Friday, July 11, 2008

Archival Wonders

From the Lebanon Express archives, a summer 2005 editorial:

Turning to the school board, for most of his first two years as a member, Rick Alexander was up front about his relationship with Superintendent Jim Robinson. He didn't speak to the district's top administrator except at board meetings. It was a counterproductive position and we're glad he's done with it, especially now that he's chairman of the board. (See story, page 1.) In fact, he couldn't have fulfilled the duties of the chairmanship without direct communication with Robinson.

In the past few weeks the two sat down together privately and hashed out their differences over high school administration. They came up with a plan which might not suit either perfectly, but it's a reasonable compromise that looks like it will provide a workable management structure at Lebanon High School.

Oops. Glad that worked out.

On the other hand, better to hope that someone will take the high road than not give them the chance.


What the.....

Recall’s not the answer

Much has been written about the Lebanon School Board decisions, board members and issues the school district faced. We cannot look back on “how things were done” before, file lawsuits at every step and use personality issues to solve problems.

There are those that are satisfied with the performance of Rick Alexander, Josh Wineteer and Debi Shimmin. By looking at the big picture, they have taken steps to build a foundation built on trust, cohesiveness and teamwork that have been missing. The actions of questioning processes, fund transfers and hiring personnel demonstrate a board wanting accountability. These are normal business practices.

To those wishing to pursue the recall effort, a divided community doesn’t produce a win-win situation. As we will have open positions in the future, encourage others or even yourself to run for the board. Concentrate on issues, ask questions, work for results and move forward to achieve the best for our schools.

Our actions are a reflection upon the community as a whole. Let’s pull up our socks, clean up our act and build a better system.

Tom Zurcher, Lebanon

" a foundation built on trust, cohesiveness and teamwork?"

I want what some of this guy has been smoking. If he holds this opinion having actually attended board meetings, then... wow. Just wow.

Update: Link added. Apologies.

Oregon's awesome initiative system

Check out the initiatives that have already made it on the ballot for the upcoming election (via the Register-Guard):

The five initiatives already approved would create mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, forgery and drug crimes;

Crap - mandatory minimums are and have always been a terrible idea.

exempt property owners from obtaining building permits for improvements valued under $35,000;

Sketchy - I'm a proponent of land-use planning, as land-use planning has proven to be at least somewhat good for the environment, and this smells like an effort to undercut that on the bizarre grounds that private property rights are sacred instead of merely existing because we all collectively choose to abide by them.

prohibit unions and others from using “public resource” funds for political purposes;

Crap - specifically put there to weaken the ability of unions to speak in the political realm. Don't get me wrong; I think money and politics need a quick and painful divorce, but this, being unilateral, would lead to an increase in the power of corporations, which I oppose. Also, I think it's sponsored by Bill Sizemore, who is a mortal enemy of unions and the public good.

prohibit teaching public school students in a language other than English for more than two years;

Short-sighted, racist crap. I don't think I need to say any more; even Hering is against this one, it's so obviously a bad idea. Come to think of it, it's a lot like cutting off federal funding to underperforming schools, like in No Child Left Educated Behind.

and would allow Oregon taxpayers to make federal income taxes fully deductible on state returns.

This is explicitly designed to starve the state of funds on the simplistic grounds that government = bad. I believe it's a Bill Sizemore initiative. Therefore: crap!

... don't get me wrong. Governments do stupid shit all the time; certainly I've been known to criticize all levels of government, from D.C. down to *cough* local school boards. But Sizemore's whole schtick is to starve the Oregon government of funds so it can't maintain the level of services it currently provides - and there's to be no replacement. Clearly, this is problematic, as it leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

What, you think the free market is going to solve that problem? Buddy, you must be outta your frackin' mind if you still believe that after that last several decades.

Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum, a moderate California Democrat, advocates taking a default position of "no" on all initiatives. For the first time, I'm inclined to join him. This year's crop of initiatives makes the entire system look like it's merely a conduit for moneyed, corporate interests to buy ballot measures.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Prepare to be dooced

My boss is a moron that has an interesting memory.

Specifically, he contradicts himself and then gets upset when I point it out.

Similarly, he will arbitrarily decide that decisions that have clearly been made one way to have been made the other. This usually happens when he loses the argument and the decision goes against him. Later, conveniently, when it's just he and I, he'll speak as if the decision was completely different than what was decided by the group. When I point out that decision X has already been made, he starts spouting the same arguments that were shot down in the meeting.

Finally, he will keep bringing up things he wants to seen done that have clearly been decided against.

Needless to say, I am not impressed.

A Very Strange Thought

Rick Alexander is the John McCain of the LCSD School Board: He's got a short temper, no idea what's going on, and his supporters view all questions as personal attacks.

Inspired by Monday's board meeting (especially the part about the bond measure and the Construction Excise Tax) and this.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

LCSD School Board Meeting, Part II

Picking up where I left off....

The Buildings and Boundaries Committee Report/Presentation

Lou Masog presented the results of the work of the B & B committee, and did quite well for someone who was called and asked to do at something like 3 PM that afternoon. The Committee had a few major recommendations:

1) Master Plans, both five- and ten-year versions. Pretty straightforward; Masog did not go into depth with regards to the plans.

2) Being on the lookout for new property to buy and begin to develop given the predictions that both Riverview and Hamilton Creek will soon hit capacity.

3) A 'Consolidated Campus' in the south part of Lebanon (Masog noted several pieces of land where this could take place). This struck me as the big news, and was certainly related to #2. Simply put, this was the idea that one campus should have space for students from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. Masog touted the benefits, including shared facilities, decreased administrative and transportation costs, and increased ability for mentoring and interaction between students of different ages. Several people in the audience were nodding and agreeing a lot during Masog's presentation.

While I see the value behind the consolidated campus idea, I have a few questions: Is it really a good thing for a student to sit on the same campus for 12 or 13 years and then graduate? Isn't there something to be said for having to move to a new school once in a while?

Second, what about bullying and/or other negative interactions between groups of significantly different ages? Along with this, isn't it a good idea for students at some age to have some privacy and autonomy, more than that which is offered by a separate building or wing on the same campus?

I'm genuinely asking these questions - I really don't know the answers.

The next item on the agenda was a presentation from OSBA lobbyist Dave Williams, who presented on the possibility of a Construction Excise Tax. (The powerpoint that Williams used can be found on this page.)

I won't go into detail regarding the presentation, except to note that Mr. Williams must be a very, very good lobbyist. And that after it was all over, I wanted to apologize for the behavior of certain board members. I know Williams deals with all sorts of school board, and he probably has a really thick skin. That said... well, you'll see.

As soon as the presentation was over, and the board got a chance to ask questions, Rick Alexander - surprise! - launched into a rather canned and talking-point heavy "no new taxes" rant. It was small, and mercifully short, but he had clearly stopped listening at some point and was merely waiting for a chance to speak.

Alexander made a few points that I wanted to address here: First, that this is a burden levied on future generations, which is true in the sense that at some point in the future people will have to pay it, but not true in the sense that it would not create a massive debt for people to pay off; and second, that this would be really unfair, because "my daughter" might want to buy a house around here some day.

Alexander then made a smooth transition into complaining in a very incoherent fashion about the bond measure passed in the district some number of years ago. He began asking for the total debt, mumbling something about it being higher than it was originally (it's been refinanced), and how that was illegal, since the voters only ever approved a $49 million bond; he also began mumbling (seriously - I was having a lot of trouble understanding what he said at this point) something about wanting to know if we were going to sink under the full weight of the debt in 30 years.

Fisher stepped in and tried to explain that a bond is like a mortgage in the sense that while it's completely paid off after 30 years, one spends a lot of time early on paying off interest; it didn't seem to get through to Alexander. They went round and round a few more times, with Fisher finally blurting something along the lines of "I've taken classes, I should know."

I think Alexander was trying to ask if the district is making interest-only payments at this point or is actually paying down the interest, but I had to infer that, since Alexander was still clear as a London fog. I never did hear a clear answer to that from Robinson; I'm not sure he knew. If it turns out that the LCSD is making interest-only payments and not paying down the debt, well, that's just painfully dumb. However, I would be quite surprised if that was the case.

Remember, this is all happening while Dave Williams is sitting at the podium, ostensibly to talk about the possibility of a Construction Excise Tax.

At this point, Alexander got pretty cranky with Robinson, and kept asking him if our total bond debt was over $50 million, again claiming that "we can't do that."

It's times like those I wonder what Rick Alexander does for a living. I think I'm going to rule out construction or contracting at this point. Certainly anything in the financial sector has long since gone out the window.

At any rate, the board asked several good questions, most of which Mr. Williams responded to by noting that most of the logistical problems had been worked out through trial-and-error in other districts, but that there were bound to be political obstacles associated with any kind of new tax. The estimable Mr. Williams also made the claim that "people always want to pay less and get more, and that that's just human nature." I threw up a little in my mouth - that's classic "greed is a moral good" right there, and I think it's not only wrong, but dangerous. However, it was not a surprise to hear it from an OSBA lobbyist.

Alexander then spoke up again in response to a comment made by Williams, asking where the long-term facilities plan (a requirement of putting the tax in place) goes.

The answer, ironically, was the board, and to the public... and Alexander had no idea. As I scribbled in my notepad: F***ING MORON. Does he not read the documents given to him or pay any attention to LCSD business outside board meetings? [Don't answer that.]

Alexander then asked a very pointed question: Can a future board change a long-term plan? I could almost see the wheels turning in his head - he didn't want an excise tax, and he didn't want a future board to be able to implement one, either. Too bad; future boards can overturn or modify most decisions made by previous boards. Clearly - does Alexander not realize he's done that several times?

One could also surmise that he was asking about it for at least two additional reasons: 1) He might get recalled, and, related, 2) He doesn't want someone else to restore Robinson's contract. I have no proof as to whether or not he was actually thinking about these, but they both make sense.

Dave Williams, naive that he seemed (or maybe not), responded by saying, "Yes, future board can change long-terms plans; that's good, and it provides flexibility."

Debi Shimmin sort of brought the issue to a close by asking for a public hearing to determine public sentiment regarding the possible implementation of a Construction Excise Tax. She and Robinson tentatively agreed to do it some time in August in the evening.

There were a few more things - as covered in the DH, the story regarding Reed School and Brian O'Driscoll is a good one - but I decided to leave around that point. As far as I can tell, I didn't miss much.

So, a few thoughts:

1) The board was really, really uncomfortable at the beginning of the meeting. I think they realized how good they had it with Sherrie Sprenger. Wineteer fumbled procedure a few times, not badly, but it certainly wasn't smooth.

2) Wineteer looked exhausted. He had some pretty sunken eyes. I wonder why?

3) Alexander was pretty cranky and incoherent. More incoherent than normal. After the question regarding buying out Robinson, he didn't really cause any trouble... except, of course, for the Excise Tax bit.

4) Regarding the external review of board policies, the board clearly had no idea how to decide the question on the merits. They looked really lost. I sort of thought Robinson let them hang themselves by simply asking them for guidance (it was a financial matter, after all) and then sitting back and watching. Was he actually doing that? I doubt it - but it was a great example of why there should be someone with expertise in the room.

Well, that's about it. No grand pronouncements, no ultra-large post-4th fireworks. Just the ongoing Greek tragedy. August should be interesting - one assumes there will be action on the buyout idea between now and then, as well as progress on the recall and the appearance of a new, fifth board member. I can't wait....

"Want some torture with your peanuts?"

It's too early for this:

A senior government official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expressed great interest in a so-called safety bracelet that would serve as a stun device, similar to that of a police Taser®. According to this promotional video found at the Lamperd Less Lethal website, the bracelet would be worn by all airline passengers.

This bracelet would:

• take the place of an airline boarding pass

• contain personal information about the traveler

• be able to monitor the whereabouts of each passenger and his/her luggage

• shock the wearer on command, completely immobilizing him/her for several minutes

The Electronic ID Bracelet, as it’s referred to as, would be worn by every traveler “until they disembark the flight at their destination.” Yes, you read that correctly. Every airline passenger would be tracked by a government-funded GPS, containing personal, private and confidential information, and that it would shock the customer worse than an electronic dog collar if he/she got out of line?

Jesus H. Motherfucking Christ.

Once again, I am surprised at my lack of cynicism. I am also reminded of something a friend of mine used to shout at passerby from cars: "Sheep! You are all sheep!"


Monday, July 7, 2008

LCSD School Board

For the first time in a few months, I went to an LCSD school board meeting tonight. With the resignation of Sherrie Sprenger and the need for a new chair, I figured there could be fireworks.

I am glad to say I was mostly wrong. Mostly.

The rundown:

The first order of business was to nominate a new chair. Unsurprisingly, Josh Wineteer was nominated. The vote was unanimous - though how Josh managed to vote on his ascension to chair I don't know. Incidentally, I am not surprised by this outcome. I'm not particularly happy about it, but given the people on the board, it was predictable.

What was slightly less predictable was Chris Fisher turning down the nomination for Vice Chair. That position ended up in the hands of Rick Alexander - and, ironically, the motion to make Alexander Vice Chair was seconded by Chris, to the amusement of the audience. Wineteer, interestingly, also voted on this.

The audience comments section had two things of note: The first was a very angry parent who noticed that the program for the 2008 graduation was very poorly done, full of spelling errors, info from 2007, and missing lots of people from 2008. She castigated almost everyone except Jim Robinson, who she said handled it very well. She was particularly critical of Mark Finch for blowing her off, and also claimed the board needed to pay more attention to LHS. I think the regular attendees in the audience were bemused. She was also very, very nervous; it was clearly hard for her to speak in front of everyone.

Upset Parent (who I think is classified staff at Seven Oak) did say one thing I thought was particularly interesting. She said, in regards to LHS, "It's almost like the good kids are overlooked in favor of the bad kids." I don't know enough to know how true this is, but it doesn't strike me as a totally implausible claim.

The second was Lyndon Brown, who asked a question I didn't quite hear or understand - something about asking if the LCSD was going to use their money to pay legal fees for the 2005 ethics complaint against Brad (or was it Nancy?) Bauer. Like I said, I didn't quite hear or understand it.

At 7:12 PM - 12 minutes into the meeting, counting the flag salute - Rick Alexander interrupted the approval of the consent agenda and asked if someone could prepare a document outlining the cost and options regarding a buyout of Superintendent Jim Robinson. Wineteer noted that he had already asked for a legal brief on the matter and would forward it to the board when it was ready.

Alexander then asked for a special meeting, before the next meeting, to get the process started. His reasoning? He didn't want the incoming board member to have to "take sides" on the issue of Robinson. My reading? He is afraid that a new board member will work against a Robinson buyout, and that his best chance is to ram it through before then, with only Chris Fisher as opposition. Fisher, to his credit, noted that making a decision of that magnitude with only four members would deprive everyone in Sprenger's district of representation, which he used as a reason to wait until there was a fifth board member.

Two other thoughts on this: I really hope Shimmin doesn't automatically go along with a buyout, but makes Alexander and Wineteer prove their case in public. She indicated her opposition to Plan Buyout in firm terms, which was nice. Second, I don't know a lot about buyouts, but I would think that Robinson would have to agree to have his contract bought out. Has anyone asked him if he wants to leave the district? He's given no sign thus far that that might be the case.

In any case, it was stupid, predictable (Alexander even insinuated during the meeting it was in response to the Bar complaint against Jackson that has been filed by Robinson), and Wineteer had the good sense to request some expert advice and not let Alexander charge forward.

Moving on.

During the first part of the Superintendent's Report, Steve Kelley was outlining a few problems he's had getting information from Jay Jackson. This was when Alexander got visibly upset at the fact that Robinson filed a complaint with the Oregon Bar Association against Jackson, asking Kelley if he thought Jackson could even communicate directly with Kelley without having another complaint filed against him. Robinson and Kelley both explained, relatively calmly, that the two situations were completely different, and that no one was going to file a complaint with the Bar if Jackson actually gave the LCSD information.

Kelley then announced something I want to reproduce here: That the semifinalists for the Riverview Principal position will be on display on Monday, July 21st at 6 PM at Riverview School, and that everyone is invited to go meet them.

The last item under the Superintendent's Report was a request from Robinson to get some guidance on what type of policy review to ask for from the OSBA (or was it ODE?). The board actually made a rational, well-reasoned decision, on this one. The fact that Alexander didn't say much during the discussion is, I'm sure, completely coincidental.

Thus ended the Superintendent's Report.

I am tired, and lazy, and the rest will have to wait until tomorrow. The next post could cover the possibility of a Construction Excise Tax, the presentation of the work done by the Buildings and Boundaries Committee, and the extent to which Rick Alexander continued to display a complete lack of understanding of how the world works (much less something as prosaic as, I don't know, a school district).

Let's put it this way: By 7:16 PM, I had written "Blood Pressure: 200/140" in the margin of my notepad.


When an old friend calls and asks for advice about a guy, and tells you she's asking "because you're a guy."

I protested to no avail that I'm not a typical guy and therefore cannot give her The Standard Guy Response (I know, right?), but it didn't matter. Also, one would think that since this guy's in the military, and I'm me, that would immediately disqualify me from giving advice.... apparently genitalia reign supreme, or something.

It was a good conversation, though, and I feel like I actually said some things that were not totally useless. I hope things work out for her.

Media Covering Media

From quite the column on covering FOX News, a point that arouses my (tiny, ineffectual) wrath:

Many of the television-beat reporters I called had horror stories [regarding covering FOX], but few were willing to be quoted. In the last several years, reporters from The Associated Press, several large newspapers and various trade publications have said they were shut out from getting their calls returned because of stories they had written. Editors do not want to hear why your calls are not being returned, they just want you to fix the problem, or perhaps they will fix it by finding someone else to do your job.

Let's assume for a moment this is true. I don't think that's much of a stretch. What does it suggest?

It suggests one of at least two things are happening. One, that editors, by and large, don't realize that FOX is not playing by the same rules as everyone else; or, two, that the editors who have this kind of response know but just don't care.

I have problems with either one. FOX, as an organization, clearly harms journalism. As such, I would have expected other journalists and/or news organizations to step in and do something, much in the same way I keep waiting for professional pharmacists' associations to step in and restore the integrity of their profession by telling those who refuse to dispense morning-after or birth control pills to stop the nonsense or get out of the business. (In other words, for the professionals in a field to want to have a say in defining and enforcing said definition regarding what it means to work in a field; as far as I'm concerned, that's the best way to maintain integrity. Call it the professional equivalent of a licensing program, like those used for electricians or contractors.)

However, that doesn't seem to be happening. I don't travel in journalism circles enough to know if there are even many journalists who even see this is an issue, so I can't really comment on that. But from here, it seems like journalists - and more importantly, editors - who play along with FOX's insanity are, at the least, not standing in the way of FOX damaging the profession of journalism, and why they would do so is beyond me.

Any journalists out there want to take a stab at explaining this to me? What am I missing?

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