Sunday, March 20, 2011

Finally - the Third Leg to the Crisis Stool

The Times has a revealing article about Fred Stephens, former head of Facilities and Silas Potter's enabler/friend/supporter.  I was wondering when someone in the mainstream media might want to examine his record.  The Times does a fairly good job but does miss/leave out a few parts.

For me, it jogs my memory back to several Board meetings.  (I keep most of the Board agenda's at meetings where I have spoken and so I can recall testimony from other speakers.)  The article starts off with African-American activists wanting more access/opportunities to bid on SPS construction contracts.


I have been wondering if Mr. Stephens left because he wanted a new job or because he knew the walls were closing in.  Probably both.  It probably helped that he knew Gary Locke and could lobby for a job at the Department of Commerce. 

One huge issue that most don't know is that in early 2008, his son was murdered.  Stephens eventually took leave for 3-weeks to attend the murder trial.  All of us can completely understand how you might go into shock and then blank/numb/distracted over this situation at your job. 

There are still a number of people who could shed some light on this story.  One of them is former Board member, Mary Bass.  I have reached out to Mary with whom I had cordial relations but she has remained silent.

Another is Ron English, the legal counsel at the district who oversees facilities' legal issues.  He certainly worked extensively with Stephens and Potter.  He certainly cooperated with both investigations.  He seems to have not been involved with Potter's relocation plans (although he was made aware of them when Potter was trying to get an office in Bellevue remodeled on the district's dime).  It would seem to me that he, of all people, had no fear of retribution and yet did not go to the Board or the Superintendent with his doubts.  (He did express them to Stephens.)  

Stephens probably, in some way, thought he was doing good for the African-American community.  (He received an award in 2007 from a business group for economic development in public contracting).   Apparently, there was this feeling from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as well.  There is a series of e-mails between Stephens, Potter and Goodloe-Johnson that refer to an event sponsored by an African-American business group where they are mutually complementary with each other and it is pointed out that other African-Americans need to remember that Goodloe-Johnson is a "sister."

Fred told people he trusted Potter.  Apparently that is his nature:

When Stephens was with King County, his secretary stole about $24,000, court records show. Carol Stevenson forged her name on county-issued checks, ran up a county credit card and gave herself an unauthorized $10-an-hour raise. She was convicted of theft and reimbursed the county.  Stephens told the court he had given her "total access to every operation.

The end, as I have heard from several sources, was a loud argument in the SPS headquarters' parking lot between Stephens and Potter when Potter came to return the $35k.  Potter wanted Stephens to take it and Stephens insisted Potter take it into Security. 

Stephens works as the Department of Commerce's deputy assistant secretary for administration with duties including oversight of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization making $155,000 per year.

I have spoken with a couple of people at Commerce (they are aware of this situation) but they feel Stephens has done his part in the investigation.  I have to say that if there are legal proceedings, Stephens will not be able to dodge a subpoena and will have to take the stand and tell the truth.

I used to think that Fred was one of the good guys.  He was always quiet, dapper and completely the opposite of Potter in terms of need for attention.  He was always polite to me.  Whether he is worried about blowback to himself, whether Potter was his friend or whether he thought he was doing good, the bottom line is he continues to hurt the district by not being completely forthcoming.

23 comments:

zb said...

Didn't Britta leave a comment on one for the previous threads describing the school board's involvement in the minority contracting project? Perhaps she would send that comment or info in a format that doesn't get buried in the mass of discussion.

I understand why the board might have thought the idea was a good one, though it has the kind of flaw that government programs sometimes have in boom times: of wanting to do everything, rather than sticking with their mission. Encouraging minority contractor access to government contracts is a good thing, but it's certainly outside of the core mission of the public schools.

(Of course, historically, straight forward discrimination and bias were rampant in the system, and a case could be made for mitigating the effects of past bad behaviors; but if one is going this route, the efforts should be documented, and they should have been Seattle-government wide, not just limited to the school system).

someone said...

What I found interesting was the part about his secretary embezzling funds - I have to really wonder if this is truly a demonstration of someone who puts too much trust in underlings as suggested, or just a seriously poor manager. Either way, it raises so many red flags, that I cant help but wonder how/why he successfully received the position with Locke.


The other interesting point that was raised in the Seattle Times comments dealt with the need for at least 3 bids if a project was over XX dollars - how DID Potter et al get that by purchasing - were fake bids submitted to give the appearance of having followed the correct process or ??????

Clearly there are so many more layers to this story - the ripple effects of it are mindboggling.

Not to mention the poor leadership exhibited by the Board - beyond time for a sea change there when election season rolls around...

seattle citizen said...

Melissa said, "I keep most of the Board agenda's at meetings where I have spoken and so I can recall testimony from other speakers"

Has anyone contacted the Seattle Channel and asked them how they archive their meeting videos? On their site, there are meetings going back five years. Do they keep them all forever? Are they collected anywhere else? Can we collect them onto this blog?

Who can transcribe them all into a searchable format and post them here on SaveSeattleSchools (or a possible new platform for this blog?)

What other video, paper and digital primary sources are there to collect? I know some people are doing something like this, organizing files, but is there a place tasked only with this?

Follow the paper(bytes).

seattle citizen said...

Seattle Channel Public Schools meetings

Word Verifier says they're our CHUMS

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I wasn't speaking directly to the Board's involvement with Silas. I was saying that Mary Bass appeared to know Silas better than some of the other directors. I say that because I would sometimes see them talking and laughing before meetings.

I thought the initial idea of a Board policy that stated the district would support small/minority business by having information available to those groups was a fine idea. That it morphed into what it was obviously was wrong and completely not what the Board had imagined. That none of the Board at the time thought to wonder why it was growing is troubling.

SP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SP said...

Actually, there are archived Board Agendas (including live links to all the supporting documents!) on the Board's page, going back to 2005-06 (links to documents starts woth 2007-08). There's an incredible amount of information saved here (I sure hope the new website doesn't dissappear it).

Just look for Board Meeting Agendas on the Board page and scroll way to the bottom for the archives.

There are also powerpoints from all the Board Work sessions, meaningless meeting minutes, etc.

Anonymous said...

What we can't talk about in Seattle . . .

Is delicately danced around in this Seattle Times article - understandable because it is not ok to think this - there is an amazing, not-so-hidden power base at the heart of SPS that is rooted in Seattle's African-American community and is a driver in the inner workings of the district.

What we can't talk about in Seattle

Melissa Westbrook said...

What we can't talk about, am I understanding that you believe that the district is influenced by beliefs/wants from the African-American community and it comes from within?

dan dempsey said...

The problem is even larger .....

"there is an amazing, not-so-hidden power base at the heart of SPS that is rooted in Seattle's African-American community and is a driver in the inner workings of the district."

because this power base is all about adult interests and the African-American students are not benefiting ... There is no doubt that this power base is all about adult interests.... What is the core mission of this district? ==>

A Mission is to talk about the Achievement Gaps and .... then do "ZERO" about them.

WenD said...

What's telling are the comments from board members praising Potter and Stephens:

"Board members, who didn't seem fazed by their admissions, heaped praise on Potter. Board member Cheryl Chow went so far as to plead with him not to look for work elsewhere.

"This is really a huge success, and we're grateful to you and Mr. Stephens ... " said board member Michael DeBell.

"You're one of the most highly respected individuals in the small-business community," board member Harium Martin-Morris told Potter. "You represent the district very well in that community."

@What we can't talk about: I don't think Potter's scam, nor Stephens blind trust, have anything to do with race. Silas Potter would emerge as a con artist no matter where he lived or who his grandmother was.

Last month, Debell said something about culture when asked about this latest scandal. The board have been suckers for years. It's part of - their - culture.

On the inside........... said...

"The other interesting point that was raised in the Seattle Times comments dealt with the need for at least 3 bids if a project was over XX dollars - how DID Potter et al get that by purchasing - were fake bids submitted to give the appearance of having followed the correct process or ??????"

That doesn't apply to personal services contracts. And, they can always claim a sole source. From everything I've heard and read, there were no bids for those consultant contracts.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't hush-money to appease those upset by closures. It was hush money to those who will cry "racism" at every decision they don't agree with. Give them some money to shut them up! In that sense, the program worked perfectly.

Meanwhile the same struggling kids continue to struggle, sorely needed counselors get the axe, the achievement gap persists, and the holy trinity of union-busting - Gates/Broad/Walton - continue getting whatever they want, wherever they want it.

Maybe they'll go away if we give them another tax cut!

wseadawg

On the inside... said...

@WenD: "@What we can't talk about: I don't think Potter's scam, nor Stephens blind trust, have anything to do with race."

But that's exactly what is was all about. Potter was so obsessed with race that he only hired African American contractors.

On the inside... said...

...and unqualified ones at that.

joanna said...

Interesting that different things stand out to each of us. What popped out to me as it did to WenD was the Board's praise for him in the face of public admissions of acting against District policy. The way I see it, in part, is that the District was in the midst of a complicated scheme to implement neighborhood assignment plans much of which was controversial and expensive. Each of the Board members in w the midst of making their deals and did not want any publicity to shine controversy toward the handling of finances or the new plans and disrupt their plans and passing the levy. They didn't want to know. They didn't care. They just wanted everybody to be happy and loved everyone who kept some perceived constituency happy and out of the way. Remember constituents in the Central District and the South End were living in the areas most negatively affected by the plan.

Much of the article contained information already known but did do a decent job of outlining Stephen's role and the time line of when he was involved. I didn't know when Stephens started lobbying for a job or who he was in contact with at Commerce. Details are always interesting.

kprugman said...

So why not conclude, that there's still another group of vendors (e.g. the Stephens/Potter shell) that haven't been exposed (yet). The game in your neck of the woods looks a shade like the one used in California and it involved more than one district and former State Superintendent (Delaine Easton). This has all been pointed out before when it was posted years ago.

From Wikipedia - 2007
"In the early 1990s California's Department of Education gave millions of dollars in federal funds to some community groups; it was subsequently alleged by departmental civil servants that "much of the money was siphoned off by executives of the supposedly non-profit groups for purposes such as their own salaries and expensive cars", and that this was due to their political connections with Eastin and members of the California state legislature."

Those were some interesting times for so many people LOL. Eastin and her cronies were siphoning away Federal funds as were several school districts involving shells and rigged bidding. Only $4 million could be traced directly to her. Why not conclude that Potter just happenned to be so stupid that he got caught?

Just sayin said...

WenD is correct it is not about race. There's been the haves and have nots and it continues due to cronyism in many ways across the spectrum within the district. People getting promotions in the principal ranks based on who they know as just one example. One might ask why certain people have become upper mgmt so quickly. It's not been just African Americans, but other races and sometimes specific people of a specific gender as well. (I'm not naming names as I don't want this post to be deleted please.). If you've been around the district for awhile you known who the players are. Again one can look at the financial fiascos under olchefske to recognize corruption and con artists have existed across the board over the years. Also though some may think there's a black power base including those that think they are the movers and shakers, there are many in the community that DO NOT RESPECT OR SEE THOSE individuals as important players in the education of any child in SPS.

ArchStanton said...

@kprugman

That's what I'm thinking. Potter just got caught. With the general lack of oversight and accountability, it seems unlikely that there aren't more scams happening - only by people better at covering their tracks.

Keep the heat on - and look for anyone furiously shredding with a guilty look on their face.

On the inside... said...

I don't see a "black power base" at all. I just see Silas being obsessed with race. Note that email that Melissa refers to where Silas says that those business "leaders" at that breakfast need to know that she is a "sister" first. WTH is that supposed to mean?

Anyways, I think I am right. :-) I'm just sayin....

Anonymous said...

Takes me back to the good ole days when J Stanford fired people for the "appearance" of wrongdoing (like in the real world.)

http://www.seattlepi.com/archives/1996/9609040050.asp

grumpy

emeraldkity said...

WTH is that supposed to mean?

I wonder what sort of rep Seattle has amongst those in education in other states/districts.

I would agree that these characters behaved in a way that suited them & that had nothing to do with race-
however, it is convenient to use race as an excuse anytime someone had a concern with someone who happens to be a minority, if you are the sort of person who feels no shame at crying "black" & I have seen that problem before certain persons in administration.
But I don't understand why respected members of the African American community are not louder at speaking out against those who do this.

zb said...

Why hasn't Anonymous@3:20 been deleted? It doesn't look like it has a signature to me?

And my policy is to not respond unsigned anonymous posts. It creates issues when they eventually get deleted.