Sunday, December 05, 2021

New Seattle School Board President Hersey

Again, man, he has moved up quickly. Cast your mind back about two years ago when Director Betty Patu stepped down before her term was done in District 7. There were 12 people signed up, including Hersey. He was one of three finalists and got the nod.

Fast forward to May of 2021 and only Hersey and another woman signed up to run. The woman did nothing but sign up so the position was his. How did things change so much in less than 2 years and no one felt the need to challenge him? Another "hmmm" moment. 

 Hersey - now president of the Board - seems to be really comfortable in the role. 

One example at the last Board meeting was when new director Michelle Sarju queried the other directors about asking questions during the voting for Board leadership. According to the rules being run by Superintendent Brent Jones, directors could only make comments. Sarju, who seems to have missed a training somewhere, was not happy that at no point could she ask a question.

However when Hersey sought clarification of a phrase that new director Vivian Song Maritz used, no one stopped him from asking a question. I guess when you are large in and in charge, you can use the rules to suit yourself.

I do want to walk through the voting process that happened the other night at the Board meeting to elect Board leadership. What started out a bit lighthearted - "drumroll please" - quickly got very serious. But that is to be a separate post. 

Back to President Hersey,  I have no problem with ambitious people. But there are some troubling issues about what he has done as a director.  

  • As I reported previously, Hersey left teaching. I think it would be hard to be a full-time teacher AND be on the board. In September 2021, he became the political director for a union, Professional & Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17). That means that he may make statements one day as president of the Board and the next day as the political director for a union. (I note that no SPS employees are covered by this union. As well, Board members are not part of district negotiations with unions but the Board does give input before the negotiations start.)
  • In October of this year, he was allowed by the South Seattle Emerald to ask questions of candidates running for the Board. That was not appropriate and yet, he said yes when the South Seattle Emerald asked him to do so.
  • He voted for interim superintendent Brent Jones with no public process. Here's what The Seattle Times had to say about that:

The negotiations were approved with no meaningful public process, as former board president Leslie Harris noted during the meeting: “If we are talking about engagement in every other area of our extremely important and hard work, I am not quite sure why we are skipping that step now.”

  • Hersey voted to raise the threshold of Board approval for spending from $1M to $5M. That's less Board oversight. 
  • Hersey, as VP, took over the Board meeting where the Board voted to accept the investigation report on HIB violations by Director Hampson and Director DeWolf. He then waived board policy on the actual report being linked to the agenda and the other directors went right along. 
  • Hersey pushed for Hampson to be VP despite knowing the waves she is creating for the entire headquarters. (More on this soon but she has filed a lawsuit against the district and the Board.)

Hersey seems to have skirted close to inappropriate professional behavior but now -with new information -  it appears he may have violated Board policy 5251 on Ethics.  

It appears that Hersey may used his friendship with Michael Charles, to nudge his friend's firm, Upper Left Strategies, in getting a contract with the district. Hersey used the firm in his own reelection campaign and Charles himself contributed money to Hersey's campaign.

I believe the contract is one to arrange community engagement on picking a new superintendent.  (I am going to double-check exactly what Upper Left would be doing when I receive the public disclosure documents I have requested. I do know it has to do with the superintendent search.)

It is unclear as of yet if there was an RFP created and, if so, was it created to favor Upper Left?

So how else are are Hersey and Charles connected?
  • Hersey and Charles are both Eagle Scouts who run Boy Scout Troop 008 in the Rainier Valley. 
  • Hersey is godfather to the only child of Charles and his wife, Toshiko Grace Hasegawa (who just won a seat on the Port Commission). 
How does any of this apply to the Ethics policy?

General Parameters of Policy

This policy establishes ethical standards of conduct for all District officers and employees, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid; and sets forth conduct that is incompatible with such standards. Violations of sections 4 through 9 of this policy subject employees to discipline, and officers to censure by the Board.

“Participate” means to personally and substantially consider, investigate, advise, recommend, approve, disapprove, decide, or take other similar action.

“Person” means any individual, partnership, corporation, association, firm, institution, or other entity, whether or not operated for profit.

The key passage:

Participate in a District action when it could appear to a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, that the District officer or employee’s judgment is impaired because of either (i) a personal or business relationship not covered under subsection a or b above, or (ii) a transaction or activity engaged in by the District officer or employee. This section c shall not apply if the employee or officer has, before participating, fully disclosed in writing the circumstances to the Superintendent and the Ethics Officer.

a. Conflicts of Interest. All District officers and employees must disqualify themselves from participating in District actions in which they have a conflict of interest, and disclose when it could appear that they have a conflict of interest.

b. Use of Position. District employees and officers may not misuse their positions or District property for private gain.

If Hersey's personal relationship with Charles made Hersey want to push for Upper Left to get this contract, it would seem his "judgment is impaired." 

Directors cannot be blamed for who their friends are but failure to disclose this to fellow Board members when it pertains to the business of the district is wrong.  

At the Upper Left Strategies homepage they state:

Upper Left Strategies is an award winning public relations and political consulting firm specializing in communications and strategic community advocacy. Upper Left Strategies is an award winning public relations and political consulting firm specializing in communications and strategic community advocacy.

But at Mr. Charles' LinkedIn page, he states:

Upper Left Strategies, is a full-service public relations consulting firm that specializes in strategic community advocacy.

So PR firm or PR/Political Strategy firm? I think it actually does make a difference. And to be clear, Charles is a political guy because he was the campaign manager for Lorena Gonzalez' campaign for City Council as well as campaign manager for Tim Burgess' campaign for City Council.


Anonymous said...

Wow, appreciate the research! Mr Hersey is quite connected, I wonder what is next for him (although Board seats tend to be dead end political aspirations; it would be a feat to run/re-elect for a subsequent term IMO). I am extremely curious about the lawsuit Ms Hampson has against the District and am glad you are looking into that - it will save their poor PDO from extra disclosure requests :)

District Watcher

Transparency Needed said...

The October 4th, 2021 Executive Committee minutes makes clear that Hersey attended an Executive Committee meeting where Approval of Request for Proposal for Consulting Services for Superintendent was discussed. Both Hersey and Upper Left staff were in attendance. Hersey moved to approve the RFP. Hersey voted along with 2 other directors to approve the RFP. Thus, directly impacting the district's ability to work with Upper Left.


Did Hersey tell staff and committee members that Upper Left was in the midst of working on Hersey's 2021 campaign for Seattle School Board? It appears Hersey has a personal connection to the consulting firm, as well.


Are there policies that would have required Hersey to recuse himself from the Executive Committee meeting where his friend/ political consultants were working on his campaign and doing business with the district? Would voting to support a RFP --for the political consultants working on your campaign--be considered a conflict of interest??

I certainly hope there was a Competitive Bidding Process and will this contract come before the board for approval? Or, are we looking at a done deal?

Melissa Westbrook said...

As you can see, I think he did violate Board policy on Ethics. At the very least, he should have disclosed his relationship with Upper Left and his friend to the entire Board and Superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the timing was for the increase in $$$ requiring board approval. I'm no fan of anything about central office SPS right now but I do know that Seattle's board approval process would have made it extremely difficult to be nimble during remote learning. Fed/state policies shifted fast and equipment needed to be ordered quickly, which is impossible in SPS. It isn't just getting approval - it's getting through committees, on a meeting agenda, responding to questions and concerns, trying the whole process again...6 month timeline for anything significant. Other districts could move much faster. Seattle is like turning a giant barge.


Anonymous said...

I did a fair amount of research on the cause of delay in tech roll out. It turned out:
JoLynn Berge was in charge of the technology funds. She placed Del Valle as new Director of Technology to be doing nothing while collecting a big check just as a placeholder. The district hard drive filled up and crashed due to their neglect under their watch. So Berge took out $450K of taxpayers' money to get a new hard drive without public or board disclosure, using the "emergency" excuse. Of course, Del Valle just sat out as he always has. Nothing gets done faster to save face or protect cushy jobs for the top bureaucrats, while it took many months longer than Highline for SPS to distribute devices to students. Taxpayers had paid $Bs in capital levies, but the bond keeps getting used or disappears for other use than what SPS had promised.

By the way, contracts with no proper bidding and public daylighting should be investigated for violation of Public Record Act. Residents should start a petition.

Go Taxpayers!

Anonymous said...

"Hersey voted to raise the threshold of Board approval for spending from $1M to $5M." WTF? They raised the threshold yet again, to $5 million? Just a year or so ago it was $250,000. $5 million is quite a lot of money, and for the board to raise that threshold is a huge slap in the face to the students and teachers of this district. It's a massive financial scandal waiting to happen.

It looks like Hersey has political ambitions, which is fine, but he will learn the hard way, as has everyone else who came before him, that the Seattle school board is not a gateway to a political career. Pissing off a city full of parents by failing to fix school district mismanagement has turned out to be a pretty bad way to convince voters to give you more power and a new, better job.


Anonymous said...

Go Taxpayers! here.
My reference to Public Record Act was wrong. I meant to say Public Meetings laws.

This example gives me hope:

Melissa Westbrook said...

So here are the new committee makeups; there's a weird pattern here.

Audit&Finance: Brandon K. Hersey (Chair), Chandra N. Hampson, Vivian Song Maritz

Executive: Brandon K. Hersey (President), Chandra N. Hampson (Vice President), and Lisa Rivera Smith (Member-at-Large)

Student Services, Curriculum&Instruction: Liza Rankin (Chair), Leslie Harris, Michelle Sarju

Operations: Lisa Rivera Smith (Chair), Liza Rankin, Vivian Song Maritz

Brandon is Board president AND will head two committees? That is a lot of work. As Board president he does have to head the Executive Committee but A&F? And, the two committees he's on have Chandra Hampson as another member.

And, Leslie Harris, the most senior board director isn't heading any committee. And she's on just one committee. So either Harris asked for an easier go of it (maybe work pressures) or Hersey may be punishing Harris for speaking out several times.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Go Taxpayers, could you tell us the documentation you looked at for your charge against Berge?

I can say the amount of money going to Tech is huge and 90% of tech money comes from levies. I believe it is dangerous to have one important department funded by levies.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Go Taxpayers, could you tell us the documentation you looked at for your charge against Berge?

I can say the amount of money going to Tech is huge and 90% of tech money comes from levies. I believe it is dangerous to have one important department funded by levies.

Anonymous said...

I gathered emails and contracts which prove that by Public Record Request.
There's no link what do ever for the public to view.
I wish had spent more time to gather info on all the other issues that were allowed to happen during 2020.

Let me know how I could upload documents here.


Go Taxpayers!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Go Taxpayers, I use Scribed. It's free and it's easy to upload documents.

Good for you asking to see the documents. I agree; there isn't much in the way of specifics at the SPS website.

Anonymous said...

Here you go. $480K controller bought as emergency with no approvals or transparency (before the rise to $1M/$5M):

And after that, a data center drive filling up:

How weren't Berge/DelValle on top of the most basic thing for running an IT Department and take over the "extra" and "essential" levy funds for technology? The public deserves disclosures, apologies, and their overdue administrative leave.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for supporting our fight for functional democracy, for our community and children, Melissa. Please excuse me for my multiple posts.

I could've spent more digging deeper into the sea of greedy and incompetent workings of the top bureaucrats at SPS particularly since DeWolf's term in the board. But I couldn't. It takes literally 100 yrs for SPS to release their records which are often selected and managed through arbitration.

Anyways, good for you to host this place where info is often much more accurate than the Seattle Times, the Emerald, etc!

Go Taxpayers!

Transparency Needed said...

Director Song Maritz will be holding a community meeting. Have other directors be holding meetings?

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for this blog and your work to inform all Seattle parents! Of course your blog has the effect of motivating me to move my kids to private schools but the truth is the truth for better or worse. My own experience interacting with Chandra Hampson was not good despite having some very close (1 degree of separation) connections.