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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tug on that Pulled Sweater and Watch Things Unravel

Thank you to Michael H for the heads up on another SAO audit document. This one has all the interviews the SAO did with SSD employees and certain vendors. I'm at page 54 of 264 and it's been jaw-dropping.

I cannot believe the leeway and leverage and access to money and resources that Silas Potter had. It is just not possible for me to believe he did this on his own.

Highlights:

  • He repeatedly claimed to many who worked for him that SSD supported the transfer of the RSBDP from the district to his 501c3.
  • Some of the people who had personal services contract through him come off very badly. Elaine Ko for one:

We asked Elaine if she thought it unusual that a public program would be transitioning to the private sector at the expense of taxpayers. She said it was not unusual at that time. “It was not a questionable thing.”

  • Also an administrator assistant reports that several people prominent in the African-American community had gone to Board meetings to complain that minority companies were not being given enough SSD business via capital projects. After they got personal services contracts, she says they stopped going to Board meeting to complain.
  • Silas also told people who asked questions they should "trust me", "my managers and other district managers are supporting me", "do not question my reasoning", "ultimately it is up to me to make the final decision" or "if you do not support me, you are free to go."
  • There does seem to be one group/person who was used as the place where Silas may have been funneling money for himself. It's interesting because even his staff had no idea who this vendor was. (I'm not disclosing the name right now but you can probably figure it out if you read the documents.)
  • On the list of vendors was a pet care company, cosmetologist, several restaurants and a chiropractor.
  • The two Board members and SSD lawyer who went to King County prosecutors met with Dan Satterberg. So, this has gone pretty much to the top.
  • Kathy Johnson in Facilities had a lot to say about Silas. She was the one who hired him first to do moving coordination. (I believe he had a similar job at Microsoft but left there under a cloud as well.) Facilities staff in capital were aware of one of Silas' employees who got a lot of overtime. It turned out that Fred Stephens asked Silas about this and Silas said he had given this employee his password so she could approve her own overtime. There is no record Fred Stephens did anything about it.
  • The training classes? Always catered.
This might make for a very good multi-part series. There are many players in this sad little situation and frankly, the cold bright light of day needs shine on all faces and in every direction.

It's just pathetic and ridiculous. Onto page 55.

25 comments:

peonypower said...

Would there be cause for a federal investigation. I know the district has played loose and fast with how and where federal money has been spent?

Zebra (or Zulu) said...

This whole "firewall" thing really bugs me. It gives the Supt. (and the Board) plausible deniability if she/they claim(s) ignorance about Potter's shenanigans.

Here is the quote I keep seeing:

"Sometime in 2007, he could not remember the exact date, Ron went to Fred Stephens’ office to discuss the last quarterly report presented by Silas to the Board about the RSBDP. Ron told Fred that the information was misleading and that the numbers were not true or supportable. Fred allegedly said, “Yeah, but we need to make the program look good.” Ron went to his boss, General Counsel Gary Ikeda, and told him what Fred said. Gary told Ron “You told your client, that’s all you can do.” Ron did not go above Gary to the Superintendent or the Board. One reason for this, though, is that there are protocols within the District for communicating with members of the elected school board. Ron told us that direct communication with the Board is only allowed for four persons: the Superintendent, CFOO, CAO, and General Counsel. We corroborated this by reviewing Board communication protocols, and emails discussing communication with the Board. "
******
Even though the protocols are post facto, the Auditor speculates that an earlier version was in place when the above conversation took place.
********
Here is the Auditor doing a lousy job of follow through:

"This chain can be circumvented if there are time constraints in that others can go directly to the Board; however, executive and senior leadership must also be notified. Although the email mentioned is dated February 2009, it is our understanding that these or similar communication protocols were in place prior to 2007."
***********
Notice the, "it is our understanding..." language. In other words...they did not check it out! Why is it that a key factor in determining culpability is left to speculation. It would be the first question I would ask as a curious Auditor.

Something like: "Please show me all communication protocols and their adoption dates for the last ten years."
**********

Feh!

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has ever had to escalate an issue that winds up in the central office world knows that the potter situation did not happen in a vacuum. You can get pingponged around and around and around until you are dizy and fatigued and begin doubting your own sanity. There are a lot of managers as somebody said on another thread, but there are no leaders. The board really seriously need to listen to parents who have had experiences of central office to know that potter didn't come out of nowhere and that asking for the resignation of the head of the district is not going to change a ding dang thing unless there is somebody ready to "see" the slippery slopes families have to climb because nobody is managing managers who knows what they are doing. It is really dismal that on top of it all, we have debell going around talking about how it is all "culture". Doesn't he get it? He has no leaders who can lead and be accountable.

Terriblky disillusions district family.

In the know.... said...

"...they did not check it out!"

Wrong. Ask them.

Maureen said...

I'm playing a little game as I read this (only on page 47): Look for people or organizations related to The Our Schools Coalition. So far, The Urban League, Urban Enterprise Center and Tabor 100 have come up. I will have to dig deeper to find out if any of the other individuals involved are associated with any of the organizations listed on the OSC roster.

wseadawg said...

Note to Board: Greed, arrogance, stubborness and meanness are DISqualifying, not qualifying traits for the next SI.

wseadawg said...

"Our Schools Coalition." What a joke. AstroTurf wears out. Grass gets worn down, but grows back. Fortunately.

Shout out to Sue and Dora for calling out the phonies and fakes for the past couple years too.

Good work, everyone. I guess, at the end of the day, it just makes sense that parents might actually be the ones who have their students best interests at heart. Sorry Michell Rhee, MGJ & Company. Your "all about the students" BS just went down the toilet.

Saddened said...

In the end what will the cost to the district have been. Investigattors, MJG's buyout, etc. In addition to the 2 mil loss. How many staff that directly work with kids could have been retained?!
The school board is just as culpable! They were told time and time again.

The Real Arnold said...

Is there supposed to be a picture in your post? It's not coming through.

Charlie Mas said...

I have been reading this document and it is a total jaw-dropper.

The stuff that was going on boggles the mind. It was so OPEN. It was so plain. One of the culprits, Cheryl Graves, was so incredibly careless that I don't have words for it.

It's just stunning.

Charlie Mas said...

The Urban League is revealed to be little more than an extortion business.

The Real Arnold said...

@Charlie" "The Urban League is revealed to be little more than an extortion business."

So true, so true....

Dorothy Neville said...

Agree with Charlie. UL = extortion.

I heart Tony Martinez. And Richard Staudt deserves a promotion.

It's Saturday night. How many of us are spending it reading a 264 page audit report?

Jan said...

Lots of us, Dorothy, lots of us. It makes for pretty mindboggling reading, no?

dan dempsey said...

BUY OUT???

You must be kidding.

I am thinking JAIL would be more appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, Arnold and Dorothy-I don't think you can paint an entire organization with one brush-re: the Urban League. I am not sure whether you're reacting to the link between Potter and James Kelly, ignorance or something more sinister, but the UL does a great deal of good, whether you choose to believe it or not.

It does something Charlie and others have been saying is needed for years-offering tutoring (free) to students needing to be brought up to grade level. It also offers enrichment and additional core course education WITH transportation for a fraction of the cost of play-based after school programs. It mentors at-risk youth, runs transitional housing for homeless youth, and supports a chohort of promising black youth in local high schools. Most of these programs go back many years, more than a decade.

There are also classes for potential homebuyers, renters and job searches. And the UL was instrumental in getting Seattle's African American Museum finally built.

Now none of those things may matter in the slightest to any of you, but they matter a lot to many people. So I'd caution you about making such ignorant brush strokes. They lend credence to those who think that this blog isn't really about improving the lot of ALL children.

Anonymouse

Inside as well said...

"There are a lot of managers as somebody said on another thread, but there are no leaders."

Don't you know that MGJ and Kennedy were "developing" "leaders" like Potter through her "Superintendents Institute of Leadership Development"? Sound familiar? These are folks (like Potter) who "know the district top to bottom" according to administration.

If so, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM SHOULD BE DEPOSED UNDER OATH except that by the looks of things, lying and cheating were lesson #1.

Maureen said...

Inside, Are you saying that Potter was hand selected to participate in the Superintendents Institute of Leadership Development?

Is there a list of the staff who were included? What did it consist of?

Inside the Walls said...

"Superintendents Institute of Leadership Development" includes a lot of people. Nderu was a part of that group. It is known as SILD.

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

There's another source of lost funds, the money lost to litigation regarding the bad contracts. That DJC article leads to some stories of unqualified workers getting low wages and the district being fined by unions over it. I don't really follow all of it, but that certainly is a place where money was spent that did not need to be spent if we had proper contracting procedures in place.

The Sutor report talks about not implementing procedures according to CBA and the risks therein.

G said...

A Madison Valley parent mentioned this on a previous thread, and I am going to second their concern about the sale of MLK Jr Elementary School to First AME. That deal would seem to be connected to all these other fiscal diversions. Fred Stephens was the pastor at FAME from 1979 - 1984. The district sold MLK to FAME for 2.4 million, passing up the 3.75 million offered by the Bush School. The property has sat untouched since the transaction last fall. It just seems fishy in light of all the other allegations. It should be investigated.

Anonymous said...

Amen to what G said. Many locals were baffled by the choice to sell MLK on the cheap to First AME, especially when the district was struggling financially. And First AME didn't even have the $ ... their purchase was funded with federal DOC money (public money we can ill afford to play games with)... and now I see that Fred Stephens was a longtime FAME pastor and now is a DOC official under Gary Locke? Please tell me I don't have that right...
-S

Observer said...

I've been looking up old Seattle Times articles on the sale of the MKL property, and it has been interesting. Looks like Ron English was heavily involved from the school district view, and may have had a hand in arranging for the state grant money to be available to the winning bidder.

Here is a quote from the Aug 2010 article, which was written before the final bidder was supposedly chosen:

"Also, the district has been working with the state to free up funds to nonprofits so that they can compete more on price, (Ron) English said.

This spring, a $1.5 million grant was approved by the state "solely for the acquisition" of MLK school, according to the capital budget. An additional $1 million was made available last year, so qualified bidders can apply for $2.5 million toward the purchase price, English said.

He added that the winner won't necessarily be the highest bidder."

Looks to me like this was quite possibly a planned transfer of property to First AME from the very beginning, and Ron English and Fred Stephens were in on the deal. (Stephens, or someone with the same name, is a former pastor of First AME).

The full article is here.
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012631931_mlksite16m.html

Note that this was the SECOND round of bidding. The first round in May 2010 kept First AME out of the running because they had no realistic way to fund the purchase. Someone negotiated a state grant for the winning bidder (who, as Ron English stated, may not be the top bidder), then the bidding was reopened. I do not like the stench of that.

Other articles from the Seattle Times mention a district staff report that recommended giving the bid to First AME. Does anyone have a copy of that report, or know who authored it?

Observer said...

Ok, after more digging around (and noticing that this blog and especially Melissa have already posted extensively on this), I found a copy of the district recommendation, but without names. I would dearly love to know who authored this:

http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/media/news/2010/1/20/disctric_comparison_of_proposals.pdf

The Central District neighborhood blog has extensive coverage of the process, including a copy of the First AME bid:
http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/media/news/2009/11/4/MLKBidAMEChurch.pdf

Interestingly, there is a letter of recommendation in the First AME bid from Tony Orange, one of the people that Potter awarded a contract to in this same timeframe.

So far, it looks like Fred Stephens (Potter's boss) was closely tied to First AME, as a former pastor and/or an active church member. Though he supposedly recused himself from the selection process, he was seen attending the board meetings and sitting with members from First AME.

Ron English was apparently involved enough to be instrumental in the bidding process, and possibly had a hand in orchestrating state grant money as well, based on his comments to the Seattle Times in August of 2010.

And just to make this even more interesting, it looks like city council member Bruce Harrell has provided legal counsel to First AME, according to his own bio:
http://www.seattle.gov/council/harrell/bio.htm