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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Has Director Martin-Morris Changed?

Remember how delighted you were when you discovered that school board director Harium Martin-Morris had a blog?

Remember how delighted you were when you saw that he responded to comments on his blog?

Remember how delighted you were when he understood people's concerns and wrote that he would take action?

Have you noticed that he doesn't do that anymore?

He often goes weeks without responding to posts. He no longer sees the public's perspective. Instead of representing the public to the District, he now represents the District to the public.

What changed? I think he has become discouraged. He may have tried to take some of the actions that he said he would take, but nothing ever came of it. He didn't write the White Paper on the influence of national foundations. He didn't get answers to the long list of commitments. He didn't get a Transportation Report. Maybe he became discouraged when he saw that nothing he tried to do ever worked.

Am I alone in thinking this, or do other folks think that Director Martin-Morris has transformed from a reformist to a conformist?

31 comments:

speducator said...

I think he reluctantly drank the kool-aid. I often wonder what kind of treatment he got from the other board members when he voted against the Sealth-Denny merger. Mary Bass was a true maverick, and could take the heat. It must be tough when you take an unpopular stand against your superintendent and co-directors, but "if you can't stand the heat,".........

gavroche said...
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gavroche said...

Or, as another parent worded it: "He went to D.C. and met Arne Duncan and saw God."

All joking aside, yes he has been a terrible disappointment. I'm pretty sure that many who initially voted for him would be surprised by his voting record and attitude toward parent concerns this past year. I'm not at all sure he'll get their votes again next year.

Et tu, Harium?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm thinking it's something in the middle. Harium has always struck me as his own person.

He is one of the few School Board members who, after asking a question of staff and getting an answer, will say, "I didn't hear an answer for my question" or "That didn't answer my question entirely". Staff needs to hear that on a regular basis. However, he then lets it go.

(I am completely mystified as to why the Board rarely asks follow-up questions at any time in public. I am also mystified at how they don't tell the Superintendent to tell staff that telling members of the public "I don't have that answer. I'll get back to you." and they never do. There's that accountability problem again.)

I think Harium has a full-time job, a family and this School Board gig is a big deal, both in time and psychic energy. He may just overwhelmed and tired. He wants, as do all the Board members, to depend on the expertise of staff, and yet they find that staff often lets them down (and yet there is no way to go back and undo a vote).

That said, I want to see some concrete action from the Board on the ENTIRE auditor's report. Do that and we can all be impressed. Make a blah, blah statement about "action plan" or "do better" and forget it.

Sahila said...

I dont know why they cant go back and undo a vote...

Cant they act individuallly or get together, write a motion, put it on their own agenda and take a vote?

Every organisation I've ever been a member of has done it that way...

Who runs the show, after all?

Sahila said...

I kinda feel empathy for Harium in that he, of all the Directors, probably gets the most heat via his blog...

I'm in two minds about how he's been carrying out his 'duties'...

The cynic in me says he drank the Kool-Aid on those retreats and trips and sold out...

I want to believe the best which would be that he does feel discouraged/powerless to make change...

But if that is the case it sucks that he's 'given up'... he's there to do a job and if it gets hard, either keep doing the job one foot in front of the other, or leave and make way for someone who will - dont cave in...

If he and KSB and BP voted together maybe they could get MdeB on board also... that would be a 4-3 vote on most issues.... what a difference that would make...

Melissa Westbrook said...

I wonder if Board members talk to each other much before a vote. I would think they would in terms of how other members are leaning. But even if they talk, I wonder how much each member tries to convince other members. If Harium, Sherry or Michael were to go to each other to convince the others of a point, I think you'd see a lot more 4-3 votes. But I'm not sure that happens.

Chris S. said...

I have a feeling the change in Harium's behavior coincided exactly with the departure of Cheryl Chow. No, it's more than a feeling: the first sign was his baffling no-vote on the transportation-grandfathering amendment, which was the first meeting without Chow & Bass.

At first I thought he had just been pretending to be a rebel as long as his vote would clearly be in the minority. Now, I think it's possible he was genuine, but the powers-that-be, whoever they may be, recognized the situation with Chow's departure and sweet-talked/kool-aided him into submission. Complete with a trip to meet Arne.

I do think the board members talk to each other. Even though Harium denies this, I think they are rarely surprised by other's votes. And however you explain Harium, he has always uttered patently disingenuous claims now and then. (I know I over-use disingenuous, but is there any alternative way to express "something between merely insincere and obviously false?"

Chris S. said...
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seattle said...

Yes, Charlie, there has been a big change in Harium. Of all the directors I am most disappointed in him.

He no longer represents his constituents, in fact I doubt he even cares what our concerns are these days.

He's asked staff some tough questions, and when they can't answer them he mumbles things like "I'm still unsure why" or "that didn't fully answer my question" and that's it. He allows them to move on. Occasionally he'll ask staff for follow up, but with no time line, so of course, that follow up never happens (at least publicly). It is so frustrating.

He talks a good game, and says what you want to hear, but he gets NOTHING done. NOTHING. In fact I can't really think of anything that Harium has taken on with much, if any, success??

I can't imagine that anyone would vote to re-elect Harium.

dan dempsey said...

Harium ... Changed? You bet.

Harium has not responded to anything written by me on his blog in several months.

He often does not make evidence based decisions. He chooses to vote with the Superintendent and then needs to fabricate reasons for doing so.

An outrageous fabrication took place as he explained his vote for NTN #1 on 2-3-10
Then on the NTN #2 re-vote on 4-7-10
He gave no reason for his approval choosing to be silent and rest on his fabrication of 2-3-10.

Get ready to sign recall petitions.

Note: Harium voted to extend MGJ's contract and never mentioned the audit. .... evidence based decisions have been avoided by this crew for a very long time.

Look for judgments in a variety of appeals ... someday.

The auditor's report was sent to the Supreme Court for a review of the Writ of Mandamus filed against the School Board and three judges.

The auditor's report is also going to Superior Court in the appeal of the NTN#1 looking for summary judgment.

Bird said...

"He wants, as do all the Board members, to depend on the expertise of staff, and yet they find that staff often lets them down."

Maybe the board should have another direct hire. They hire the Sup, but the Sup doesn't feel the need to be responsive to the board.

Maybe just a lowly employee that is just in charge of chasing down the data and information they want. This person could be removed at will by the board, so would see themselves as working for them, and since they'd be full time, they could spend all day down at the Stanford Center pestering the staff until they relent and hand over whatever the board wants.

Given that we don't pay the board anything for their work, offering them a single direct report staffer seems not unreasonable to me.

The way the staff treats the board now is beyond ridiculous.

zb said...

I think the idea of the board having an assistant is a great one (kind of like Blum intern idea, but official, and working for the whole board). I wonder how that could be made to happen.

I do think that the current board is overwhelmed, and that if they can't rely on the administration for fundamental factual information they really lack both energy and resources to do anything about it.

Unknown said...

Sahila -- Roberts Rules of Order has two sections that cover how one goes about trying to change a duly-adopted Motion. According to my version of the Rules ("Robert's Rules of Order, The Modern Edition", published 1989 by Berkley Books)Rule 60 covers reconsideration. A Motion to Reconsider can only be brought by someone who voted in favor of the original Motion. Rule 28 further explains that a Motion for Reconsideration can only be brought the same day or day after the original motion. Rule 28 also identifies a Motion to Amend After Adoption. This would change a decision made at some point in the past. It cannot be applied to a motion that has already been exectued in its entirety or to any part of a motion that has already been executed.

Both of these rules are designed to make sure that policies aren't whipsawed back and forth from one side of the pendulum to another. It's the same way that a new majority in congress or any other legislative body does not immediately undue everything that happened when the previous majority existed. The reliance of courts on stare decisis is an even stronger version of this.

Personally, I think this is a good thing for two reasons. First, there always seem to be enough new matters to consider -- reconsidering old stuff all the time would make the job of any deliberative body overwhelming. Second, the people who carry out the policies that are established need some certainty so they can move forward and get their jobs done.

Charlie Mas said...

There are two staff people working for the Board right now. They are Joan Dingfield and Pam Oakes.

I don't know to what extent either of them are assigned data gathering tasks. I don't think they are assigned any such tasks at all.

Anonymous said...

Wow Chris, that's quite the conspiracy theory! The thing is, it actually makes sense. Both from a timing standpoint and a (my) gut feeling.

It's very possible that it's a combination of things, including both pressure from others AND being burned out. He did get some large campaign contributions, even though he didn't really have any serious opposition in the election. I've always wondered why anyone would do that.

This is an almost entirely volunteer position, with an incredible amount of community pressure. Personally, I couldn't imagine doing that job and having even a hint of family life. Burnout comes with the job.

"I do think the board members talk to each other. Even though Harium denies this,"

I've never heard Harium say this, in fact I've always heard him say that he keeps in close contact with other Board members and district staff. They can't meet together in groups larger than 2 (or is it 3?), because that would constitute a Board Meeting, and bring regulations into play, but they talk all the time.

seattle said...
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seattle said...
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seattle said...

On 6/18 I asked Harium (on his blog) the following...

"Harium are you out there? I don't see many responses from you any more.

How do you feel about 10 schools voting no confidence in the super, and a community petition with over 300 signatures on it?

What is your take on the staff and families that are expressing formally that they are not confident in MGJ's leadership?

What are you as a board member DOING to represent your constituents interests?

We're not just a bunch of loud mouth parents anymore. Entire schools are voting no confidence."

His reply was:

Dear Rabbit

"I am now back in Seattle. I have been away on a family holiday. My reaction to the votes at various schools is that I do not share lack of confidence in the superintendent. She is caring out the direction the board has asked her to. I do have conversations with her on the concerns that families bring. And they are weighed against what our goals are for the whole district."

Read this very carefully folks. Director Martin-Morris clearly says that he has complete confidence in the super.

What he has forgotten is that his personal feelings of confidence in the super really do not matter. He is on the board to represent us, his constituents. And we, along with 10 schools, are saying loud and clear that we DO NOT have confidence in this super. But he refuses to acknowledge this, or act on it in any way.

It's sad.

Unknown said...

A classic (and endless) argument in political science classes is whether you elect people to vote the way the majority wants them to vote, or whether you elect people to use their good judgment and vote the way they think they should vote.

Rabbit is clearly in one camp. Lots of people are. Lots of other people are in the other camp. Neither is right or wrong. They're just different philosophies about what it means to be elected to "represent."

Chris S. said...

I was waiting for the words "conspiracy theory." Thanks for not disappointing me.

The other explanations are that board members are human, weak somehow. That's not all that different. Everyone has a price.

I should clarify - what Harium often says is "I don't know how my colleagues will vote." And that is just silly because I know how Maier and Sundquist will vote.

Chris S. said...

On anything.

dan dempsey said...

Rosie,

Good point about the two camps. Unfortunately we are stuck with the uninhabited camp 3. Where director's vote based on something other than the evidence and also ignore the desires of their constituents.

I generally expect an elected official to be more informed than 99% of the public so I would much rather see an official make their own reasoned call.

Unfortunately a "reasoned call" just is not happening often enough with this crew as we see in appeals of school board decisions and in the auditor's report.

Maureen said...

Rosie, that's Kalt and Zupan isn't it? Did they ever publish a revision of their original flawed paper? (They missed the second order effect.) I've been out of it for awhile.

None1111 said...

Chris said: "I should clarify - what Harium often says is "I don't know how my colleagues will vote." And that is just silly because I know how Maier and Sundquist will vote."

Hahahaha! Best laugh I've had all day - thanks!

and: "I was waiting for the words "conspiracy theory." Thanks for not disappointing me."

You're most welcome. And remember the old adage: Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you. ;-)

reader said...

And we, along with 10 schools, are saying loud and clear that we DO NOT have confidence in this super. But he refuses to acknowledge this, or act on it in any way.


10 schools are voting no confidence, but that's not a majority is it? Is he supposed to just hop right on it? It's easy to armchair quarterback.

Sahila said...

The fact that 12 school staffs had the courage (in the face of probable censure and retaliation from the District) to step out of the protection of the SEA and vote no confidence is an indication of how serious are the problems in the District...

The fact that 383 people signed the community declaration of no confidence is an indication of how serious are the problems in the District...

http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?S3B62010&1

The fact that over the past three years there have been rallies, surveys, petitions (one gathering more than 1700 signatures), phone calls, emails, testimonies at Board meetings all saying the same thing, is an indication of how serious are the problems in the District...

As I told the Board... if only the 500+ people who voted no confidence in the super in June/July all took three minutes of testimony to speak (rather than sign and comment - which was in effect their 3 minutes of giving testimony) their views to the Board, the Board would be sitting there for more than 25 hours listening to its constituents express their concerns/dissatisfaction...

Yes, Harium should indeed hop right on it....

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what Director Martin-Morris should hop right on:

He was promised a Transportation Report and he never got one. He certainly didn't get it before the next transporation vote.

He asked for a list of commitments made by the District and he never got it. He submitted a list of District commitments submitted to his blog for response and never got responses.

He gets contradictory answers from the District staff. Explanations for some decisions contradict the explanations for other decisions. If Hawthorne was chosen as the Spectrum site for the Mercer service area over Kimball to put the program "closer to where the students live", then why is the north-end elementary APP located south of the Ship Canal?

There is no effort to stick to any budget for the Strategic Plan or any of the superintendent's pet projects.

There are a lot of things for Director Martin-Morris to "hop right on", and two years ago he wanted to and he said that he would. This year he is doing nothing about them. Instead, he is offering feeble excuses when he doesn't dodge the question entirely.

kprugman said...

I think its very unusual for an audit to turn up anything out of the ordinary. My sense is Harium is doing his job, but there are many things that you can't talk about publicly. The less an official engages the public, the more I'm inclined to believe they are on the level.

kprugman said...

You are dealing with a culture that has been doing business this way for years and they prefer keeping their dealings private and out of the public's view. This is a network of good old boys and they play by their rules and under Washington's current set of laws - their rules are the law.

The current rule of law is adequacy, not equity. And Washington has a mixed bag of red and blue marbles.

kprugman said...

The good news is that its pretty hard to string along a public with only 30% of the voters supporting them. If that's enough support to run a school district, we'll see how many years they can hobble along on that - let these fools string up all the surveillance cameras they like so then they can watch over all the havoc that they have created.