Florida Keys Schools District freedom fighter Larry Murray’s first Editorial, and related fallout, aka death to The Griffiths Rule: “Praise in public, criticize in private”

 

Larry MurrayLarry Murray

I was copied with this from Larry yesterday, addressed to Deer Ed, boss pirate owner of bigpinekey.com’s Coconut Telegraph, a widely read public comment blog:

Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2013 17:36:01 -0800 From: citizenlarry007@yahoo.com Subject: Maiden Voyage To: island@bigpinekey.com

Deer Ed:

The following is my maiden voyage in submitting one of my missives for inclusion in the Coconut Telegraph. I hope you find it acceptable.

Teaser: There are efforts afoot to muzzle Capt. Ed Davidson at School Board meetings and to prohibit any public comment at workshops. Click on:

Silence Of The Captain

There has been considerable talk about how best to silence Capt. Ed Davidson at School Board meetings. Comments have been made during weekly interviews of Board Chairman Andy Griffiths by Bill Becker on “Morning Magazine”. Subsequent banter between the two reinforces my concern that they think it would be in the best interest of the School District if somehow Capt. Ed could be muzzled.

Superintendent Mark Porter has joined the fray, telling Becker during a “Morning Magazine” interview that there was no intention to muzzle Capt. Ed or anyone else for that matter. This was a response to my spirited defense in Sloan Bashinsky’s blog of Capt. Ed’s right to speak in general and the right of the public to address workshops in particular. Porter has expressed his opinion that public comment should not be allowed at workshops.

With no explanation provided, at the January workshop, Porter attempted to deny Sloan Bashinsky the right to speak. Only with the reluctant intervention by Griffiths was Sloan permitted to comment. Whether public comment at workshops will be permitted routinely remains an unresolved issue. The agenda for the Friday, February 12 workshop will be revealing.

Griffiths and Becker have returned to the subject of what they perceive to be Capt. Ed’s unnecessary, lengthy comments at recent Board meetings, particularly on the subject of HOB Change Orders. During that exchange, Griffiths drew an interesting distinction.

According to Griffiths, workshops were the place for discussions, extended or otherwise. Board meetings on the other hand, were for action, not discussion. I cannot say that I follow Griffith’s logic and it strikes me as arbitrary.

Capt. Ed spoke at some length at the last Board meeting on three subjects: the HOB Change Orders, the financial report of the Ocean Studies Charter School and a consultant contract for the Finance Department. As you know, the HOB Change Orders have become an explosive subject and Capt. Ed has made it clear that he intends that there be a thorough and complete airing. To expect minimal discussion on such a controversial subject is ridiculous. The same could be said of the $350,000 HOB parking lot fiasco which will soon appear before the Board as a Change Order.

The other two subjects, a financial report and a contract, were buried in the Consent Agenda. Neither had been discussed at a workshop. Both issues, in my opinion, deserved the scrutiny that Capt. Ed, along with John Dick, gave them. They had no choice in the matter as I see it. Either they went along, without comment, “consent” to two items of import, or they pulled them from the Consent Agenda as they did.

If there is a problem here, it is not with Capt. Ed, or John for that matter, talking too much and making an interesting meeting out of what Porter and Griffiths both predicted would be “dull”. The problem, as I see it, lay with Porter for trying to slip some things through, hoping that neither the Board nor anyone else would notice. Unfortunately, for him, Capt. Ed and John noticed. The simple solution to this problem is that if you want a “dull” Board meeting, then Porter had better make sure that everything on the agenda, especially the Consent Agenda, has been properly vetted prior to voting.

The lesson that I learned is to be sure to read the Consent Agenda and all attachments very carefully and not take Porter at his word that there is nothing of consequence buried in the details. This is a trust issue. Porter has lost a lot of credibility in my eyes, credibility that he can ill afford to lose.

Complaining about Capt. Ed talking too much or talking at the wrong time is a classic instance of blaming the messenger when the focus should be on the message. While Capt. Ed might be more succinct in some of his comments, many of us voted for him because we expected him to investigate and discuss all matters of consequence. I recommend that Chairman Griffiths speak to Porter regarding the agenda in advance and make certain that the “Devil isn’t in the details.”

Recently, I had a lengthy conversation with Board Chairman Griffiths regarding public comment at workshops and meetings. As we know, in Griffiths’ mind, when it comes to public comment at Board gatherings, he makes a major distinction. He believes that public comment should be limited to Board meetings as that is when, according to him, action is taken. Public comment is neither necessary, required nor valued at workshops as no action is to be taken. He thinks that workshop discussion should be limited exclusively to the Board, the superintendent and any experts they wish to include. Since no action will be taken, there is no need for public participation.

Of course, I believe that this “distinction” is arbitrary and capricious, fully a creation of Griffiths’ mind or imagination for that matter. I see no logical reason for it unless you endorse Andy’s principal assumption, which I do not. I believe that public input at workshops is necessary, useful and valuable, perhaps more so than at meetings. After all, the “action” taken at a meeting is simply to confirm what was informally decided at the workshop.

Additionally, the School Board, in my experience, has never made a clear distinction between workshops and meetings. They claim that their first gathering of the month is a workshop and that the second is a meeting. Yet, as often as not, action is taken at the workshops, which they then dignify as a “Special Meeting”. It is all very artificial.

Griffiths also believes that if the Board votes affirmatively on a subject, that vote renders any previous discussion moot and unnecessary. According to Griffiths, even discussion by Board members should be limited to those topics where, presumably, a member can predict a divided vote. How that would transpire is beyond me. Only Griffiths seems to know how votes ultimately will fall out. From my perspective, a Board member should be permitted to address any agenda item regardless of its seeming popularity or lack thereof.

What I do not grasp is the apparent abhorrence of Board Chairman Griffiths and Superintendent Porter to public comment. Public comment is something that they clearly do not like and perhaps fear. The public comment section generally takes less than 15 minutes in a multi-hour meeting so they cannot claim that public input is inordinately extending the meetings. The School Board is the only government entity in Monroe County that makes a concerted effort to restrict public comment.

My question is what harm is there in the Board listening to public comment regardless of the meeting format, workshop or meeting, or the subject at hand. Perhaps Chairman Griffiths and Superintendent Porter could address that at the next workshop on February 12, 2013.

Dr. Larry Murray

Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate

 

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Kudos to Larry, for entering the public blog arena with his trusted sniffer dog and determined demon hunter.

fraud investigationSt. George

A week or so ago, Larry had copied me with this on much the same subject:

Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2013 12:58:19 -0800 From: citizenlarry007@yahoo.com Subject: Silence of the Captain To: keysmyhome@hotmail.com CC: mark.porter@keysschools.com; andy@fishandy.com

Sloan:

You may recall that I wrote to you two weeks ago of my concern that there might be an effort to silence Ed Davidson at School Board meetings. My fear emanated from comments made during the weekly interview of Board Chairman Andy Griffiths by Bill Becker on “Morning Magazine”. Subsequent banter between the two reinforced my concern.

Since I wrote you, Superintendent Mark Porter told Becker during his “Morning Magazine” interview that there was no intention to muzzle Ed or anyone else for that matter. The latter comment arose from my defense of your right and the public in general to speak at workshops. Porter had expressed his opinion that public comment should not be allowed at workshops and he attempted to thwart you. Board Chairman Griffiths did permit you to speak. Whether public comment at workshops will be permitted routinely remains an unresolved issue. The agenda for the February workshop will be revealing.

Last Friday, Griffiths and Becker returned to the subject of what they perceived to be Ed’s lengthy comments at the last Board meeting, particularly on the subject of HOB Change Orders. Then, Griffiths drew an interesting distinction.

According to Griffiths, workshops were the place for discussions, extended or otherwise. Board meetings on the other hand, were for action, not discussion. I cannot say that I follow Griffith’s logic and it strikes me as arbitrary.

Ed spoke at some length at the last Board meeting on three subjects: the HOB Change Orders, the financial report of the Ocean Studies Charter School and a consultant contract for the Finance Department. As you know, the HOB Change Orders have become an explosive subject and Ed has made it clear that he intends that there be a thorough and complete airing. To expect minimal discussion on such a controversial subject is ridiculous. The same could be said of the HOB parking lot fiasco which will soon appear before the Board as a Change Order.

The other two subjects, a financial report and a contract, were buried in the Consent Agenda. Neither had been discussed at a workshop. Both issues, in my opinion, deserved the scrutiny that Ed, along with John Dick, gave them. They had no choice in the matter as I see it. Either they went along, without comment, “consent”, to two items of import or they pulled them from the Consent Agenda.

If there is a problem here, it is not with Ed, or John for that matter, talking too much and making an interesting meeting out of what Porter and Griffiths both predicted would be “dull”. The problem, as I see it, lay with Porter for trying to slip some things through, hoping that neither the Board nor anyone else would notice. Unfortunately, for him, Ed and John noticed. The simple solution to this problem is that if you want a “dull” Board meeting, then Porter had better make sure that everything on the agenda, especially the Consent Agenda, has been properly vetted prior to voting.

The lesson that I learned is to be sure to read the Consent Agenda and all attachments and not take Porter at his word that there is nothing of consequence buried in the details. This is a trust issue. Porter has lost a lot of credibility in my eyes, credibility that he can not afford to lose.

Complaining about Ed talking too much or talking at the wrong time is a classic instance of blaming the messenger when the focus should be on the message. While Ed might be more succinct in some of his comments, I voted for him because I expected him to investigate and discuss all matters of consequence. I recommend that Chairman Griffiths speak to Porter regarding the agenda in advance and make certain that the “Devil isn’t in the details.”

Larry

Dr. Larry Murray

Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate

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I replied to Larry, copied Mark Porter and Andy Griffiths, the current School Board Chairman and progenitor of The Griffiths Rule, “Praise in public, criticize in private.”

Hi Larry, and Andy and Mark –

My recollection of that School Board workshop …

After it was announced the workshop was over about 25 minutes before the ensuing School Board meeting was to began, I raised my hand, and not being recognized, I called Andy’s name and asked if I could speak? Andy didn’t look receptive, nor did anyone other School Board member, nor Mark. As I recall, I kept speaking to Andy. I said there is very little citizen input at School Board meetings, and I thought that was what workshops were about. Finally, Andy look around, then at me, and said okay, if I was brief. I said I wanted to speak to something that had been discussed in the workshop.

I spoke to the constant boasting the School Board and School District do about the District’s high ratings against other schools in Florida. I said the Board and District had sold out the students, parents, teachers and community by abandoning the vocation ed half of the vision statement, which in total is to have high school graduates college and/or career ready. I said the Board and District got an F-minus grade on career ready, which is what over half the high school students need to be on graduation. I spoke maybe two minutes.

Wasn’t all that long afterward that Mark floated not having citizen comments during School Board workshops. As if there ever had been much citizen input at Board workshops or Board meetings.

As for agenda items, consent or regular items, Board members should be able to discuss any agenda item until they feel they have said all they need to say. I do not like the idea of Andy and Mark getting together ahead of time. If they don’t like lengthy discussion about agenda items, maybe they are in the wrong line of work; maybe they should resign. At the very least, they should not go on US 1 Radio and complain about Ed Davidson, or any Board member, trying to get to the bottom of what is on an agenda.

Advertised Board workshops and meetings are the only time Board members can legally talk to each other about school business, and that is when vigorous and thorough discussion should occur. Perhaps related, there is absolutely no place for The Griffiths Rule at School Board workshops and meetings. That is when the Board has an affirmative duty to apprise the public, who pay their salary, of all of the School District’s warts and dirty laundry.

I got the measure of Ed Davidson some time before he decided to run for the School Board, which his tenacious public watchdog reputation long preceded. If he were to slack off at School Board workshops and meetings, he would change his spots and people, including me, would wonder that had happened to him?

I am wondering why I have heard from Ed about his tenacious investigation of what happened at Key West High School leading up to Matthew Gilleran going home from school on Friday and posting a farewell to his Facebook friends and shooting himself in the head? I am wondering the same about Mark, Andy and the other three School Board members? I am wondering why that has not been an ongoing agenda item at School Board meetings?

Sloan

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Also received this from Larry yesterday:

Sloan:

Given your interest in Public Records Requests, I thought you would find interesting the following exchange regarding an effort by the District to assess a $150 fee for “legal review”.

The Michael in the second email is Michael Kinneer.

Larry

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I replied:

Nothing they come up with to discourage Public Records Requests would surprise me. They told me there would be a fee for telling me who all’s heads got rolled in the past six months, and their job description, salary, benefits, as I recall the way I asked the question, after John Dick had crowed to Bill Becker on US 1 Radio that heads had, or would, roll. I told them in the Public Record’s Request it was those heads, as per John Dick, I wanted to know about. I made the request to John and to the School District C/O then Superintendent of Schools Jesus Jara. I told them I didn’t see any reason to pay for something John Dick surely knew off the of this head. Despite their assurances, as my Public Records request was passed from Superintendent Jesus Jara down the chain of uncommand to somebody down in the non-commissioned officers barracks, who was the last to assure me that what I had requested would be forthcoming, I never heard another word from them.

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Today’s sequel to yesterday’s brief anonymous article in The Key West Citizen:

District questions Gentile’s hotline statements

BY TERRY SCHMIDA Citizen Staff

Inter-office emails from School District Director of Finance and Performance Ken Gentile to his former intern assistant Amy Reno, call into question statements Gentile made during a December Audit and Finance Committee meeting.

Gentile, who was put in charge of setting up and running a whistle-blower hotline with the Oregon-based EthicsPoint corporation, told attendees at that Dec. 3 meeting that he had put in place procedures to ensure that any complaints to the hotline concerning himself, would be passed along to the schools superintendent, or the chairman of the School Board. That claim turned out to be false.

Instead, on April 21, 2011 Gentile had sent his part-time assistant Reno, a student at Florida Keys Community College, a username and passcode, enabling her to access all the complaint reports online.

The reports and emails have been released to former Audit and Finance Committee member, and current schools watchdog, Larry Murray, following a near four-month crusade, which included the threat of a lawsuit, to make them public.

The documents raise the central point that at the time of his statement at the AFC meeting, Gentile had made an alternate arrangement – and it didn’t involve keeping either Superintendent Mark Porter, or Board Chairman Andy Griffiths, in the loop.

“Every EthicsPoint complaint was sent to her,” Murray said Monday. “Nothing was segregated, nothing bypassed her. Gentile told [AFC meeting attendees] that he had set up a procedure to send complaints regarding himself to the super. We didn’t even know that Reno was involved with the hotline. We just thought she was working for him crunching numbers.”

Also present at that meeting was School Board member Ed Davidson, who has seconded Murray’s recollection of the AFC pow-wow.

“Mr. Gentile has certainly indicated more than once to Audit and Finance Committee attendees, including myself, that a procedure had been set up that would forward any complaints involving himself to the superintendent, with some discussion about copying the chairman of the School Board,” Davidson said. “It was certainly my understanding that this had already been done and having attended virtually all of the AFC meetings in the past, it was never my understanding that his former temporary intern had access to these sensitive reports – though to my great surprise, that had clearly been done by Ken himself.”

Gentile, who earns $122,000 at the district has previously stated that he had no idea why notification of the filed reports were not passed along to Porter, or Griffiths — or how knowledge of their existence was made known to Reno.

Gentile did not answer a Citizen phone request for comment on Monday, but Superintendent Porter reiterated his determination to get to the bottom of the matter.

“As I’ve said, before this public records request by Mr. Murray, I wasn’t even aware that this hotline existed,” Porter said. “At the moment, I’m working with our legal counsel to learn more about this issue, before I pass judgment.”

Among the released emails are one each from Porter, and district lawyer Dirk Smits, disclaiming knowledge of any written complaint reports.

The correspondence from Porter, dated Nov. 20, 2012, asserts that the information Murray had been seeking “does not currently exist in document form.”

The email from Smits, from Dec. 6, states that “everything is evidently verbal from the vendor [EthicsPoint].

The reports concerning Gentile suggest that he asked members of his staff to pray with him on bended knee, that he altered contracts to get them past the School Board, and that he tried to find a job for a relative with the district.

Also on Monday, Murray pronounced himself stunned that the reports sent along to him by Smits, though redacted, contained the actual user name and passcode forwarded to Reno by Gentile.

“Why did she have access in the first place?” Murray wondered. “What a terrible position it put this poor girl in. If I was a part-timer and got a complaint about my boss, I’d be thinking, what do I do? And why, after she ceased working at the district was her email not deactivated? That seems like a serious, systemic error to me.”

In addition, Murray claimed that Smits told him he owed the district $500 for legal services rendered, in preparing the reports, but had decided to waive the fee on this one occasion.

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Only because of Larry Murray’s dogged efforts to get the hotline information out of the School District was Terry Schmida able to write about that subject.  Mark Porter was hired last year, and inherited a lot of what I write about the School District, including the ongoing reporting re Ken Gentile. I found myself thinking this morning, if the School Board had hired the obvious head-and-shoulders-above Superintendent of Schools candidate Dr. Ed Shine, I might not have much to write about the School District but praise reports for Dr. Shine :-) .

Sloan Bashinsky

keysmyhome@hotmail.com

About Sloan

That's what this website is about, also goodmorningkeywest.com and goodmorningbirmingham.com. If you can't get a publisher to take on your wacky musing, you do it yourself.
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