Monday, February 28, 2011

How Did This Get Started?

I actually don't have time to get into this in depth but let me explain what I know about how this idea about outreach to small businesses that are minority/woman-owned. (I will try to flesh this out more later or, hopefully, some media-type will do it.)

This started with an idea from former School Board member Mary Bass. It became a policy (but again, I don't have the policy number or date in front of me). What I understood it to be was merely a way to say to those smaller companies, "Here is a staff person you can call with questions. He/She can help guide you through the process." In addition, I think they were probably going to make a small brochure with tips and maybe have a couple of classes a year on doing business with SPS.This work would be part of one person's job in capital.

That's it. No roster of classes, no roster of instructors, no personal service contracts so that prominent people in the community could do outreach. Just a way to broaden the base of vendors and show that SPS was trying to offer business on capital projects to companies big and small.

But it got away from upper management (or not) and morphed into the behemoth that Silas Potter created.

There are great questions like:
  • why did this program have its own website away from SPS?
  • why did the Port of Seattle, Tacoma Public Schools, etc. - why didn't any of these governmental entities ask, "Why would SPS be doing this and not, say, the Chamber of Commerce? Would would SPS give classes on doing work for entities not affiliated with SPS projects?"
  • why, after the program was dissolved, did the district absorb the 3 staff members working on back into Capital? If the program was gone, so were their jobs. Why keep them when we are a district lacking funds?
  • why were some payments to vendors funneled through either the Urban League or other vendors like QuickSource?
I believe this program (actually this policy) was created with the best of intentions and created as something very small. How it got to be what it was is hard to fathom.

Also, Phyllis Fletcher of KUOW did some interesting pieces about some of the community members who got paid for their "work." Here's one that was on the news and here's her segment from today's The Conversation.

She got some great quotes from Eddie Rye, a long-time activist in the African-American community.

Rye: "I tell you what. I almost lived this. I've been working for 40 years and never got paid because I believed in the program and I saw what it was doing for these small businesses. I gave far beyond what I billed for."

Fletcher: "Some people might hear that and think, 'well, just because that's something you have a passion for, does that mean that I have to pay for that?'"

Rye: "No, but I had a contract to do that. You know, it's almost like the vendors are the villains. Everything we did was approved by the Seattle School District."

From The Conversation piece:

Fletcher asked Mr. Rye about the Superintendent saying that Potter's program was too far down the chain of command for her to know about the problems.

Rye: (low chuckle) "Boy oh boy oh boy, that's a doozy there. The school district knew all about it. Maybe the Superintendent didn't know about it, there's a lot of things she don't know about, apparently."

Also, Charles Rolland has declined to talk to the Auditor except through a subpeona but he managed to open his mouth when the Times came calling. He declined to speak with Fletcher.

Also in the Conversation story, Phyllis points out what the Auditor also pointed out. Not only was Silas Potter going to Olympia and doing lobbying but the district paid former legislator, Velma Veloria, to do that as well. The district's legal counsel made it clear that no one had authorization to do this and that lobbying for the district is restricted. She says she was a victim of Silas Potter.

She said the County Prosecutor is investigating and that she wondered if the feds could become involved as the other entities who were sponsors of the program may have used federal funds to do so.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is in South Carolina with her ailing mother. No word on when she will return.

Lawyers help me, wouldn't Mr. Potter have to be charged with something (and arrested in Florida) before he could be extradited? You can extradite someone just to question them, right? Silas is the key (but also the Nderu, the recently forced out Internal Auditor) to unraveling the whole story (if he were to tell the whole truth). It might be interesting what he might say if he knew he could get off if he outed everyone involved.

28 comments:

Maureen said...

Sound Transit paid in $140,000 over 2008 and 2009. I don't know if that showed up as revenue to SPS and then was allocated to Potter and other staff or if it stayed in their department and was paid out to vendors.

wseadawg said...

People need to be wary of "the ends justifies the means" thinking that was clearly and abundantly present in this situation for a long time. Because the program was supposed to be helping disadvantaged folks, people looked the other way and let things slide. People like Potter are masters at exploiting those oversights, while seducing and duping people with their "we're on the same team" rhetoric.

Potter will probably redeem himself by selling Discovery Math texts somewhere. Sorry to be OT, but it would figure, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I looked at the programs website and wondered as you, if this program is being administered by SPS, why is the website outside the confines of the Central office website? that itself is fishy!
I too wonder how the central office Accounting Group qualified those $. Was it revenue or were they acting as a Third party and just paying the service contractors. Anyway you cut it , it looks fishy and the Manager of Accounting/Finance should have at least questioned the practices. How about the PORT, Belevue SD, who was minding the Till? didnt they have questions about this program, being run by SPS? A complete lack of oversight on the part of all these govt agencies.
jpr

Observer said...

To answer your first question about the separate website - Potter tried to establish his own private business around the spring of 2010 once he realized he was being shut down by SPS. I *believe* the website was created as a way to confuse vendors and funnel contracts to his private business. He most certainly chose a name (Regional Small Business Development Program - the same as his SPS program) to confuse vendors. That was how he was able to cash the $35,000 City of Tacoma check made out to the SPS RSBDP program in his private RSBDP business account instead. Same names.

I don't have time today to do much research on how this and other associated businesses and non-profits were registered, and to whom, but it would be a place to start. One article I read hinted that he was a co-founder of a non-profit along with Percy Jones, who is the City of Tacoma HUB contact. Jones was listed as a program sponsor contact (whatever that is) on Potter's private business website. Here is a link to a news story with some leads: http://www.nwcn.com/news/education/TIMES-Financial-scandal-hits-Seattle-Public-Schools-116736219.html

If I can find a little free time later tonight, I'm going to start a graph of everyone connected to Silas Potter, starting with all the contacts for each of he businesses that he dealt with, and what the connection(s) were. For example, Tony Orange received SPS RSBDP money through CAMP, and also submitted a recommendation letter as part of First AME's successful bid for the MLK property. It should be a time-consuming, but illuminating process.

Observer said...

Also, this very likely goes deeper than Silas Potter. The Seattle Times 2/26/2011 article on Potter mentions that he was tapped to create the small business program in 2005 by Fred Stephens (and hired over a much more qualified candidate, according to the article). It is possible that Stephens was in on it from the beginning, and knew exactly what Potter was doing. Stephens was the one with the contacts to the business and church community at the time, not Potter.

wseadawg said...

I want to extend many thanks to the bloggers and commenters on this blog. Through it all, this community is all about doing whats best for all SPS kids, no matter where they live and go to school.

As much as this scandal stinks, I choose to view it as a cleanup effort and discovery of funds that would have continued to be bled from the district into questionable contracts that did nothing for kids.

If we looked hard at district finances, I'll bet we'd find several examples of unaccounted for monies, year in and year out. But 2 million is a lot of money to stop flowing away from the classrooms and back toward them. If we never see a dime from Potter and his crew, at least we cut our losses going forward. Thanks MW, Charlie, and many others for being pit bulls in these matters.

It feels like we finally won a round for the good guys and gals, at long last. But we have the momentum too, so this could be a real opportunity to steer JSCEE back on track. I hope.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Observer, I was going to do that as well because there are so many players but please, go for it. What is interesting, if you read the audit work documents, are the connections. For example, Silas hired the son of one of the contractors the district uses.

Absolutely right, Wseadawg. My goal to get the Board to get things in motion (interim Superintendent, interim Operations with a clear plan of realignment at headquarter) so that the district can turn away from this craziness and completely concentrate on the business of education.

Once Silas is in hand and Nderu talks (with immunity), the King County prosecutor can take care of all the rest. That and the public shame to many of these vendors for playing dumb.

somesays said...

This is the link to the corp. registration info from Sec. of State for the private version of the program -

http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=602995498

Anonymous said...

Observer,
i did a bit of looking around. I agree with you, silas must have copied the RSBDP website and put it on the Wix site. orgionally there was a WWW.RSBDP.org site, referenced on facebook, but that site no longer exists. the district must have taken it down after the program was shutdown. Silas is still the admin contact as well as the tech contact on the domain name. not sure how the district will deal with that one but i suppose that is small compared to the issues.
Wonder did he put the site up before or after he resigned? i supposed we might hear about one day. need a forensic Accountant to follow the trail, and i bet there is a long trail leading the many people.
jpr

Observer said...

Another news article, this time decrying the people involved, and how the race card was used to intimidate. Note at the bottom of the article that the Urban League has called a press conference for Wed at 10am.

http://www.sableverity.com/playing-the-race-card-paved-the-way-for-fraud-in-seattle-schools/

Observer said...

New PI article detailing the lobbying efforts of Silas Potter in Olympia.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/436245_bill29.html

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Julie said...

OK, this is random. Today on Slog, Charles Mudede posted a cute picture of his cousin, saying he ought to go into politics. Turns out his cousin is the guy who awarded Silas Potter the Biz Dev award that they filmed that YouTube video for.

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/02/28/what-african-leader-should-look-like

Kathy said...

"Rye: (low chuckle) "Boy oh boy oh boy, that's a doozy there. The school district knew all about it. Maybe the Superintendent didn't know about it, there's a lot of things she don't know about, apparently."

Disturbing. Glad to have the quote. Subpoena time?

Kathy said...

"Rye: (low chuckle) "Boy oh boy oh boy, that's a doozy there. The school district knew all about it. Maybe the Superintendent didn't know about it, there's a lot of things she don't know about, apparently."

Disturbing. Glad to have the quote. Subpoena time?

wseadawg said...

You're right Anonymous. My thanks and sympathies extend to the decent, hardworking SSD employees who've had to lay low and swallow BS up to their necks during this administration's reign. There are many good people who work at JSCEE, but not enough in positions of power and influence, who understand what really works in education, and aren't politicians and scammers dressed up as educators. Thanks to all of you on the inside for hanging tough and doing your best.

seattle citizen said...

I can't wait to see the charts Observer and Melissa are promising (thank you both, I'm trying to connect dots and post here when I'm able.)

I suspect that this is just a small piece of the "helping disadvantaged folks" shucksterism that wseadawg references. This is "only" 1.8 million. What about all the other money (billions and billions) being fed to other high paid consultants, spokespeople, test-manufacturers, tutoring companies, et al, all based on the "helping disadavantaged folks" premise? All based on the achievement gap.

We know that there are gaps, we know that some students have more struggles than others, but we also know (more, now) that there are those that would profit on these struggles. (It's the American way?)

Charlie asks, how did this all get started? and I'd say that it started when people started to figure out they could make money playing the race card, they could make money off guilt, off systems set up to help people, off the real suffering of others.

2 million to RSBDP; 2 billion to RTTT; it's the same. Some is for good purposes (as Seattle's attempt to help contractors appears to have been when it started; others are for bad purposes (intentional or naive participation for profit in a larger system that predicates itself on the opporunity gap.)

The chart, I suspect, might include links to LEV, to A4E, to NWEA...who knows, but I suspect the chart will connect to some of the other "coalitions" and "community groups" that are so intent on reforming education, some with profit in mind.

Charles Rolland might have made thousands, or tens of thousands; the CEO of NWEA earns half a million a year.

Miterita said...

Melissa: I am bugged increasingly by the reports coming from inside (anonymously, for good reason -- though that does create a reliability issue) regarding the poisonous threats and efforts to retaliate against anyone who outs the horrible things going on or attempts to cooperate with the investigation and the public's right to know what the District is doing.

Since we can't know the identities or circumstances of any of the posters, we cannot be sure what is happening. But lets assume, for a minute, that what insiders are reporting is true, or mostly true. The creation of a hostile work environment, threats to retaliate against employees for actions that are within their legal rights, etc. -- all of this continues to put District resources at risk. How do we know that documents, emails, etc. are not being destroyed? How do we know that people are not being disciplined, or fired, for things that will give them causes of action against the District?

Given that a climate of fear, recrimination, and retaliation is outlined in the special investigator's report, the Board cannot (once again) do nothing while Rome burns and claim they had no knowledge. They DO know that this stuff goes on, and as a result, it increases the possibility that the District could be liable for the destruction of documents (if there is any) or damages claimed by people fired (or forced to leave) through or as a result of illegal activity. I am neither a criminal lawyer nor an employment expert, but I don't think the District can afford to leave what may, in a sense, be a "crime scene" in the hands of the criminals, just because MGJ decides not to come back to town.

Maybe they need to "temporarily suspend" her (especially if/since her mother is ill and she evidently needs to be out of town, and not on the job anyway) and put someone in there, in an emergency interim position, while they sort this out -- and then go in and basically confiscate all of the computers, etc. -- find out who has been monitoring other people's computers and phones, and why, and who has been deleting files, and why. And the board had better have really good legal counsel at this point, because if the inside stories are true, the bad guys are running amok.

Dora Taylor said...

Anyone want to take on a bet that GJ will not be at the Wednesday board meeting?

That's been her practice so far, duck out when the heat is on. That in itself speaks volumes about her character.

And wasn't her mother living with her here in Seattle? That was reported in a Seattle Woman's interview with the supe.

Doubter said...

Observer,

I just read about Silas Potter legislative involvement. SP was a furniture warehouse manager. I don't think he was smart enough to think of lobbying on his own.

Wonder if he got advice from someone informed about government procedures. Fred Stephens perhaps???

Guichon said...

"Disturbing. Glad to have the quote. Subpoena time?"

Really? You're going to put credence in what he says? The P.I. has an article about the grace of mercy business and says that Rye was a part of that. Anything he says is just trying to deflect attention and responsibility.

Observer said...

Doubter, I agree. My current thought is that Stephens hand-picked Potter to be his man on the street to funnel money out of SPS. Remember - Stephens went out of his way to hire Potter even though another candidate was pushed as being the *only* qualified on in the pool of applicants.

Stephens just didn't count on Potter putting his hand into the till too, and being such a loose cannon. None of this would have come to light if it weren't for the $35,000 check that Potter tried to steal.

I also strongly believe that we have not seen the end of it, either. I am waiting to see exactly WHERE all that money went. I bet that some of it went into the pockets of state legislators.

Anonymous said...

Calling bs: Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's mother lives with her here in Seattle.

In the know

Anonymous said...

"I believe this program (actually this policy) was created with the best of intentions and created as something very small. How it got to be what it was is hard to fathom."

You're kidding right? The nature of the program is essential to understanding why it got out of control and why no one stopped it. The report says clearly that anyone who challenged Potter was accused of 'racism'. Right there is the crux of the problem of why the program was not stopped.

wseadawg said...

In the school of thought known as "Disaster Capitalism," Milton Friedman devotees are taught that "every crisis provides an economic opportunity."

So since Reagan's embrace of Friedmanism over Keynesianism, every person looking to make a buck is motivated not only to convince people that every situation is a crisis (See current day Wisconsin, for example), but that huge change must happen right now or the union will fall tomorrow!

Ring familiar?

I hope as we venture forward in hiring a new administration, we can hire a steady handed person who won't foist phony crisis after phony crisis upon us in order to justify drastic, bone-headed steps, like Discovery Math, for example. "We have to do SOMETHING, because books are falling apart..."

Elmer Fudd says be vewwy, vewwy, wewwy of who you hire.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a campaign to get the Urban League, Charles Rolland, Tony Orange, Elaine Ko and all the others who received school district funds via Silas Potter to repay those funds back to the district. I would like to see them stand up and take some responsibility for diverting funds that coudl otherwise gone to direct services for the students in the school district. Realistically I don't think they would re-pay the $ - but I'd love to see some public pressure on them to do so. Jane

Secret Insider said...

In the early 90's, 92 or 93 as I recall, Seattle passed a technology levy to put computer labs in schools. This was before the internet, so they were primarily used for word processing and such. The summer before schools were to get their computers, there was a hold up in the process. A set percentage of contracts was to go to businesses with the Minority and Women's designation, which I think was something that people could register their business under with the State. Unfortunately there were no such businesses that dealt with computer equipment and peripherals, and the purchase and delivery was delayed because of it. At the time, I could understand if a portion of contracts was to go to Minority owned businesses, and felt that was justified since I'm an advocate of affirmative action; however, there were no minority owned businesses in existence that dealt with computers, so I asked why we didn't just purchase them from the dealer that was chosen. The districts answer was to help someone set up a business that could take the contract. So this sort of thing has been happening for a long time in Seattle School District. It just got worse under Potter.

Sandy Blight said...

GROSS PAY - $125,000
Superintendent MGJ relied on Holly Ferguson to write and revise all Board Policies.
Small Business Works was a stale board policy that Holly Ferguson needed to revise.
Holly Ferguson did not do her job.

GROSS PAY - $110,000
Second: Superintendent MGJ relied on Roy (Ronic) Lirio to clean up financial records. Ronic failed in his job and he was rewarded with a new job that whose title was obscure at best - Strategic Management Manager. Ronic should have reviewed the role of the Small Works, but did not. Ronic did not do his job.

GROSS PAY $130,000
John Harman Duggan was expected to provide reliable financial statements. To this day, Seattle Schools does not have a set of reliable financial statements. John Harman Duggan did not do his job.

(These numbers are close estimates and maybe more if you includeded benefits. )