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Friday, February 25, 2011

Latest Times Article Uses Some Harsh Language

Update: Checked with the Superintendent's office: she's on vacation.

The Times has another story this morning with the words "financial abuse" in the headline.

It follows with:

Disclosures about the school-district program have put Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's job at risk in what has become the most serious public corruption investigation in years.

The release of the documents — the most comprehensive look yet at the allegations — comes as prosecutors conduct a secret criminal investigation of the financial dealings and the School Board considers whether to force out Goodloe-Johnson, sources familiar with the matter have told The Seattle Times.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag on Thursday called it one of the most egregious cases he has seen in 18 years on the job.

The Board:

The School Board will meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss the audit, as well as a report from its own investigation, done by a private attorney, into what Goodloe-Johnson or other top administrators knew about the problem, or if they should have been aware of it.

That's very fair of the Times to say "they should have been aware of it" about top administrators because I would ask that same question of the Board especially Audit & Finance. No one looked down and said, "Hey, what's this $1M for teaching classes?"

At the center is, of course, Silas Potter. Now I never heard much about him - not on my radar until the last year of so but boy, say his name to almost anyone at headquarters and watch their face. Apparently it is hard to have a poker face about him. From the article:

Investigators have not been able to locate Potter, who some district employees viewed as a "con artist," the documents said.

Potter, 59, operated with virtually free rein for years. And when co-workers — including a district lawyer — questioned Potter's practices, they were told by higher-ups not to worry, or were met — by Potter and others — with threats and accusations of racism, auditors said.

Amid an "atmosphere of fear, intimidation and reprisal," the audit documents say, higher-ups failed to act.

This next part of the article is deeply troubling because it borders on "I was just following orders":

Ron English, an attorney for the district, told auditors he complained to Fred Stephens, Potter's boss, and Gary Ikeda, the district's then-general counsel, about misleading and false numbers Potter gave to the School Board about the small-business program.

Stephens replied, "Yeah, but we need to make the program look good," English told auditors. And Ikeda later told English: "You told your client, that's all you can do."

So Mr. English, despite his doubts, did not go to the Superintendent or the Board, just Gary Ikeda.

The so-called internal auditor:

Even the district's own watchdog, its internal auditor, engaged in what state auditors called a blatant conflict of interest: He was on the payroll of a similar small-business enterprise Potter set up on the side.

So who benefited?

The Urban League, for example, received $595,000 from the school district over four years to help prepare minority contractors for government work — more than any other vendor. Two school employees and a former consultant told auditors that Urban League services "did not benefit" the school district. The problem with many of the Urban League's bills was vagueness.

In a little over a year, the League billed the schools for $297,000. But the invoices consisted of a single page with little detail, auditors said. The League also charged up to $15,000 a month for "general overhead and administration."

Auditors contended the League was using this money to support one of its own departments, the Contractor Development & Competitiveness Center (CDCC).

"In our judgment," auditors wrote, the league billed the school district "excessive amounts in order to fund their own department."

Another person who benefited was former head of CPPS, Charles Rolland. He talked to the Times in an article yesterday but during the auditor's investigation refused to speak to them without a subponea.

DeBell's response:

After he read all the details, School Board Vice President Michael DeBell said his first feeling was shock followed by a deep sense of outrage.

"Honestly, we were almost incredulous," he said. "It just didn't seem that this kind of thing would happen."

But it has happened and things must change in a deep and meaningful way. The whole headquarters needs an overhaul. Bring in Moss-Adams again.

33 comments:

Chris S. said...

Boy, I've been sitting around thinking well, I've heard all this "heads must roll" on this blog before but when I saw ST reporting "Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's job at risk" I'm starting to think this time is different!!

Dorothy Neville said...

A. Moss Adams? Sigh. The problem with that is you need someone to implement the changes needed. Nothing of substance happened after Moss Adams.

B. DeBell is outraged? Shocked? I guess none of them listened to Melissa's board testimony in July 2010 when she was starting to connect the dots and knew a few things, such as Potter getting a contract with the district right after quitting or being fired. Such as Potter having construction or remodeling done of his new offices by district employees on the district's dime. Sure, she didn't have the details, but it doesn't take a genius to start with her facts and ask some probing questions. There is not that big a leap from Mel's public testimony then and the reality here and now.

WenD said...
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WenD said...
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WenD said...

How can DeBell say he didn't think "this kind of thing would happen," when Potter's activities were discussed at a board meeting last year? (Dorothy: I was thinking of the same thing, 8/2010 meeting.)
What part of almost $2 million could he have previously ignored? The board denied what was in front of them and downplayed a state audit:

http://kuow.org/program.php?id=22709

Phyllis Fletcher interview with
Brian Sonntag: "He calls this one of the worst examples of fraud he's seen in 18 years on the job."

This also isn't the first time Silas Potter has been called a con artist.

Dorothy Neville said...

Want to see Mel in action calling out the Silas Potter thing in August?

Here is the link to the list of archived board meetings

Go to the August 18th 2010 meeting and Mel is at 21:00 mark. (I am right before her and Meg Diaz is right after her, btw, but we are speaking on different things.)

Sarah said...

Goodloe-Johnson doesn't have any business being on vacation. Human Resource is falling apart, Rome is burning.

She needs to be at the Stanford Center 24/7.

Of course, I know she is hiding.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that you note that everyone had an opinion of Mr Potter. This tells me everyone knew what was going on, perhaps MGJ was a driving force behind the program. Mr Potter was a con artist; however, not having the ability to spot a con is not a trait one wants in a leader.

Speaking Plainly

speducator said...

The district administration is going to try and take the spotlight off of themselves, and make it all about Silas Potter. There would be no Silas Potter without the existing tolerance policy that protects a network of phony organizations and political bed partners.

Anna said...

Oooh. She's on "vacation" and all those employees are at work today. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall and hear what they're really saying while the boss is away. They know, but they're afraid.

(Employees: PLEASE report what you know and when you knew it to someone, whether this blog, Seattle Times, anyone who can make that knowledge public. Now's the time to make a difference.)

Trapped inside said...

Anna

The problem is that their PR people are "shape shifting" everywhere; like Ron English now trying to pretend he acted as a whistle-blower. The truth is just the opposite. He and other managers have let it be known that if they can trace you back through public records, you WILL BE FIRED.

Thats how it works and has since MGJ got here.

We are hostages. Even the Auditor can't protect us and thats what they are implying. Its horrible.

She must go for even the beginning of improvement and reform to occur.

mirmac1 said...

What documents? Why do we not have access to them. Mel and Dorothy wait months and ST gets them in two days? Please inquire.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we need to focus on Mr Potter and the money. It seems lost in the conversation that there are buildings that were to receive maintenance and received little or no valuable maintenance dollars. These buildings still need this maintenance and by the maintenance leaders own words the list grows. Lets take the time and effort to commit our resources to our 100 buildings and their upkeep. We need multiple focus in today's times

Speaking Plainly

grousefinder said...

Want to know what happened? Read this (be patient):

Political loyalty has a limited shelf life. The electorate entrusts government institutions to achieve results quickly. When faced with the prospect of a long-term restructuring of an institution such as Seattle Pubic School, its leaders must ensure continued public faith, lest confidence erode before results are achieved. One way this is done is to introduce political “flak” into the community to which the institution is beholden. Flak is organized political messaging.

The way to introduce “flak” is through political operatives; those who will serve as a conduit for the institutional message so its leaders do not have to constantly defend their programs to the public. Enter Silas Potter!

It was Potter’s job to purchase political loyalty through a patronage system. Track the money and you will see that it flows towards organizations that represent stakeholders in the restructuring; that is, marginalized minority communities. Potter’s job was as front man for the District’s political strategists to purchase the loyalty of stakeholders. However, it seems that he got greedy (or something) and the whole patronage system became his personal payola (money laundering) machine.

The question for us as citizens, and for smart prosecutors (and the board) is this: Who gave Potter, and perhaps Stephens, their marching orders? The patronage system is very old and well engrained in American life. But, this scheme was quite sophisticated because it targeted a specific community, minorities. It was not widespread to encompass the totality of Seattle’s geography and communities.

This entire scheme appears to be intentional, well executed (for awhile), and successful. The latter is evidenced by the support for “reform” Dr. Goodloe-Johnson received from local minority community pols.

The question for the School Board is whether or not Dr. Goodloe-Johnson condoned or directed the establishment of a political patronage system in Seattle Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

The employees are well aware of the culture created by the current administration, fear and image management. The current administration is trying desperately to manage the message and doesn't want to hear anything else. How wonderful for the Supt. to be angry about this situation. That is about as authentic as when she signs her letters "warmly," reading an urban legend to celebrate Teacher appreciation day, and rolling her eyes during public testimony. Her words are shallow and the board needs to remove her and all her new friends quickly before more damage is done. What is it with Big School Supts? Isn't this the same issue as Joseph O.? Whether she knew the exact details or not, the Supt. is responsible. This is what Broad has trained her for, how to manage a large school district. FAIL!

Bird said...

Is remaining on vacation in the midst of the biggest crisis of her adminstration of SPS perhaps an indication that she's given up?

I can't imagine how she could survive this scandal.

anonymous said...

It's mid winter break, and MGJ's child (like ours) is out of school. It's a logical time for her to be on vacation. I'd venture to say though, that she isn't relaxing. And it is odd, how she always seems to be unavailable when things heats up.

Anonymous said...

It was good that on KUOW Melissa did not let the chief academic officer's office off the hook. That's a poor management situation with real everyday impacts on our children and teachers.

Parent watching

speducator said...

King 5 is now reporting that the Superintendent is directly implicated in the financial abuse scandal, and had personal knowledge two years ago.

Anna said...

Trapped Inside,

I know. It sucks. You can definitely call a reporter and ask to speak "off the record" and tell them just what you've told us here, even about the culture of intimidation. (I've seen it myself as a parent, when no one wants to respond to me at the district in e-mail and insists on talking on the phone only).

Tell them you absolutely cannot go on the record because you'll lose your job. Call from a pay phone and don't give your name. But the eyes and ears of our society really need to be made in-your-face aware of the situation. Leave a message if you need to; give enough specifics (dates, locations, people involved) for the reporter to follow the trail, but not too much to reveal yourself.

Or try a board member you feel like really listens. Or anonymously, to this blog owner.

Just don't do it from work!

This school district needs sunlight and exposure and a good cleaning.

mirmac1 said...

Where's Lynne Varner?

Charlie Mas said...

Lynee Varner is at the Times' office on Fairview writing an editorial that calls on MGJ to resign.

How 'bout them apples?

Braessae said...

Lynne Varner -- who sucked up, and brown-nosed this Superintendent and her regime for so long!?! Who softpedalled her dainty little wrist slap of an editorial on the audit?

What do you want to bet that, as she waves buh-bye to MGJ and adds her weight to pushing her off the ledge, she will continue to bemoan what harm this does to all those "great reform ed" initiatives that MGJ started?! I wouldn't even be surprised if she is out there begging the Board (and the reform ed donors) to "stay the course" on all of the expensive, wasteful, useless stuff that MGJ was busy doing while her administration diddled away money.

I would love to see an editorial with a huge mea culpa -- but I don't think we will get one, either from Lynne OR from the Seattle Times news staff that never lifted a finger to look at any of this.

The Real Arnold said...

"Bring in Moss-Adams again."

Why? So they can charge $125 - $200/hr?

Moss Adams sucks.

Michael H said...

@mirmac1: "What documents? Why do we not have access to them. Mel and Dorothy wait months and ST gets them in two days? Please inquire."

Hey mirmac1 - maybe the ST didn't get the documents from the district. Maybe they got documents from another agency.....

Michael H said...

Bird - that is an awesome picture. Where did you find that?? LOL!

Anonymous said...

English violated his duties as an attorney for an organization if all he did is raise a concern to his boss and is mid-management level "client." However, I suspect English knew that Ikeda wasn't talking, and decided the story he would tell was that he reported to Ikeda. He should be fired, and both he and Ikeda reported to the bar association, if not prosecuted.

AIEC

Bird said...
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Bird said...
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Bird said...

It's a photo from an old School Beat, Michael H.

I think credit goes to Megan for digging it up.

Bird said...

Oh, and you know what's especially fascinating about that photo?

The time line. Apparently, the photo was taken when Goodloe-Johnson received this "award" in October 2009.

This was after the Souter report and the Daily Journal of Commerce published its story on the subject mentioning possible criminality.

A pretty impressive show of bad judgment, no?

Bird said...

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The photo was also after Potter got his power to grant construction contracts revoked.

Crazy.

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