In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth
is a revolutionary act.
is a revolutionary act.
That is a quote that is at the bottom of e-mails for Assistant General Counsel, Ron Boy. Never were truer words spoken about an institution.
First and foremost, I cannot say for certain what the issue is with Ron English, the on-paid-administrative-leave former head of Legal for Seattle Public Schools. Those of us with a long institutional memory know it could be one of several issues.
Also to note, Mr. English has never been anything but kind and pleasant to me.
I have several public disclosure request documents and they are quite eye-opening. There were enough clues in them for me to piece together what I believe are the cogent incidents that may have set this in motion.
I can understand that working in a large administrative building that people would naturally be very interested when one of the top members of senior staff is suddenly gone. But many of the e-mails are gossipy and mostly of the "I knew it" and "I wonder what happened" nature. (There are also several that are not directly related to English but raise troubling issues about what is happening at JSCEE. I am going to pass several of them along to the Superintendent and Board for review possible action.) I will have a separate thread about these very troubling issues that came out of this public disclosure request.
One overall action that needs to be taken is that staff should, once again, be warned about their SPS e-mails. They are in the public domain and yes, could be read by anyone.
Why is English on Paid Administrative Leave?
What I can surmise is that English's somewhat abrasive and aggressive manner made too many people at the top uncomfortable to the point of asking that something be done.
(Now can someone be let go for an aggressive and "rude" manner? That's a question for a lawyer.)
I perceive from the e-mails that there were two main incidents in February 2015. The two people named in encounters with English are Barbara M. Nahouraii, who is Title IX Coordinator and Sajal Maheshwari, Technology Project Manager.
The first e-mail that hints at a problem was on Feb. 6th from Sue Means, HR Manager, to Geoff Miller, Director, Labor & Employee Relations, and Brent Jones, head of HR;
I think I should share with one or the other of you a conversation I had with Ron English this morning regarding Barbara’s role. Let me know when one of you has a few minutes – I’ll try to keep it quick.
The first e-mail that mentions an issue with English and Nahouraii is dated Feb. 7, 2015 from Geoffrey Miller to Brent Jones, head of HR. Here's a partial excerpt:
I just want to weigh in here. I was in John Cerqui’s office when Barbara approached Ron English on Thursday afternoon with her concerns about the assignment of the case. He was aggressive, rude, and condescending from the moment the interaction began. While I was just a few feet away, as the discussion between the two of them was at a table outside of John’s office, I didn’t hear all of the substance. What I did hear was Barbara firmly, respectfully, and resolutely explaining that the issue she was asked to address is not a Title IX issue.
English engaged in bombast, with a raised voice(the entire 5-10 minutes I heard—and I left before the interaction ended), telling Barbara what her job was, and that this assignment was within her bailiwick. Please note, even in his communication below, he identifies this as a Title IX issue. It is not. It is clearly does not involve students. It is a Title VII issue, to be sure, if one was to believe it is a sexual harassment claim.
He did this in response to an email Barbara sent him informing English that this was in fact not a Title IX case, and that she was assigning the case to Sue Means. This communication apparently caused him great consternation, such that he felt he needed to challenge it with my front line staff. He is so far over the line in discussing this with Sue, I don’t know where to begin. Even assuming he is correct and that Barbara should be handling the case, Sue is not Barbara’s supervisor—in fact Barbara is her superior, and English has no business going to Sue to tell her what he believes Barbara’s job is—to criticize Barbara.
I am concerned about English’s treatment of Barbara, and frankly, regardless of what her role is or isn’t, want to make it clear that I believe he was disrespectful to her in both the interaction they had on Thursday, and in his discussion with Sue yesterday.
Jones thanks him for the timely report the next day and says he will follow up on Monday, Feb. 9th.
Feb.10th, there was a recap of a meeting called "Blackboard End of Contract" where English, Dianne Navarro, Manager, Procurement and Distribution Services,, Carmen Rahm, head of Technology and Sajal Maheshwari, Project Manager, were in attendance. It is unclear to me whether Navarro, or Rahm wrote the narrative but I think it was Rahm. (Charles Wright sent the narrative to Charles Leitch, a founding Principal of Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch, Inc., P.S., on Feb. 18th. You could surmise perhaps the district may have retained PBF&L for legal help on this issue.)
Maheshwari and English had some kind of back and forth over whether teachers would come in over the summer to be trained on new software.
The narrative states, "Every thought that Sajal put on the table seemed to be immediately responded to with a negative comment."
English walks thru the requirements for an RFP (timeline to submit to Board committees, Board meeting, etc.).
I said that was an aggressive schedule, but if we had to go to the Board so soon, it seemed that an RFP wasn't possible and perhaps an emergency acquisition was warranted. (This speaks volumes to what the heck actually happened to get the district to such a dire place.)
Then there was a back and forth over English allegedly saying/implying that Rahm was "a liar" or "lying."
There was also back and forth over state contracts and Rahm says that he said "we did this all the time where I previously worked."
At this point that Ron (sic) looked at me and said (I believe this is an exact quote): "Well if you don't want to do things the SPS way, then perhaps it's time you go somewhere else."
There was a little more back and forth and then English got a note that the Superintendent was waiting for him.
Rahm said he then went to Charles Wright. Wright was not there so Rahm spoke to Maheshwari about what had happened and if she thought Rahm had done anything to warrant what English said.
I invited Nancy Peterson (Technology?) to join us, as I did not want Sajal to feel pressured or intimidated...not that she ever would. Maheshwari said the meeting started professionally and felt English was very negative. She felt English did not have a firm understanding of what they were trying to convey.
Rahm then met with Wright and Wright then sent him onto Brent Jones in HR.
At the end of the narrative, Rahm adds:
This is the exact same type of bullying, ego and negativity that Colleen Halvorson and I encountered with Ron during every step of both the Cleveland STEM Procurement, and the SBAC Laptop Procurement. During that entire process we kept trying to explain that an RFP was not synonymous with Competition - that you could compete for a best price without having to do a lengthy and unnecessary RFP.
(I get the feeling that Mr. Rahm is not a fan of RFPs. Whether this is a good thing or bad thing, I don't know.)
I believe that after all the delays with the STEM purchase, we saved less than $2.00/computer; and I am confident that after all of the obstacles with the SBAC purchase...that we likely saved nothing by doing an RFP when all the products we investigated were available on State Contracts and we could have done a much simpler Competitive Bid for the products we were considering.
On Feb. 11, 2015, the Office of Public Affairs put out Superintendent Nyland's announcement that English is on paid administrative leave. (It is unclear to me how globally it was meant but it went out to SPS staff.) He also stated:
Administrative leave is not disciplinary in nature. It is an employer-directed removal of a staff member from the regular work environment for an indefinite period of time. The leave is used to support a fair, timely, and thorough investigation involving employee conduct. When an employee is placed on paid administrative leave, there is to be no contact between the individual and district personnel and/or students and families.
As this is a personnel issue, the district cannot comment publicly on the matter. We encourage staff to do the same in order to respect the rights of the individual on leave as well as protect the integrity of the investigation.
To note, Leah Todd from the Times had been submitting public disclosure requests that apparently were too broad but, at one point, did narrow it down enough for the Public Records office to send her something. Public Records tells Todd on April 10, 2015 that "we spoke with outside counsel" about any responsive records and hope to get something to Todd about April 30th.
What is interesting is that the announcement says:
When an employee is placed on paid administrative leave, there is to be no contact between the individual and district personnel and/or students and families.
However on April 16th, they say:
Just checking in. We are providing courtesy notice today. Mr. English will have until the close of
business on Monday, April 27th, to provide us with an injunction (WAC 44-14-04003(11)). If we do not receive an injunction, I should be able to release the records to you first thing in the morning on
Tuesday, April 28th.
I checked with a legal eagle and they say it is the District's call whether to notify Mr. English that someone will be receiving pertinent documents about his issue. Meaning, they legally didn't have to tell English but they did But there was no injunction filed and Todd did receive the documents on April 28th.
Some of the interesting reactions to the announcement:
From former head of Capital, Don Gillmore to Evelyn Hunter (BEX staff):
Looks like Ron may be "retiring" soon. Sooner or later "they " get everyone. We'll see if his Teflon still works.
From Sue Andersen (who appears to work in another district) to Eva Graefinghoff (Capital Projects):
Did he do something new or is this the final Silas crap.
Kelli Schmidt, Deputy Chief Attorney of the Office for Civil Rights in Seattle writes to Ron Boy in Legal (partial):
I just learned that Ron English is on administrative leave. Will you be the district’s contact on this OCR Title VI discipline compliance review, OCR XXX, while he is out? If so, let me know and I will fill you in on what Ron and I had been discussing last week in terms of the last item in OCR’s data request pertaining to the district’s school climate information.
Additionally, we had scheduled a meeting on March 9, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. to discuss specific schools to conduct file reviews and OCR interviews of staff and, perhaps, students.
Cathy Thompson, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, to Kevin Corrigan, Manager of Grants and Fiscal Compliance:
OMG! What now?!!
I note that this is the first e-mail - Corrigan's to Thompson, stating that not all staff had received the Superintendent's e-mail. And so, some staff set off a spat of e-mails when they realized not everyone at JSCEE had seen the announcement.
Indeed, Karen Kodama seems to have not received it until Corrigan passes it along to her as well. She says, tersely, "Call me tomorrow."
Chair of the BEX Oversight Committee, Steve Goldblatt writes to Richard Best, Director of Capital Projects & Planning, in regard to the story in the Times on English:
Richard, I just read this AM's paper. What an awful surprise. Do you plan to say anything at BEXOC tomorrow?
Best says no as well as:
No, I too am saddened by this current outcome
Goldblatt agrees to say nothing to the BEX Oversight Committee stating, "There is nothing to say (without any additional information).
I'm surprised that they would say nothing to committee members. English had been a part of the committee for years.
From Fran Clifton, Technical Implementations and Support Manager to Robert Shore (SPS who signs his name, Robertotisimo - I cannot find his position at the SPS website):
What’s the scoop with Ron English? Did he finally go over the edge? Ask Pam Wittman, she always knows what’s happening. I am totally curious.
Shore responds (partial):
I’m really wondering about Ron British. How Judy cheered! When I find out I’ll send you the news.
Shore then writes again, the same day:
I immediately went over to Pam’s cube but she’s on vacation until the 17th. Paul Nermo knew nothing,and Theresa Salmon was waiting for Kathy Johnson to come in to see if she had news.
Nancy Pedersen was in her quiet cube and I asked her, and she professed not knowing, either. We did talk about how it wouldn’t be attributed to a single incident or individual, and it may have been building up to a tipping point. Wow. What a tip-over!
We’ll find out soon enough and you’ll be in the know.
Clifton then responds:
LOL - I am sure you will get to the bottom of it. Kathy Johnson will know. You are correct, I am sure it was someone who just got tired of his rude behavior. He has been down right nasty to people and I am glad something is finally happening.
Shore replies (partial):
I think it had something to do with our new superintendent and his intolerance of rude behavior. Hmm. More to come on that.
Two SPS staffers talk about English in what I believe to be Vietnamese (clever way to hide - at least for awhile - what you are saying.)
Kathie Technow, Accounting Manager, sends the Superintendent's e-mail to Heidi Wiley in the State Auditor's office for Central King county.
An outside lawyer, Jennifer Mackley, offers her services to Charles Wright as an "interim resource."
Natasha Chen from KIRO asks SPD:
Just checking to see if you have any open investigation involving Ron English, the general counsel for Seattle Public Schools.
SPD says no.
SPD's Sean Whitcomb then asks Stacy Howard in SPS Communications:
Tan Harvard (SPS - can't find his title) to Kristin Tan (not SPS) in reference to her email about why English was put on leave:
Legal Counsel is probably under ethics violation investigation. A lot dept with SPS are potentially due for investigation.
Eric Sonett, Facilities and Capital Finance Manager to Bob Westgard (head of Transportation) :
I assume you know about this but it does suggest you could have played your cards differently...
Westgard replies (partial):
Did hear, caught me by surprise. I do not think this will be good for procurement as it allows the fox into the hen house. Not sure Pegi will be in a position to keep the wolves away.
Do I know who the fox is and what hen house? I do not.