Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nothing illegal about Gundlach’s being hired

Well, well, well, there’s plenty of egg on people’s faces this morning, as we learn from the State Ethics Board exactly what some of us had already publicly stated, that there would have been nothing illegal about having a school superintendent whose wife was also employed by the same district.

According to this article in the Oshkosh Northwestern not only would it not have been illegal, the situation of both of them being employed by the same district would have been manageable. Perhaps that will help quell the uproar we’ve heard in the last few days from the naysayers in our little community. Let’s hope it also teaches some people a few valuable lessons so they won’t shoot their mouths off so prematurely again. Given past behaviors of certain individuals I doubt that will happen, but hey, hope springs eternal.

While I’m on the subject of naysayers, someone emailed me a copy of Kent Monte’s (you remember him, don’t you?) latest rant in which he challenges what I wrote in my last blog posting. As usual, Kent is focusing on minutia instead of the real issues. I don’t have time to waste on him or his “gagging on gnats” commentary, which really speaks for itself anyway, and most people with half a brain and common-sense can see that. Besides, if he’d actually read what’s written instead of what he chooses to see, all his questions would be answered.

But I do have to address one point and that is this: I was under the impression when Mr. Monte stated in March that he was not going to mention my name anymore on his blog or allow anyone else to do so that he meant it, especially when he told me to feel free to monitor. Since he’s now broken that “rule” and is back-peddling, I can only assume that either he didn’t really mean what he said or he’s forgotten something else he stated publicly. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

As far as Dan Becker’s comments in today’s Northwestern article that are meant to somehow support his actions in calling the state AG’s office and the State Ethics Board, I maintain that he or anyone else had the right to ask questions, however, his timing and the manner in which he did it were inappropriate and should not be tolerated, regardless of his “reasoning.” One of his quotes to the Northwestern – which should be thanked for contacting the State Ethics Board – was “It was clear the remainder of the board had no interest in exploring this.” He has no way of knowing whether the rest of the board would have explored the conflict issue or not. He never gave them or the district attorneys the chance. Again, his actions were premature, inappropriate and resemble those of a bully. Perhaps it’s time the voters tell Mr. Becker he’s no longer welcome on our playground.

Monday, August 11, 2008

More proof that unity and negativity cannot co-exist

In what is becoming a far too frequent, and frustrating, occurrence another school district administrator has been “run off” by a few naysayers in our community – the latest before he could even begin his job. At least that’s how it appears to many – no matter what side of the latest controversy they’re on. I’m speaking about the issue of Dr. David Gundlach, who just last Thursday evening accepted a conditional offer to become the new superintendent of the Oshkosh Area School District. By Friday, school board member Dan Becker was complaining to the media, and a few others were voicing their negativity on the local blogs about a potential – or is it, perceived – conflict of interest because Gundlach’s wife is also employed by the district. This from Becker AFTER he “conditionally” approved the hiring.

According to today’s Oshkosh Northwestern, Becker admitted that he contacted the state attorney general’s office and the Wisconsin Ethics Board this morning about conflicts that could arise because Marlene Gundlach is a district employee. And by late this morning, Dr. Gundlach had withdrawn his acceptance saying the position was not “the right fit for him at this time;” board president Amy Weinsheim had called the board members to update them; and a press release had been drafted - though the media evidently knew about it before the press release was sent. Hmm, I wonder how that happened.

Some are hailing Becker as some kind of hero. They’re applauding Becker for “calling out” Gundlach on his “conflict.” Clearly these people are in the dark about some things. After all, there was nothing to call him out on. He never tried to hide his wife’s district employment and, again, Becker was okay with it providing certain safeguards were put in place. Moreover, to those so worried about a conflict of interest, Dan Becker has his own conflict and has had to abstain from voting on issues surrounding driver’s education in our school district since he owns a driver’s education academy. Funny how certain conflicts belonging to the naysayers in this community are easily dismissed, but others are belabored over to the point of ad nauseum, bringing out nothing but bullying and mean-spiritedness from a small segment of our community – and I use the word “community” loosely because actions like Becker’s bring about anything but community.

Fortunately, if the number of people who have been in contact with me today are any indication, the Dan Becker supporters are in the minority in this matter. Indeed, while I’m sure there’s a certain smugness coming from the Becker camp about today’s events, many see him as a troublemaker and crybaby whose latest tricks are just more of the same kinds of bullying tactics he and his friends have employed in the past. Let’s review this latest set of circumstances.

Becker left the closed session meeting last week before it adjourned. According to the Northwestern he said he’d told board members when he left that he'd be willing to back Gundlach if the potential conflict was adequately addressed. And, in fact, the potential conflict of interest was the very first item spelled out in the district’s conditional offer of employment to Gundlach. (NOTE THAT THE OPERATIVE WORD HERE WAS “CONDITIONAL.”). Why Becker left such an important meeting early is not clear, nor does it matter. This was a crucial meeting and if he couldn’t stay until the end, but wanted specific language in the employment offer - even though conditional at that stage - he should have given that language to the board before leaving the meeting room. Apparently that didn’t happen and when Becker read the Northwestern Friday morning, whined to them about the events that happened. Almost sounds like Brett Favre, getting upset because the team moved on without him and he couldn’t handle it. What Becker did next was even more out of line, totally disrespectful to all parties involved, including the taxpayers and parents in the district, and should not be tolerated.

This morning, he busied himself calling the AG’s office and the State Ethics Board. I’m sure he thinks he was acting in the district’s best interest, but clearly that’s not the case. Here’s why: (1) The board proceeded based on every member’s input last Thursday evening and made a conditional offer of employment to Dr. Gundlach; (2) That offer addressed Becker’s conflict of interest concerns, which would have been further addressed in a more formal agreement by the district’s attorney, but Becker refused to allow the process to go full circle. And let’s not forget, again, that Becker said he had no problem with Gundlach, IF the conflict issue could be satisfactorily handled; (3) If the district attorney did not satisfactorily address the issue, Becker could then have told his fellow board members that he was not comfortable and asked that they then get some guidance from the AG’s office or State Ethics Board. Or, in the alternative, he could have suggested that those entities be contacted by the district’s legal counsel in advance of drafting the actual employment contract. But Becker didn’t have the good business sense or maturity to do either of those; (4) We now have to spend more money to begin another search (after all, to offer the position to the second or third choice candidates would not be the best option and it is questionable whether they would even accept, given the events that have unfolded here.). Yet, Dan Becker has always held himself out as a good steward of our tax dollars. That has been questionable by some of his doings in the past, but even more so in light of his antics over the last few days. (5) Lest we forget that he went behind the backs of his fellow board members in making the phone calls he did. And by the way, it’s interesting to note he never said whether either of those inquiries resulted in either agency agreeing with him. I’d be surprised if he actually got the answers he was looking for. Perhaps the Oshkosh Northwestern needs to contact the AG’s office and Ethics Board and find out if there actually would have been a problem with Dr. Gundlach serving as superintendent of a district which also employed his wife. Since he wouldn’t directly supervise her and does not vote on any district issues, I suspect the answer would be “no” though there are some discussions he may have had to refrain from participating in.

Let there be no misunderstanding here. The problem with Becker is not that he asked questions; it’s his timing in doing so and the manner in which he did it.

So where does the district go from here? (A) I think the board should let John Sprangers and Patti Vickman continue in their roles – at least for the interim – and spend the additional funds necessary to conduct another search, forgetting about timelines and referendum issues; (B) When looking at candidates, make sure there is absolutely nothing in their personal background or professional resume that the naysayers can pick at like a scab they just won’t let heal. Also make sure that the candidates selected to interview are very strong personalities who will not be intimidated or run off by the persistent negative element at work in this district - no matter show small; (C) With respect to the referendum, scrap it for 2009. The earliest I think it could successfully be held would be fall of 2009, but sometime in 2010 is probably a better choice; (D) In the meantime, close the schools deemed the best choices for closure and do not be intimidated by the NIMBYs, because they’ll show up at board meetings, no matter what schools are slated for closure. But close some schools now, taking them out of the referendum matrix altogether and giving parents a chance to see before the referendum vote that their children are surviving just fine with certain schools closed and that their property values are not negatively impacted as they once believed they would be. (E) While ceremonial at best, the board should publicly censure Dan Becker for his behavior, disruption to the district, and for the additional expense his behavior has likely caused us to incur. And who knows, it may be the very kind of behavior exhibited by Becker and a few others that is keeping some otherwise outstanding candidates from even applying here. If that is the case, this district would be better served if Becker focused on actually teaching people to drive rather than helping drive people away.

Meanwhile, though most of the board had hoped for unity in the district with Dr. Gundlach's hiring, it seems that will always be difficult to achieve, so long as certain negative birds of a feather flock together.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

One colunmnist's take on the Brett Favre drama

There's no question that the one topic on many lips these days is the Brett Favre situation. While I believe both sides may have been "offsides" at one time or another during the past five months or so, the bottom line is this: Football may be a game, but it is also a business. And, like any business, the Green Bay Packers organization needed a decision about Favre's intentions. Favre is the one who ultimately made the decision to retire - not anyone in Packers management. Then within a couple weeks of his emotionally-charged, early March retirement announcement, he reportedly wanted to un-retire himself and the Packers were apparently willing to accept his coming out of "retirement." But then, Favre did yet another about-face. At that point the Packers decided to move forward - a sound business decision in any arena, be it sports, manufacturing, or the service industry. After a couple months Favre began dropping "subtle" hints on late night shows or in other interviews and conversations with the media about possibly coming back and how something might happen once training camp time rolled around. Up and down the playing field Favre's indecisiveness went, with some additional comments thrown in about distrust of general manager Ted Thompson, etc. It continued until things became so acrimonious that the damage seemed irreparable.

Some believe Favre was playing a new kind of game - one in which he acted like a prima donna who was trying to call all the shots about his future, forgetting that at the end of the day, he is an employee, pure and simple. Others believe Favre made today's Packers what they are and, therefore, should be given anything he wants, no matter how it may affect, even disrupt, the rest of the team. Whether he was playing a game or was sincerely confused about his desires, he got reinstated, and came back to Green Bay on Sunday, but after meetings that followed said he couldn't get past certain things, left town yesterday afternoon and now has been traded to New York.

While I think Brett Favre is a great football player who did much for the Packers, I happen to be one of those who thinks that more of the blame for the situation we have today must be shouldered by Favre rather than by management. Perhaps one of the best editorials to support that position is this piece by Michael Silver for Yahoo Sports. It pretty accurately sums up how many of us feel about what has happened since March, in particular in the last couple of weeks. It also says something about the fans who would see no wrong in their boy Brett and would diss Aaron Rodgers for something clearly not his fault. After all, no matter where anyone wants to place blame in the Favre Fiasco, I would hope we could all agree that Rodgers is the one person who is totally blameless in this game of drama.