Citizens’ Comments “Interfere” with Board

201407Check_Register

UPDATED Below.

Well, tonight was an eventful night of political payback at the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting.

AMEX Payments “More than Any Other School System”

First, they heard a presentation from American Express thanking them for using the district’s AMEX card so much. Robert McManus stated, “You guys process more payments than any other school system in the U.S. that I’ve been able to find.”

In fact, we use the American Express to pay for vendors so much that AMEX has paid the district $35,000 in incentives based on last year’s transactions.

This seems wonderful, a good way to save money, until you realize that by using the AMEX card rather than simply writing a check to a vendor, it makes it much, much easier for the superintendent to hide what we’re paying to certain vendors.

You see, the district is required to publish their check registry for every month. You can go look on the website right now and look through the check registry for yourself without asking anyone to be allowed to do so.

However, there is no requirement that the district publish the monthly itemized report on the website for what they pay for using the American Express card. Thus, it makes it much, much easier for the district to hide payments to venders.

Now this wouldn’t be an issue except for, “you guys process more payments than any other school system in the U.S.

So as you can see from the picture of the July 2014, we’ve written American Express 8 checks in the month of July for “Accounts Payable.” (We’ve written one additional check in July on a separate sheet in the amount of $5,345.84 for “Out of State Travel.”)

Those 13 checks come to a total of $614,584.66 for the month of July alone.

And the only way you can find out to whom that money was paid is to request a report from the Finance department and hope that they consider you worthy.

This is just one more way for the superintendent to hide the amount of money he’s paying to “vendors” every month. But hey, at least we got paid $35,000 to give up transparency.

UPDATE (10/3/2014): 

If you would like an example of how much easier it is for the district to hide financial information, take a look at the difficulty that even Elisa Ferrell has had with getting information concerning the amount we’ve paid T&W Operations. As of this morning (Friday, October 3rd), even Ms. Ferrell has not received an accurate accounting of how much money we’ve paid T&W Operations

If you’d like to try for yourself, you may contact Mr. Jason Taylor, CSFO, at jason.taylor@hsv-k12.org or at 256.428.6851. I have, in the past, received reports and information from Mr. Taylor. However, as we see above with the data he gave Ms. Ferrell, verifying that information is difficult even for a potential board member/Wardynski supporter. 

UPDATE Two: (10/3/2014)

The Check Register for August has now been posted. For the month of August, we have made 7 “Accounts Payable” payments for a total of $1,823,795.10. Anyone else think we have a problem here?

201408Check_Register

Superintendent’s Contract

Blair and Robinson, as Lame Ducks, have decided that they know better than anyone, including the newly elected school board members, what’s best for the district. And what’s best for the district is to expand Dr. Wardynski’s contract for one year to June 30, 2017, and to make this new contract “auto-renewing” or “evergreen” as Robinson called it.

An auto-renewing contract means that the board will never again have to vote to extend the superintendent’s contract. From this point forward, the board will never have to extend the superintendent’s contract again. It will automatically renew unless the board votes to not renew.

She and Blair both claimed that doing this was “common” and that many other districts have such a contract, but of course they offered zero evidence for this. Robinson again claimed that they are doing this “to simplify the work of the board.”

That’s right. We need to make the board’s work simpler.

Birney alone questioned this proposal stating that the “lame duck” board members should allow the newly elected board members to make this decision. But Blair response that the new board members will take a while to get up to speed, and that “we know best.”

This new contract will be voted on in two weeks with no opportunity for public comment on the issue before the board votes (because they limit citizens’ comments to three minutes after the board has completed its work, once a month). If you wish to have your voice heard, you should, according to Blair, contact your board member privately.

That way, your board member can completely ignore your opinion without consequence.

Citizens’ Comments to be Limited to Huntsville Residents Only

Again, Blair and Robinson were busy tonight telling the city that they just do not give a damn what anyone thinks, they’re going to do whatever they want. And what they, and Wardynski, want is to shut up Terri Michal, a resident of Madison, Alabama who has expressed concern about the direction of education in this town.

Tonight the board voted to alter their Standing Rules so that a non-Huntsville resident cannot speak at the Huntsville City School board meetings. They will, of course, make exceptions for pretty much anyone that they want to make an exception for. Topper Birney was completely alone in his opposition to this decision. Both McCaulley and Culbreath voted along with Robinson in favor of this solution in need of a problem.

As justification for silencing public opinion, Blair and Robinson had this to say:

Here’s a transcript:

Blair: You know. We try to be as liberal as possible about letting citizens’ comments without it, uh, interfering with the business of the board.

Robinson: And that’s the key piece. This is, this is a public meeting, but it is not a meeting of the public. We have business to take care of and there was a point where our citizens’ comments were interfering with our ability to do the business that we needed to do.

Mr. Blair, you have, in your time as president and vice president done everything you can to eliminate the voice of the public. You have even berated the press for paying attention. It would seem that you are in desperate need of a dictionary so you can look up the meaning of the word liberal.

And Dr. Robinson, bless her heart, is claiming that she is so easily distracted, she is so easily interfered with, that she just cannot abide having a citizen stand and speak for three minutes (and yes, they will cut you off), at the end of one typically three plus hour Board Meeting, once a month.

Speaking for three minutes interferes with Robinson’s ability to do her business.

Hey look, Dr. Robinson!

Squirrel

Yes, this woman has the nerve to claim that a three minute comment, once a month, that has always happened after the board meetings are over, is interfering with her ability to do her work as a board member.

And now she wants to be a city council member.

Hopeless. Utterly hopeless.

Why Are They Doing This?

Well the answer to that question is crystal clear. Mr. Blair and Dr. Robinson feel compelled to give Wardynski a parting gift before they leave the board behind forever. So they decided to

  1. Make it harder for anyone, including board members, to see how he’s spending the district’s money;
  2. Make his contract “auto-renewing” because they want “to simplify the work of the board; and
  3. Silence the public from speaking out against Wardynski even more.

I suppose that they felt they owed him some payback for his help with their current and future campaigns. The opinion of the public on these matters be damned.

Please remember that Robinson is running in a run-off election on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. She wants to take this same disregard for the city and the public to our City Council. Please tell her it’s time for her to go home.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

28 Comments

  1. correct me if I am wrong but 1. Those families that live on Redstone Arsenal do not live in the City of Huntsville, correct? Redstone kids are bussed into City schools. Correct? So the headline tomorrow across the universe will read “Huntsville City Schools bans Comments from Military Families.” Correct?

    Of course there are other implications. Say parents share joint custody. Mom lives in Huntsville; Dad, Madison. Because Child lives with Mom M-F, she goes to HCS. Now Dad can no longer address his Child’s school board, although h has the same parental responsibilities and rights as mom.

    You know, these are five very, very, very stupid people.

    And if I still had a house in the City, I would be drawing up a lease for Teri Michal for $1/yr right now.

    1. Redstone Arsenal addresses ARE Huntsville addresses, per the post office. I think you’re making a hyper-technical distinction. I expect that the actual language used to amend policy will reflect that those permitted to participate in citizen comments must either have a student enrolled in the system or live at an address zoned to attend a HCS school. Otherwise, the folks in Hampton Cove and Owens Cross Roads who are within city school zones would similarly be excluded. While I don’t have a lot of respect for the way the board does business, I’d be hesitant to call them “very, very stupid people.” They seem to have played the game to their own advantage, even over the objections of some very, very smart people.

      1. Actually that alteration was suggested last night and rejected.

        I agree that they will of course make exceptions to the rule whenever they wish, but again, this demonstrates that this rule is intended to silence voices they don’t like.

        And I think we can agree that doing that, in a democracy, is wrong. Or am I mistaken about that?

      2. There is a postal zipcode that serves RSA with Huntsville as the address: 35808. There is also:
        Redstone Arsenal, AL 35898. Postal names aren’t the issue, however. People who live in the area served by the Owens Cross Roads PO go to County schools because they don’t live in the City, There is no Hampton Cove PO; it is a planned community within the City of Huntsville. But none of this matters. I could rent a PO Box in Barrow, Alaska, but that would not make me a resident of Barrow. There are four population areas in Huntsville-Madison County: the City of Huntsville, the City of Madison, the County (which includes towns with their own zip, like Toney and Hazel Green), and Redstone Arsenal, a military installation. If you dialed 911 from housing on the Arsenal, military police would respond, not Huntsville City’s.

        And yes, “stupid” was not the best word I could have chosen to describe the five BOE members. I’m not sure what word though to use to describe people who consistently do not consider the implications of their actions. Or perhaps they do, and go right ahead anyway. “Arrogant” may be better.

        1. The neighborhoods out Taylor Lane, surrounding Goldsmith Schiffman Elementary all have Owens Cross Roads mailing addresses. They are zoned for Huntsville City Schools. On the Hampton Cove HOA website, this is the guidance regarding mailing addresses: “Hampton Cove is serviced by the Owens Cross Roads Post Office (zip code 35763). You may use Hampton Cove or Owens Cross Roads as the city name.” Those residents are zoned for Huntsville City Schools.

          1. https://www.madison.k12.al.us/Schools/oxrs/default.aspx
            Owens Cross Roads School is a county school.

            Monrovia Elementary and Monrovia Middle have Huntsville addresses: 1030 Jeff Rd.Huntsville, AL 35806 and 1216 Jeff Rd. Huntsville, AL 35806. https://www.madison.k12.al.us/Schools/default.aspx. They too are county schools

            It would seem as if an address with “Huntsville” would mean the address is in Huntsville city limits. But it does not. I have no idea why it doesn’t, but there you are.

            The City’s website says: “The U.S. Postal Service defines ‘areas’ within each county that are served by certain Post Offices. The territory that each Post Office delivers to is not constrained by city limits. The postal zones may cover sections of incorporated areas as well as unincorporated areas. For example, the Owens Cross Roads Post Office delivery territory includes addresses within the city limits of Huntsville, Owens Cross Roads and many rural residents outside any city jurisdiction. So you may live within the city limits of Huntsville and have an Owens Cross Roads mailing address.” http://www.hsvcity.com/GIS/faq/FAQ.htm#6._Why_does_my_mailing_address_have_a_different_city_name_than_where_I_actually_live_

            Here’s a map that defines the city limits: http://www.huntsvilleal.gov/gis/gis_maps/pdfs/city_limits.pdf

      3. Honestly folks, the aforementioned remarks debating city limits is akin to the “look, there’s a squirrel” cartoon. Having said that, no, RSA is federal land and technically not a part of the city, but I digress.

        Having had a phone conversation with David Blair a few years ago (over Wardynski changing the name of Lee High School just because he wanted to and with no prior mention of his plans before simply taking the name off the building), I can assure you that Mr. Blair has no problem thinking his constituents are at the very least uneducated if not stupid. His implication to me was obvious when he told me “I’ve never seen people so concerned and attached to a high school. I and others feel that way about their college but I don’t even know if my high school is still standing.” I assured him that I too felt that way about my college, but was fairly certain no one was going to change the name of Auburn University anytime soon, at which time he openly expressed surprise that I was a college graduate. The statements by him and Robinson that they don’t think the newly elected board members are capable of making a good decision on the superintendent’s contract extension is even further proof of their complete narcissism.

        These people are the very definition of arrogance and whether or not they are stupid, they seem to blindly follow Wardynski in whatever he wants. They do not care that they are there to serve the people (who they supposedly work for) but rather seem to believe they are there to lead the ignorant citizens they represent.

        At this point the issue really is what can we, as the ignorant masses, do to stop this contract issue? And this is not a redundant question; there needs to plan. I, for one, will be onboard.

          1. Rhonda, I agree with you — I tend to get diverted, My main interest in the whole RSA thing is that for so many people in HSV, the fact that their superintendent is a retired COLONEL seems to mean they think he can do no wrong. By sitting quietly while his BOE screwed military families I think he showed his true colors. His top — his only — priority is maintaining his power. So where is the outcry?

            I think we’ve gone through this here before but I can’t remember the outcome of the discussion: are BOEs allowed to do exactly what they please? Is the only hope waiting for the elections — knowing fully well that most people are not going to vote?

            1. Listen, I have seen retired Colonels and far more who, although holding high rank, are complete idiots outside of their chosen field. I have heard Wardynski claim he is an engineer, a businessman, experienced in security, qualified in the field of education, and a host of other specialties. Yes, he’s done it all and is an icon in his own head. What worries me just as much are all the dimly lit folks who voted for these Board members knowing full and well what we’re getting. I moved here years ago precisely because of the school system. Today, if I was looking to move to this area, Huntsville certainly would NOT be on my radar.

  2. If someone (like me) was very new to any of this and wanted to join forces to request financial information re: AMEX payments – how would I do that? My thought is if I can rally people to do the same, then just the QUANTITY of requests couldn’t go ignored? Maybe? Because I want the information too.

    (And if this is a really stupid question, I apologize. I know you know your stuff and I apologize for not knowing mine.)

    1. Zoot,

      There is never any need to apologize for asking a question. I should have included this information in the post.

      The CSFO for the district is Mr. Jason Taylor. His email is Jason.Taylor@hsv-k12.org. His office phone number is 256-428-6851.

      You can find this information on the district’s Financial page site at http://www.huntsvillecityschools.org/?DivisionID=11142&DepartmentID=11324

      For the record, in the past Mr. Taylor has, at least eventually, provided me the information that I have requested. The issue is that this is yet another level of obfuscation on the part of the district, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to know when they have actually provided all of the information that has been requested.

      A good example of this may be seen in the numbers that Elisa Ferrell posted on her campaign FB page on September 29, 2014. Ms. Ferrell, a potential board member and Wardynski supporter, requested information about payments to T&W Operations the company connected to Wardynski’s spying program. The answer even she received initially represented barely half of the funds that we’ve actually paid T&W Operations.

      As of this morning, she still hadn’t received an explanation.

      https://www.facebook.com/elisaforeducation/posts/782955851798528?comment_id=784974298263350&offset=0&total_comments=18&notif_t=feed_comment_reply

      Thanks for reading and for asking the question!

      Russell

  3. I wonder if we are losing the potential for cash discounts on these purchases made with AMEX. Typically, vendors incur a substantial fee (in the form of a percentage of the amount charged) when a customer uses a credit card. From my days in retail, I recall that AMEX charges a higher percentage than other companies (which is why it is less commonly accepted than other plastic). This is because AMEX does not make money on consumer interest the way other companies do. I’d be curious how the $35,000 kickback that we get from AMEX measures against any potential discounts we’d receive for paying without plastic. And I also wonder if AMEX is one of the companies that has been so hot to commercialize public education.

    1. Good questions.

      While many private companies have pushed corporate reform, I have not noticed AMEX as one that has been regularly pushing for educational reform.

      Honestly, McManus seemed as shocked by the amount as anyone.

    2. “The ‘citizen’ part of it, to me, means citizens of Huntsville,” Blair said. “At least, that’s my opinion.”

      Blair also said there are councils and board across the country that do not allow citizen comments, and that the Huntsville area is “lucky” that is not the case here. ”

      For those of you with short memories, when David Blair served on the BOE during his first term in 2004, he moved from the district he was elected to represent (5) to another district 2) and did not tell anyone. When it came to light he had moved he lied and said he had an apartment in District 5 which wasn’t true.
      “During Blair’s first tenure on the board as the District 5 representative, questions were raised about his living outside of the district. He held residences in both District 5 and District 2.

      Blair said he now lives in a house on Drake Avenue, which is in District 2.

      “When you talk to the community, nobody cares,” he said, of the question about his residence.”
      http://blog.al.com/breaking/2010/08/david_blair_seeking_return_to.html

      And let not forget about this little nugget:
      HUNTSVILLE, Ala. _ City city school board members Topper Birney, Jennie Robinson and David Blair need a lecture on the state’s open meetings law. Honesty and public trust should be part of that lesson.

      Only a week or so after the municipal elections, the three huddled privately at a local restaurant to discuss board business, including the search for a superintendent and who might be the next school board chairman. Times special projects editor Challen Stephens reported on the restaurant rendezvous on Thursday.

      As it turns out, Birney was elected board chairman and he immediately placed Blair and Robinson in charge of the superintendent search.

      If that was coincidence, it sure seems fishy. Even if the leadership selections weren’t influenced by that meal time pow wow, what were they thinking?
      http://blog.al.com/times-views/2010/11/editorial_school_dealings_in_d.html

  4. So many things wrong here I don’t know where to start.

    So let me see if I have this right..you have to be a resident of the City of Huntsville to address the BOE,but your school age children don’t have to attend Huntsville City Schools for you to serve on the school board?

    You must be a resident of the City of Huntsville to address the BOE but you don’t have to be a resident to be employed by or do business with Huntsville City Schools?

    What if the residents of Madison stopped spending money in the city of Huntsville?

    Call me crazy, but passing policies to suppress dissent sounds like something an evil dictator would do, not elected officials in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  5. I do recall that the HCS is no longer required to verify the residency of any student. Are you telling me I have to present ID to speak when they don’t even care who attends the schools?

    A good portion of our teachers don’t live in Huntsville city limits. But the Super already told all the teachers to keep their mouths shut, so they won’t complain about not being able to speak at the meetings.

    Wasn’t Wardynski hired from out of town? I suggest to the board if “outsiders” are not allowed to speak, then we better quit hiring out of town personnel, vendors, service contractors, architects, etc. How are we going to bring in folks from the outside to audit or hire if they can’t speak to the board in the open meetings. What if the governor or the president decided to stop in for a visit and speak at the board meeting? Seems like a lack of brain power went into this decision.

    If I’m not allowed to ask a question or make a comment to the HCS in a public meeting, then there is a serious problem. And they are wrong – it’s not their meeting. It’s my meeting. It’s your meeting. It’s our meeting.

    Wardynski’s contract should never have been extended under any circumstances. He should be on a year to year renewal like all the other new teachers. He should be concerned that every crappy thing he does will jeopardize his fat paycheck. Instead he does what he wants, and not one board member has any professional courage or personal courage for that matter.

    The HCS board just played the community a dirty blow and they know it. Shame on them. None of them deserve to serve our community, because they have shown that they don’t represent us. Anyone want to bet that a private meeting took place to get these two major decisions (shut your mouth and super forever) passed.

    As to the use of a credit card… great bookkeeping idea. Love that the Super is so creative in finances. You’ve got to give it to the guy. He’s a genius at getting around public knowledge of his actions. Purchase whatever you want, whenever you want, don’t let anyone know. I wonder how many services/supplies/technology for special education students have been made on the AMEX. Strange how the HCS doesn’t have money readily available for those needs, but they can whip out the ole plastic for anything else the Super wants.

    Sucks to be us I guess. You parents, teachers, and other concerned folks (that are legal residents of Huntsville) are just out of luck.

    It’s amazing how devious and underhanded the HCS board has acted. I hate to say it, but I thought they were just incompetent. I guess I would have preferred that to them being obvious low down dirty rotten scoundrels.

  6. Russell,

    In response to the following…

    Birney alone questioned this proposal stating that the “lame duck” board members should allow the newly elected board members to make this decision. But Blair response that the new board members will take a while to get up to speed, and that “we know best.”

    My husband said, “It shouldn’t take long for a new board member to get up to speed. All they have to do is learn to say yes!”

  7. I found Robinson’s question about adding verbiage so that employees of Huntsville City Schools to be very condescending to our teachers and support staff. Does she actually think that because she mumbled something one time like ‘gee, lets be nice to our teachers’ that the teachers will actually vote for her?? David Blair, of course, shot it down…”yeah….we could BUT….”

  8. “And what’s best for the district is to expand Dr. Wardynski’s contract for one year to June 30, 2017, and to make this new contract “auto-renewing” or “evergreen” as Robinson called it. An auto-renewing contract means that the board will never again have to vote to extend the superintendent’s contract. From this point forward, the board will never have to extend the superintendent’s contract again. It will automatically renew unless the board votes to not renew.”

    Ah … the lame duck puppets finally bestow “dictator in perpetuity” status to Dr. Wardynski … just like Julius Caesar. The “feed stock” now report to the Emperor for LIFE. He “will have more flexibility in his next term”.

  9. Any government seeking to rule against the will of the people is not legitimate. It is deeply concerning that our school board has sought to further restrict public comment. When I am elected feel free to text me while I am sitting behind the microphone during board meetings. I will do my best to express your concerns through my microphone. The members of the school board have forgotten why they have been elected. My personal cell phone number is (256) 698-4933.

    1. If not NOW, WHEN?? You have the press’s ear NOW. Use it. You can’t count on being elected, so let’s not focus on the future. Right NOW you have access to the media. Right NOW is the time to be speaking out.

      Frankly, this idea of waiting until after the election is not so impressive. Are you scared that if you take on Wardynski NOW you won’t be elected? If you aren’t elected will you continue to come to BOE meetings and speak out?

      Unless all three new reps to the BOE vote to rescind the evergreening of W, that won’t happen: McCaulley and Culbreath do more brown-nosing on Thursday nights than my dog has ever done at a dog park.

      The NSA lies have gotten international media attention. Run with it NOW. I am convinced the only way to get rid of W is to make him such an embarrassment to Broad Academy that they do it for us.

      Run with the exclusion of military families. This is a military town, remember? When I think of all the billions Huntsvillians have made off the military, and the indifference shown to this latest outrage, I am disgusted.

      Changing the definition of stakeholders to HSV citizens means these people no longer have a Board member, although technically I guess they never did, since they do not vote in City elections.

      And the Board rep of the schools their children attend? Culbreath (“The HCS: Good Enough for Your Kids — But Not for Mine”). Likelihood of a property developer giving an underdone damn for families with a median income of $32,000? Won’t bother to answer.

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