Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Sad Reminder

Last week I heard a story on KUOW by Phyllis Fletcher about the sale of Queen Anne High.

As you may recall (this from her story):

"The district closed Queen Anne High in 1981, and leased it to a developer. The lease let the developer turn the school into apartments, and then condos.

State law says the district should have gotten the school appraised, and sold it for at least 90 percent of its value. The district realized the Queen Anne contract broke that law three years ago. District lawyers said it wasn’t worth it to try to get out of the deal. So they’re stuck with the terms: 12% of each sale.

Even at prices from three years ago, the District’s take would have been less than the assessed value of the land alone."

So the news that Phyllis was reporting was that all the condos did not sell (including the $1M penthouse) and that the remainder were going up for auction. They were expected to sell (for example, the penthouse was starting at $650,000) for what are great prices.

The upshot is the district gets EVEN less out of their completely botched deal.

It has never been clearly explained how this happened.

The person who negotiated this deal still works at the district and does property management. Without a clear explanation of how this all got away from the district, it is hard to imagine how this person still has a job.

And, if you ever wonder why Charlie and I have our doubts about the running of this district, this is a poster story for why.


Karrie said...

And having to walk by it almost every day is like salt in the wound given the current assignment plan discussion around reference schools....

dan dempsey said...

You mean that not everyone is held accountable?

How shocking!!! Tell me it isn't so.

Anonymous said...

So Melissa, when are you going to run for School Board?

Seriously. You are one of the most knowledgeable "citizens" around; you were on the CAC, so you've worked through tough SPS issues; you know all the major players; and you already dedicate a ton of time here on the blog disseminating information to the masses. Why not take it the next step, where you could truly help make things happen?

You have a couple years to think it over, but so far Sherry hasn't shown any leadership, or even any inclination to ask the hard questions we all know need to be asked, and that seems unlikely to change. Is this something you might at least consider? Can we encourage? ;-)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well None, thanks for the kind words. I am in Harium's area actually, not Sherry's. I think Harium is a pretty good director and if were to run again, I would support him. If he didn't, well, that would give me pause.

I, like Charlie, have given it much thought and I do feel the pull of wanting to try to better this district. I'll just have to see when the time comes.

For now, I'm going to work to get Charlie elected.

MoneyPenny said...

Not true that the person who negociated the deal is still at the district. The deal was set in 1986, with a poor option contract. Took a long time for the developer to take advantage of the option, but once the developer did, there was no way out of it.

Michael said...

MoneyPenny is correct. The deal you are referring to was consummated back in the mid-to-late 80's. The person at the District that you refer to was not employed by the District at the time. So that is why he still has his job. Chris should have been able to tell you this based on information he received.

Unknown said...

I am sorry, but no wonder people who work for the district aren't fond of communicating with the folks that post on this blog. You flat out maligned someone without knowing the facts.

Melissa Westbrook said...

A) I said no names so you don't really know who I referring to.
B) I was told by someone, in Facilities, that the person was still there. So that would mean that people in the district don't have their facts correct. Whether the person worked for the district at the time doesn't matter; clearly, not a good contract writer.
C)Yes, I know when this occurred (it's in the text of the post).

Nothing like shooting the messenger.

BadgerGal said...


Thank you and your colleagues for your contributions here - and for being one of MANY sources that keep SPS parents and community members informed.

My guess would be that "those in the district" aren't fond of communicating with "those on this blog" because they know there are too many truths told here - and most of them are part of a system in which they feel powerless to change it. Change must come from the top.

Free said...

We'll never know the depth of corruption and insider dealing in SPS. What other agency would hire someone who was found, in an independent audit of his previous job, to practice hire his buddies at the top of the payscale?

Seattle Times-- King County Personnel Director corruption scandal

Free said...

practice cronyism, that is

Charlie Mas said...

It's like I often say: I don't know the truth; I only know what the District tells me.

Anonymous said...

Melissa said: " I am in Harium's area actually, not Sherry's. I think Harium is a pretty good director and if were to run again, I would support him. If he didn't, well, that would give me pause."

My bad. My 2 min of digging led me believe you were in District II. If we're lucky, maybe you'll find yourself moving in the next couple years. ;-) But if you did, I'd wish for district 1 !

Okay, more seriously....

I agree that Harium is a pretty good director - probably the best we have right now. I don't agree with him on everything (and I think he needs to let go of what worked back east a bit), but I do believe he is thoughtful, willing to ask the district at least a few questions of merit, and he listens and responds to the public via his blog. If for some reason his work quality went downhill, or if he decided not to run next time I'll be leading the cheer for you to fill the gap!

In the meantime, we need to start early (like now) to figure out how to support Charlie in his run for VII. (Declare soon, Charlie!) Cheryl has a long-recognized name, a large following, and a well-oiled political machine. As poor a board member as she is, that will not be an easy battle.

Michael said...


You may have not said any names, but there is one person that is the property manager at the district, and his name is on their website. So, yes, we know who you are talking about.

People at the district not having command of the facts is par for the course (especially in facilities). So why do you even listen to them?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Read what Charlie wrote; if the people in charge either don't know the truth or don't tell the truth, what exactly am I to do? I have only their word.

Unknown said...

What, are you in the third grade? "Someone told me?" Come on.

Charlie Mas said...

Marie is deeply concerned that the reputation of an un-named district employee has been maligned, but she does not hesitate to malign the reputation of every single one of them by suggesting that we should never believe anything that any one of them tells us.

Michael and others should know that interviews and conversations with District employees are often the only source of information about District news. We acknowledge this method is not 100% reliable, and so disclose it as the source and allow people to make their own judgements about the credibility.

What is the alternative?

I would remind Michael, Marie and others that if this sort of information is unreliable they should discount it when Mel or I pass it along, not discount the act of passing it.

anonymous said...

I like Harium. I love that he has a blog and responds to his constituents. I love that he asks staff tough questions. I love that he is not afraid to vote "no".

But I don't feel as though he is a leader. Instead of acting alone, I wish he would try to motivate the other board members. And when he asks staff the tough questions, I wish he would hold them accountable instead of just moving on. These two things would make Harium go from a good board director, to an exceptional leader in our district.

Anonymous said...

adhoc said: (regarding Harium) "I wish he would try to motivate the other board members."

I don't think we can pretend to know what goes on behind the scenes between the board members. Harium has said he speaks with the other board members on a regular basis. Nearly every day during the closure-analysis period. It's altogether possible that he was working as hard as possible (or not?) on that front. The only thing we *can* see is that neither he nor Mary seem able to break any of the main voting bloc from their rubber stamp mentality.

adhoc followed with "And when he asks staff the tough questions, I wish he would hold them accountable instead of just moving on."

YES!! And this is not aimed at Harium in particular - at least he's asking moderately tough questions - it's aimed at every one of the board members. They ask questions, then nod at the answers and move on. Even when the answers don't address the meat of the question, are grossly misleading, or even obvious lies. When is the last time a board member responded with "That's total BS! Try again!" ?

While I didn't care for all of Darlene's positions, I did respect her willingness to stand up and tell the staff when they did a terrible job gathering data or reporting back to the board. There's a fine line between holding the district accountable and being labeled "disfunctional".

Charlie Mas said...

The trick is to hold the staff accountable in a professional and courteous way. Darlene Flynn was not always professional and courteous. Neither was Irene Stewart, for that matter. I'm not saying that their complaints were not legitimate, but they sometimes belittled the staff when shoddy work was submitted.

These Board members didn't seem to understand that no one had ever required the staff to do quality work before and the staff honestly didn't know what was expected of them or how to do it. There wasn't a single member of the staff who was prepared to support their recommendations with data and a sound rationale because no one had ever asked them to do it before.

Where I work every proposal I make is challenged and I have to defend it. Every decision is subjected to peer review. I wouldn't open my mouth to suggest something unless I was ready to cogently and effectively defend the idea with data and logic.

That may be the way things are done where you work as well, but that is not how the District worked. The District's culture was a top-down hierarchy in which no one was challenged within their fiefdom. The skills to support their proposals faded - if they ever had them. In the absence of that sort of challenge or accountability, people made decisions capriciously or based largely on internal politics. Scary, huh? That is the dysfuntional culture that the District needs to overcome.

Jet City mom said...

It's true that Ron English- current property manager for SPS, was not employed by SPS in 1986 when the district signed the deal with the developer of the Queen Anne property.

He was employed at that time, as an attorney for WPPSS.

They certainly needed them.