group
The Broadway Group makes their money in real estate development as well.
They purchased East Clinton Elementary in 2012 for $1.6 million dollars and turned it into a private school. They’ve given donations of $1,000.00 to Mrs. Ferrell, Mr. McGinnis, and Mrs. Wilder.
The Hays Family
John and James Hays are the family that sold some of the land for the New Grissom site. Hylis, Inc., their development company, will retain the rights to develop the area surrounding that area. Two weeks ago, the city approved a $4.4 million road project to support the new school and planned development. They do, at least, have businesses in the district.
Ferrell Supported by Developers, District Consulting Firms, and Two Lawyers, (and TBA HEA?!?)
So what can we take away from this examination of Elisa Ferrell’s contributors?
- Most of her financial support comes from outside of her district.
- Most of her financial support comes from people who do not have children nor grandchildren in Huntsville City Schools
- Most of her support comes from people and companies who have benefitted financially from working with the district, and apparently they see Ferrell as the most likely district 3 candidate to continue that financial benefit.
- Most of her support is focused on the issue of development rather than advocacy for students.
I’m sure that when further campaign reports are released after the election that we’ll have a fuller picture of who is supporting Mrs. Ferrell. I have, astonishingly, been told by Mrs. Shirley Wellington, HEA Uniserv director that H-Vote, the Political Action Committee of HEA has voted to endorse Mrs. Ferrell, Mrs. Wilder, and Mr. McGinnis for school board.
Frankly, I’m astonished that H-Vote would do this as there has been no candidate in the past three years who has been more openly hostile to HEA/AEA/NEA than Mrs. Ferrell. The only thing that is more surprising is that she would even accept the endorsement. It’s not like she needs the money.
Clearly if you are a member of HEA, you should at a minimum remove your support from the H-Vote PAC. Whomever is driving that ship (and I believe it is being driven by HEA members who work in the central office), does not represent your best interests in their endorsements. All three of their endorsed candidates are on the record opposing due process for teachers. (This despite the fact that Mr. McGinnis has himself reportedly benefitted from having due process when he was a teacher.)
Please understand, I am not claiming that any of this support is illegal (it isn’t) or even unethical. As we’ve seen, the Alabama Ethics Commission is far more concerned with a family giving a gift card to a teacher than they are with developers who have made millions off of the district giving thousands to candidates they believe will continue that pattern. Sadly in Alabama, that doesn’t appear to be unethical.
And here in Huntsville, it appears to be business as usual.
I am, however, claiming that it is important for voters who are considering supporting Mrs. Ferrell in the election next Tuesday to know whose interests she will be actually looking out for. As they say, you dance with the ones who brought you.
And in Mrs. Ferrell’s case, those who brought her here aren’t children nor their advocates.