Secrets of the school board (5×8 – 2/23/12)

The value of a right to know, upon further review of the racist Lin headline, money vs. morals in Texas, dispatches from the weak ice, and the value of collecting.


A month or so ago, I wrote about the South Washington school board, which canned its superintendent and wouldn’t tell a bewildered public why. None of the board members who voted to oust Tom Porter campaigned on getting rid of him, and the action had the faint aroma of payback. That may be an unfair conclusion, but that’s where secrecy often leads. The voters weren’t allowed any information because the board cited privacy laws.

So the secrecy surrounding a big-money payout to a Burnsville school district employee, further detailed in today’s Pioneer Press, may sound familiar. The district’s human resources director walks with a quarter-million dollars.

Why? Nobody’s talking.

The Pioneer Press has pointed out the obvious: the data privacy laws in Minnesota provide secrecy.

Such “stonewalling” is a common tactic when it comes to disclosing the reasons top officials are paid to resign, said Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Elected leaders opt for secrecy because they fear penalties for unintentionally disclosing too much, he said.

“Public agencies in Minnesota have practiced this skit for a long time,” Anfinson said. “The fix has been in for 10 or 15 years. This is the biggest ongoing point of friction in the open records law.”

Gary Armoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said school districts act on the advice of their attorneys.

“I think school districts want to comply with the law and protect employees’ rights and the rights of the district.”

Public agencies often use separation agreements and severance pay to hasten the departure of top officials. Still, payments as large as the one Burnsville school board members agreed to are uncommon.

Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, the Woodbury Bulletin is also challenging the secrecy surrounding the South Washington County school board. In its editorial this week, the paper said:

In cases when the agency concludes that a violation occurred, there is no penalty or enforcement action. Still, an authoritative declaration from a respected state agency serves as a reminder to elected officials of the importance of following the Open Meeting Law.

Some may question why the Bulletin is pursuing this. After all, the board apparently acted on bad information and the performance summary was eventually made public, right?

The question here isn’t whether the spirit of the law was followed. We have questioned whether the board followed the letter of the law as it handled one of its most controversial decisions in recent years. Fallout from the board’s actions begins to shine light on the importance of following these laws carefully: rational – and irrational – questions could have been more promptly addressed rather than being left to fester out in the open while board members largely were silent.

The public has a reasonable expectation that its elected officials are following the law, and they should be called out if that does not happen.

Ultimately, this secrecy hurts school districts when they ask voters for more money in the form of a levy. Opponents usually charge school districts are wasting taxpayer money and secrecy only reinforces the notion whether it’s correct or not.


It’s probably too late to rethink the firing of an ESPN writer, but Anthony Federico’s case probably deserves a look at the instant replay of public opinion.

Federico is the person who lost his job last weekend when he wrote a headline about New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin’s turnovers in a loss, that used an ethnic slur. Unforgivable. Or is it?

He’s written a heartfelt explanation of what happened. He says he caught the meaning some people would’ve given to his phrase, “chink in the armor.”

Actions speak louder than words. My words may have hurt people in that moment but my actions have always helped people. If those who vilify me would take a deeper look at my life they would see that I am the exact opposite of how some are portraying me.

They would see that on the day of the incident I got a call from a friend – who happens to be homeless – and rushed to his aid. He was collapsed on the side of the road due to exposure and hunger. They would see how I picked him up and got him a hotel room and fed him. They would see I used my vacation time last year to volunteer in the orphanages of Haiti. They would see how I ‘adopted’ an elderly Alzheimer’s patient and visited him every week for a year. They would see that every winter I organize a coat drive for those less fortunate in New Haven. They would see how I raised $10,000 for a friend in need when his kids were born four months premature. They would see how I have worked in soup kitchens and convalescent homes since I was a kid. They would see my actions speak louder than my words. They would see that these acts were not done for my glory, but for God’s. They would see that each day I live and will continue to live a life of joy and service.

It never has been or will be my intention to hurt anyone.

A follower on Twitter yesterday offered up this keen observation:


Confession time: See the headline on this page? That wasn’t the original headline on the day war hero Max Cleland campaigned for presidential candidate John Kerry. The original headline was “Cleland stumps for Kerry.” Cleland lost both legs in the war. I wrote the headline and never even considered the inappropriateness of the headline and that some would see it as a pun. I was concentrating too much on the meaning of what I intended.

Fortunately, the MPR audience extended the benefit of the doubt and recognized the difference between stupidity and hatred.


The sin of the drink is coming face to face with the need for cash in East Texas, where southern Baptists saw no need to repeal Prohibition. But many small towns are going broke and now the residents are faced with a real dilemma that pits their faith against their finances, the Los Angeles Times reports.


In Solomon Lake, we have another in a long, long line of stories about trucks falling through ice. A Kandiyohi County man and his friend survived the plunge into the water. The truck is history.

The truck belonged to the man’s boss, the West Central Tribune reports.

It’s far sadder news from Pierre, S.D, where a former Minnesota school superintendent died while trying to rescue his dog, which had fallen through the ice on a river.

This has been a fairly common occurrence this winter. Men have died trying to rescue their dogs in upstate New York, in Illinois, and in Ohio in just the last week.


In the last few years, I’ve ended up in the living rooms of people who collect massive amounts of interesting items. A north Minneapolis man had a house full of toys and collectible figures, the listener from Delano had Wurlitzer jukeboxes. What makes people collect items and what value do they get from doing so? A short documentary, released this week, provides an excellent glimpse into the goodness of one such individual:

This Is My Home from Mark on Vimeo.

Bonus I: Could you live with just 98 things?

Bonus II: Everything you could possibly want to know about today’s wind farm hearing. (Midwest Energy News)

Update: The first-grader fans of a bill to make the black bear Minnesota’s state mammal can’t catch a break. Rescued from the ash heap of dying legislation, the bill was put back on track after Andover teacher Dana Coleman rallied her troops. Lawmakers agreed to give it a hearing. Now, she reports, it may get one — during the upcoming school break:

She writes:

We have good news and we have potentially unsettling news. First the good news, BOTH the Senate and the House have agreed to hear our Black Bear State Mammal Bill. They are trying to fit it into their schedule for the week of March 5th. If they aren’t able to get it scheduled that week they will hopefully get it scheduled the week of March 12th. Every bill that is to be heard, to be potentially voted on, has to be heard by March 16th.

Now for the potentially heart breaking news. Anoka-Hennepin School District’ss Spring Break starts Thursday, March 8th and goes through Friday, March 16th, the hearing deadline date. If the Senate and House can’t work both hearings into those first four days, none of us will be able to testify for the bill as we all have vacation plans outside the state.


The Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn a law against falsely claiming to have received military decorations. Today’s Question: Should freedom of speech extend to lies about military honors?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Obese children. Over the last three decades, obesity has tripled in adolescents and doubled in children. One of the consequences is a rise in cardiovascular disease in children. New guidelines for pediatricians regarding cholesterol screening has caused quite a stir: should all kids have their cholesterol levels screened, or only those who show a high risk for cholesterol problems?

Second hour: Kerri Miller speaks with social entrepreneur and financial literacy advocate John Hope Bryant about youth unemployment and why he believes financial dignity is the new civil rights issue.

Third hour: Robert Kagan, an expert and frequent commentator on Egypt, the Middle East, U.S. national security, and U.S.-European relations. He writes a monthly column on world affairs for the Washington Post and is a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard and the New Republic.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR spent more than a year following six people who were out of work. Each had sunny days, and dark ones. A look back at the long, winding Road Back to Work with Tamara Keith.

Second hour: Gay marriage and African Americans.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – California’s war over Internet policy. Internet piracy legislation has been put on hold in Congress. But in California, Hollywood is rallying to protect its work on the web, while Silicon Valley fights restrictions on a free and open Internet.

  • kennedy

    Weak ice and dogs

    It is a tragedy that people have lost their lives. Though it says something about humanity when people risk their own lives in attempts to rescue animals in their care.

    Money vs. morals – Minnesota style

    We have a similar situation in MN. Instead of liquor (which we already tax), lawmakers are looking to use gambling as an additional source of income. The difference is that we are not trying to balance a budget, but to build a stadium.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re Upon Further Review and “Cleland stumps for Kerry.”

    Yikes. Can you spell Freudian Slip? ( I have several old ones in the closet myself.)

    Those are the days we wish editors had editors ๐Ÿ™‚

  • John O
  • Bob Collins

    //Can you spell Freudian Slip

    You missed my point. There was nothing Freudian about it. The verb I used would be EXACTLY the same verb I’d use for any of the Democratic (or Republican for that matter) bigwigs who campaigned in Minnesota in that or any other election.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob- “The verb I used would be EXACTLY the same verb I’d use…”

    Really? And you, such a fine wordsmith, with so many options at your disposal. Me thinks you doth protest too much ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bob Collins

    // Me thinks you doth protest too much

    Again, Jim, you’re missing the point. You would choose a different verb only if you knew the one you’d already chosen was inappropriate. That’s the point. You focus so much on the meaning *you* bring to a word that you don’t realize the meaning *others* could bring to it.

    The point that the gentleman made is a very good one. If the writer didn’t see the problem with “chink,” it’s probably because it wasn’t in his nature to connect the word to Asian people in the first place.

    Which makes his firing to avoid employing racist people all the more problematic. He probably got into trouble more because he’s *not* a racist, rather than because he *is.*

    But ESPN had to cut its losses in a hurry.

  • John O.

    Max Bretos, the ESPN anchor suspended for 30 days without pay for using the phrase on-air, is married to an Asian-American.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Which makes his firing to avoid employing racist people all the more problematic. He probably got into trouble more because he’s *not* a racist, rather than because he *is.*”

    Well said.

    But the idea of a Freudian Slip is that we outwardly state something that exists in our subconscious – whether we present as one of those bad people or not.

    One does not have to be a racist to subconsciously be aware of the term “chink” as a derogatory word for an Asian.

    Nor does one have to be an anti-double amputeeist to subconsciously think of the word “stump” when we see someone who has lost a limb.

    That’s MY point.

    How much credence one gives to the often difficult to understand machinations of the mind is another topic.

    In the immortal words of native son Bob Dylan – “If my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”

    Or at least fire me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bob collins

    //One does not have to be a racist to subconsciously be aware of the term “chink” as a derogatory word for an Asian. Nor does one have to be an anti-double amputeeist to subconsciously think of the word “stump” when we see someone who has lost a limb.

    Stump is used all the time in campaign headlines. You’re assuming a subconscious decision to select that word (without a shred of evidence, I might add, in making the allegation).

    My point is maybe we should wait and listen to those involved in cases like this before deciding we know what’s in the mind of the people we don’t even know.

    Maybe we’re too quick to get the pitchforks out.

    Maybe we should consider the possibility that we may not be as smart as we think we are.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Maybe we should consider the possibility that we may not be as smart as we think we are.”

    Bob, if I was paid based on the difference between how smart I think I am and how smart I really am, I would be a gazillionaire ๐Ÿ™‚

    That said, here’s some evidence-based (“Max Bretos, the ESPN anchor suspended for 30 days without pay for using the phrase on-air, is married to an Asian-American.” – Thanks John O.) speculation:

    1. Bretos is not a racist ( although we don’t know if he’s happily married ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. He knows multiple definitions for the term “chink”.

    3. He’s not afraid of words

    4. He dangerously over-estimated the non-politically correct sense of humor of his audience and employers.

    Or maybe it was just a Freudian slip ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bob Collins

    Max Bretos isn’t the person who got fired nor the subject of the post above and is wholly irrelevant to the point. Go back to Anthony Federico, and tell me what you’ve got?

    If what you say about Bretos is true, it’s even more puzzling. The one for whom there is ‘evidence’ only got suspended. The one who appears to be the least likely to be racist, got fired.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Max Bretos isn’t the person who got fired nor the subject of the post above and is wholly irrelevant to the point.”

    Wholly irrelevant to the point?!?

    I would counter that espn appears to think otherwise. Unless they randomly hand out 30 day unpaid suspensions for using a slur. Pointlessly.

    And why not? That’ll keep those damn sports reporters on their toes! ๐Ÿ™‚

    “Chink” is a word with several definitions. Several that are not inherently value laden, one that is a nearly archaic derogatory term for Asians, specifically Chinese people.

    I’m not aware of whether or not some Chinese people playfully or otherwise sometimes refer to each other as “chinks” (EG occasional use of the “N” word by the melaninly advantaged.)

    But that’s wholly irrelevant to the point. All thinking, caring people know that it’s not OK to say derogatory terms that might offend someone, and in the case of the “N” word, not even in context.

    Here’s an idea! Let’s start a campaign to ban the word “chink” altogether! We can call it the “C” word! We can forget all about context in verbal usage, and the fact that we have ” ” in writing, just like we did with the “N” word.

    Or maybe we can just say “no harm, no foul”, and not pander to the perpetually sensitive who don’t understand things like context, inappropriate, failed but harmless attempts at humor, or unintentional mistakes.