I am sorry that the following is as blunt and direct as it is. However, at this juncture, I do not know better how to address the subject given my frustration.
I do not know if I am being stonewalled, stiff-armed or whatever. What I do know is that several of my Public Records Requests are being ignored. Perhaps there is an expectation that if I am ignored long enough, then I will forget. I can assure you that such is not the case.
The Public Records Requests that I have authored are made according to the laws of the State of Florida. Filling such requests, as I understand it, is not optional for public agencies such as the Monroe County School District and must be done in a timely manner.
Because you are a trained attorney, I had hoped that you would be sensitive to the legal requirements associated with Public Records Requests. Such does not seem to be the case and that disappoints me.
I am repeating my request for the following Public Records Requests in a collegial manner and in the expectation that they will be fulfilled. However, if they are not, you will leave me no choice but to pursue other remedies to compel the District in general, and you, in particular, to honor my requests
[See Larry’s requests in Mark Porter’s reply email…]
Dr. Larry Murray Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate
From: Mark Porter <Mark.Porter@KeysSchools.com> To: Lawrence Murray <email@example.com> Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 3:10 PM Subject: RE: Public Records Requests Or The Absence Thereof
Following our lunch today I returned to the office and began searching for the information you have requested. As discussed, I am hopeful that in some way the relationship can be modified from adversarial to collaborative. Will take time and effort on both sides. While I appreciate your reasons behind using the media as a method of communication, I do not believe it is an effective way to seek greater collaboration. That said, here are my responses.
1. PRR XI, Circular, October 28, 2012 There has been no reply or acknowledgment whatsoever to this request. RESPONSE: The following is copied entirely and directly from an e-mail sent to school board members on 10/24/2012. School Board Members: While I continue to believe that the ramblings and rants of Dr. Larry Murray do not warrant a direct response from me, I do want to share with school board members part of my reasoning and rationale regarding some of the proposed changes (and changes not proposed) in the current set of job descriptions. First, the job descriptions are in draft form and I have expected all along to engage in some revisions and improvements before they are finally approved by the board on Nov. 20th. Some good input was provided by the school board last night, and I have received input from other sources as well, Dr. Murray included. With regard to education/job requirements I do see a need to spend some additional time and effort in this area, but I also do not want or intend to tailor these positions to fit only the existing personnel. As indicated on Tuesday night, the needs of the organization must be considered first, and then the needs or issues associated with individuals. As to the substitution of job relevant experience for preferred educational degrees, this is somewhat of an anomaly in the Keys. One cannot always find the desired, even required, expertise sought and yet positions do need to be filled in order for the organization to function effectively. Yes, we can and will pursue a broader audience of potential candidates, but even a move to the Keys can be quite inhibiting to potential candidates. Finally, it is within the authority of the superintendent to hire his leadership team. I don’t see this as a “get out of jail free card” rather I see it as one of my most significant areas of responsibility, for which the board can and should hold me accountable. My approach to continuous improvement is that of incremental change. It is an accurate observation that I am not proposing radical changes at this time, but I feel such an approach, in the middle of a school year, could be more detrimental than beneficial to the organization. Through this process I will align all executive team contracts with a June 30th expiration and will continue my efforts to evaluate current personnel and their performance before extending contracts an additional year. This is a work in progress and I appreciate your support and input. Thank you.
2. PRR VII, Salary Supplements, October 8, 2012 I was promised this list by the end of October as it was being compiled at the time of my request. I had no problem with that, but I asked that the document be provided as promised when promised, without me having to chase for it. The promised date has come and gone and here I am, chasing. RESPONSE: You have been working directly with Mr. Gentile on this matter and he remains the best direct source for this information. As today is Veteran’s Day Mr. Gentile is not in the office, but I will check with him on Tuesday to verify the status of this request.
3. PRR VIII, District Hotline Report, October 7, 2012 Receipt of this request was acknowledged and that was the end of it. I believe that company engaged by the District to operate the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Hotline reports results monthly. Why the delay? I am also interested in obtaining any internally compiled reports for the last three months activity on the Hotline. RESPONSE: I know nothing about this “hotline”. I will try to see how this request can be re-directed and if possible provide a response.
4. PRR VI, Early Retirement Savings, September 29, 2012 I was informed that this report was being compiled and that was the end of it. Is the report available? RESPONSE: As indicated in your request there is no “record” to be provided. In the alternative I understand Mr. Gentile is working to put together information that may responsive to your request.
This is a summary of the status of your current Public Records Requests. As discussed, in some instances the requested records do not exist, yet we will continue to make our best efforts at providing information in our on-going effort to be transparent with you and members of the public.
Mark T. Porter
Superintendent of Schools
Monroe County School District
241 Trumbo Road | Key West, FL 33040 | O: (305) 293-1400 x53323 | F: (305) 293-1408 E: Mark.Porter@KeysSchools.com | W: www.KeysSchools.com
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2012 17:23:51 -0800 From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: Public Records Requests Or The Absence Thereof To: Mark.Porter@KeysSchools.com
Superintendent Porter: Thank you very much for your “reasoning and rationale” to my “ramblings and rants”. That is a very interesting and informative juxtaposition that no doubt brought a chuckle to your readers. You do know how to win friends and influence people. I now better understand why I was not copied in the first place and your commentary would have made an interesting backdrop to our lunch today.
Occasionally, my “ramblings and rants” reveal some extraordinary information. This Public Records Request is certainly an example when you write: “I know nothing about this ‘hotline’. I will try to see how this request can be re-directed and if possible provide a response.” That statement, in the cliches of life, “says it all.”
Dr. Larry Murray
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2012 18:04:06 -0800 From: email@example.com Subject: Re: Public Records Requests Or The Absence Thereof To:
Thank you again for lunch. It was an interesting, if not entirely productive conversation. Had I read your statement regarding my “ramblings and rants” prior to our luncheon engagement, I probably would have declined. I was unaware that you held my commentaries, and presumably me, in such low regard, though I can understand why you would communicate such to the School Board.
Apparently, you consider me a crank of sorts, not someone to be taken seriously. That was not the impression that I gathered over lunch. It appears that I drew an erroneous conclusion. While you are certainly correct that “the ramblings and rants of Dr. Larry Murray do not warrant a direct response” from you, such an attitude is reflective of a disdain that makes collaboration difficult, if not impossible.
Dr. Larry Murray
Florida has a very broad Public Records Law. Email addresses and virtually all written communications to or from School District Personnel are public records available to the public and media upon request. E-mail sent or received on the School District system will be considered public and will only be withheld from disclosure if deemed exempt from disclosure or confidential pursuant to applicable state and federal law.
My reply to Larry: Hard to imagine Mark does not know of the so-called hotline, but I give him credit for admitting he did not know of it. You pushed Mark and his staff really hard and I’m not surprised at what Mark wrote to the school board members. For quite a while, even before I arrived in the Keys in late 2000, I have been viewed by many as a crank, not someone to be taken seriously. I seldom hold myself out as seeking collaboration because most of the situations I address are so encased in concrete thinking that the only collaboration with any chance of proceeding might be produced by a direct bunker-busting nuclear strike. I imagine the odds of the State Attorney enforcing a Public Records Request to the School District are zero-minus. I still believe you should continue to try to educate the public about what you see, wonder about, etc. going on in the school district. Besides my websites, here also is the Coconut Telegraph run by our pirate friend. He loves publishing controversy, the more the better. He has a very big readership, they have wagging tongues. Do you know how it went at the Audit & Finance meeting today re the “money-saved” payment the school district made to the HOB contractor? Sloan
Then, I received this forward: From: Lawrence Murray <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: Mark Porter <email@example.com> Cc: Rob Smith-Martin <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ron Martin <email@example.com>; John Dick <John.Dick@KeysSchools.com>; Andy Griffiths2 <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ed Davidson <email@example.com> Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:31 PM Subject: Clarity Of Communication
Apparently in some of my “ramblings and rants” I have not always been clear in my expressions on certain subjects.Permit me to clarify any confusion which I may have created to disabuse you of any misapprehensions.
1. I have not and do not object to substitution of relevant “training, education and experience” for the minimum requirement for any position in the School District.What I do object to and will continue to object to is the substitution of anything in a subjective manner for the minimum requirements of any position as was done in the case of the appointment of the Director of Instructional Technology.
What I have asked of you is that the substitution for the minimum requirements be done in an objective manner. In that regard, I have recommended that you instruct your Human Resources Department to develop guidelines or procedures for the evaluative process when a substitution for the minimum requirements is requested by a candidate.In the absence of such, without direction, the evaluative process can only be subjective, loosely phrased, “a matter of opinion.”
I believe that any substitution for the minimum requirements must be fully and completely explained and justified as it will have to be a losing candidate appeal or litigate.
I do not understand why you are reluctant to proceed in what I consider an appropriate businesslike manner unless your intent is to maximize your opportunity to fair-thee-well appoint anyone you would like.I suggested earlier that there was a likelihood that the substitution clause would be used more and more in future hiring and you have confirmed that because “One cannot always find the desired, even required, expertise sought (in the Keys)….” I would be interested in learn on what basis, on what local experience you have drawn to come to that conclusion.
2. As for position descriptions, you respond to my concerns about those for “Directors” by suggesting that what has been presented is preliminary, not final, and that you “see a need to spend some additional time and effort in this area, …” I hope that is the case and that you do.
What I would ask is that when you put something on the agenda for School Board consideration, if it is preliminary, that it be so labeled as a “Draft”.
3. You state emphatically that you “do not want or intend to tailor these positions to fit only the existing personnel.” I could not agree with you more and I do not want anyone to misunderstand that.
The School District has a history of “tweaking” position descriptions to fit the incumbent or heir apparent.No one wishes to return to that abuse of the hiring process.
I urge you, and I think that we are in agreement, that all position descriptions should be drafted according to proper Human Resource protocols.I could not ask for more and I look forward to reviewing the revised position descriptions for the Directors, your “Leadership Team” which just appeared today for next week’s Board agenda.I understand that some revisions/improvements have been made, but I will reserve comment until I have an opportunity to digest the new documents.
4. Whenever the District has cast a wide net for prospective employees, the results have been positive.Witness the Director of Transportation, the Chief Financial Officer, the Internal Auditor and a Purchasing Agent.Recently the School Board identified a superintendent who was willing to move nearly 2,000 miles.You say that “we can and will pursue a broader audience” and then you all but negate that promise when you say that “even a move to the Keys can be quite inhibiting to potential candidates.” I ask: How do you know if you don’t try?
When the District launched a search last winter for a new superintendent, Board Chairman John Dick repeatedly opined that, given what the District was willing to pay and the cost of living in the Keys, the District would not find a qualified candidate.Many of us disagreed and a national net was cast.When applications came in, there were many qualified candidates from around the country and the list was winnowed to the best five, three of whom were from out of state, New York, Oklahoma and Minnesota.
Looking beyond Key Largo has worked before and it will work again, but only if we look. It has been my experience in life that if you start negative, you will finish negative.
5. I fully agree that “it is within the authority of the Superintendent to hire his Leadership Team.” I would not in any way restrict that.
That being said, the School District is a public entity subject to a plethora of rules and regulations in the hiring process. What I ask is that those rules and regulations be followed to the letter. If there is a position description that a candidate must meet, that is absolute, not arbitrary.If a substitution is allowed in place of minimum requirements, that substitution must be applied intelligently, legally and be defensible in the eyes of the public and the courts if necessary.
6. While I do not concur, I understand your desire to “align all executive team contracts with a June 30th expiration date….” You speak in general terms, but I think that we can easily identify the elephants in the room, Michael Kinneer, and Ken Gentile.
In view of some public statements made by various Board members, particularly Andy Griffiths, and your recent suspension of Ken Gentile for falsifying his credentials, I believe that it would have been politic to make your intentions public prior to the 11th hour. After all, Michael Kinneer’s contract expires December 15. That no public discussion whatsoever has been voiced led me to the conclusion that you intended to reappoint.
I believe that it is more beneficial to inform the public timely rather than have it draw conclusions, perhaps inaccurately, for a lack of action.Secrecy is the stuff of conspiracies.
It appears that you and I may have a fundamental difference when it comes to the role of the media in School District affairs. My firm belief is that when one is conducting the public’s business that it should be done with full transparency. If one does that, if one is doing the Lord’s work and is on the side of the angels, why would one care what the media knows?
Then, I received this:
Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2012 07:00:00 -0800 From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: Public Records Requests Or The Absence Thereof To: email@example.com
I spoke with Stuart yesterday after the AFC meeting.You should really talk to him yourself.
As I understand it, the meeting was long and, at times, contentious as Roger McVeigh objected to the Committee weighing in on some issues including the District’s $250,000 payment to Coastal Construction for “savings” on the HOB project.Stuart explained to the Committee what he had learned and the Committee apparently agreed that it was inappropriate to return any money to Coastal prior to the completion of the project.
Apparently, I continue to weaselword as what I know is secondhand, there is strong evidence that the $250,000 was returned.However, there is no singular check in that amount.The payment presumably is buried somewhere in various invoices.Stuart has had great difficulty obtaining those invoices.The last he knew, Kinneer was requesting payment for copies.Again, the Committee supported Stuart, voting to demand copies of all pertinent documents for Committee review.
The only thing that surprised me was a discussion as to whether or not the Committee should go directly to the state auditors with their findings.I was unaware that they would consider the issue that grave.The final decision was to bring their concerns to the School Board at its next meeting and not, at least at this time, go to the auditors.
I emphasize again that what I know of the meeting is secondhand and urge you to talk to Stuart or someone else who was at the meeting, e.g. Ed Davidson.I am told that Superintendent Porter made a brief appearance to say “hello” but did not stay for the meeting.Ken Gentile, with his new assistant, was there and, as I understand it, offered no objection to Stuart’s presentation regarding the $250,000 payment.
Hi, Larry – Thanks, Will call Stuart. Am forwarding yours to Ed Davidson, in case he cares to reply to you and/or to me. Sloan
I called Stuart Kesser, a member of the Audit & Finance Committee (AFC), and said what I summed up from Larry’s input was Mark Porter made substantial payments to the HOB contractor above the $25,000 he had authority to make, but it seemed the payments were made in bunches, perhaps to disguise it, and I saw no way construction savings produced by the contractor could be known before the construction was all finished. Stuart said I had summed up the questions but he was still investigating and did not want to make a public comment before he was through investigating. I said okay.
Later, Larry told me that he had heard that Mark Porter had decided the Audit & Finance Committee would only report at school board meetings every quarter, instead of every month. But that Mark had relented, so the AFC could report at Tuesday’s school board meeting in Key West, which starts at 4 p.m., with the induction of the two recently elected members, 20-year incumbent Andy Griffiths and new-comer Ed Davidson.
Larry also told me that Roger McVeigh, on the Audit & Finance Committee, views the AFC’s mission as auditing the school district after it does things, instead of auditing the district ongoing, to try to keep it from screwing up. Larry said the AFC should try to keep the train on the tracks. I agreed, but am pretty well convinced the school board and district much prefer real bad train wrecks, like the one they manufactured when they blew off the district’s CFO Michael Kineer and AFC member Larry Murray, who both announced there was not enough money to fund the collective bargaining agreement. And now, according to what School Board John Dick said on US 1 Radio, the district is raiding the reserve fund balance to pay teachers.
I hope Ed Davidson can bring sanity to the school board and district, but I won’t be holding my breath.