Martin County Defender

 

The Martin County
Defender
The e-newsletter for aware citizens - No. 241

 

Lack of research by Stuart News produces biased, distorted opinions on school dispute.
Superintendent is unfairly accused in biased  report. Is lawyer hanky-panky involved?

“Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in a newspaper.” – Thomas Jefferson

If you read Rich Campbell’s Sept. 25, 2011 column on the dispute between School Superintendent Nancy Kline and former Director of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Maryellen Quinn-Lunny – and were gullible enough to trust what he wrote – you would agree with him that “Kline is a bully. What other conclusion can be drawn from the investigative report that supports a former school district employee's allegations — whistle-blower violations, retaliation and hostile work environment — against the superintendent?

Then if you read the Editorial Board’s Sept. 28 editorial column, you might agree “Kline will have to answer to voters in 2012. However, if there is ‘sufficient factual and legal basis’ Kline violated Florida's Public Whistle-blower statute, and "ample evidence suggest(ing) Ms. Quinn-Lunny did receive retaliation,’ the board should have the authority to act if discipline is deemed an appropriate response.”

But if you read the hundreds of pages of related documents – as the DEFENDER has done – you would come to the opposite conclusion. You would recognize that the slanted “investigative report” that shallow journalism depended on is one-sided. Kline deserves credit for restraint and a job well done.

NOTE: We believe the Stuart News is a  good local paper, one that does not usually go so far off track, as it has on this school issue. We hope our criticism will spur greater focus on careful investigative journalism that is so vital in a free society.

[Both columns are available on the website www.tcpalm.com]

THE HARD FACTS THAT STUART NEWS EITHER MISSED OR DELIBERATELY IGNORED

The paper’s writers failed to dig into the real story. They took the report as gospel. They missed the stacked deck of carefully selected attorneys, the questionable performance of Quinn-Lunny, Board attorney Griffin being partly on Quinn-Lunny’s payroll, and more. The result was a supposedly objective investigative report that was really a lawyer’s prejudiced brief for Quinn-Lunny. Campbell and Company willingly swallowed it hook, line, and stinker.

DEFENDER’S Major Conclusions

- Superintendent’s judicious actions with complainant were justified by latter’s insubordinate non-performance.

-  Biased “investigative report” fails to make reasonable conclusions.

-  Something fishy in outrageous lawyer recommendations.

The true ESE backstory – a sampling of documents

For a long time, the School District’s ESE Department (Exceptional Student Education) operated almost as if it were independent of the District’s procedures and chain of command.  This could lose grant money and harm the District in an audit. When Superintendent Nancy Kline instructed Executive Director of Finance Bryan Thabit to make sure that all departments were in compliance with financial procedures, and senior staff was to be held accountable, a clash with Executive Director of ESE Maryellen Quinn-Lunny seemed inevitable.

[NOTE: ESE is an outgrowth of the federal IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed in 1990.]

On June 13, 2011, Kline wrote to Quinn-Lunny on (insubordinate?) lack of response:

“The following information has been requested … As of today, you have still not provided the information to me.
June 6, 2011 – Requested that you utilize the Professional Contact Log Form #424A correctly before sending to Finance for action.
May 26, 2011 – Requested you provide the needs assessment for any contracted services.
May 24, 2011 – Requested that your priority one be the Professional Contact Log and its accuracy prior to payment.”

On June 8, 2011, Thabit wrote to Quinn-Lunny about improper vendor authorization:

“I spoke to the Auditor … He informed me that these professional contact logs could not be tied back to IEP services because the student names are not listed. Additionally he was concerned that payments were authorized to these vendors without the support of the IEP [Individuaizedl Education Plan] … Another concern is that you have contracted service vendors acting as District representative authorizing the work of other contracted service vendors. This is improper. I am therefore again requesting a list of positions at each school that can authorize the work.”

On May 18, 2011, Thabit wrote to Kline about Quinn-Lunny’s budget plan to eliminate 50 jobs contrary to District intent

“After reviewing the budget from Maryellen, it appears she has eliminated the Paraprofessionals – ESE DW but not contracted services. If this is a fact, then she has disregarded the primary direction of preserving personnel. This budget is after two months of meeting with the Federal grants committee and would eliminate approximately 50 positions.”

On May 17. 2011, Thabit wrote to Quinn-Lunny about purchase duplication

“The purchase of technology equipment with federal funds for classrooms is a duplication of the District’s technology plan that uses the District’s Capital funds. This information has been discussed with you and you have not provided alternative use for the funds.”

ESE payments over maximum allowed, per Thabit:
(Initials used to protect ordinary employees)

To JB - $60,000 max; $61,387 paid
To KJ - $33,440 max; $36,709 paid
To AA - $91,000 max; $101,265 paid
To LE - $75,000 max; $79,662 paid
To HM - $27,000 max; $28,525, paid

Memo from Thabit re excess payment authorization:

“Maryellen has authorized purchase orders, bill forms and payments that exceed Board approval. The total in excess of Board approval by the Director of the ESE Department is $18,995.”

Notes by Kline:

“Maryellen has refused to have any contact with Bryan and myself regarding her Grant submittal.
She has refused to return my calls today.
She has submitted her Grant without my signature.
Maryellen is going home and not attending a meeting I have called to review her Grant.
I have reassigned her Grant to Bryan and the Grant Committee to complete as it should have been sent overnight today.
Maryellen has missed her deadline for submitting to the Board for prior Board approval.”

Kline’s Sept. 21, 2011 response (greatly condensed here) to Campbell inquiry, to our knowledge not published

“- It has been verified that the District has met and continues to meet Federal spending requirements.
- FCAT testing materials were lost by the ESE Department.
- It was necessary to direct District staff, including Bryan Thabit, to complete a critical grant application totaling millions of dollars for the ESE Department that had not been properly completed and submitted by Ms. Quinn-Lunny.
- Re ESE non-purchase order payments, I cannot allow School Board policy to be circumvented. As these requests for payments by Ms. Quinn-Lummy were in violation of School Board policy, a special meeting was required by the School Board to take action on the payments.”

[There’s a ton of more available information similar to all of the above.]

WAS KLINE FACED WITH A LOOSE CANNON DEPARTMENT THAT SOME BOARD MEMBERS WERE RELUCTANT TO REIN IN?

School Board’s lawyer referrals were questionable – if not outright improper

On Jan. 18, 2011, School Board Attorney Doug Griffin recused himself from this matter because he may have a conflict of interest. Griffin has had a long-standing working relationship with Quinn-Lunny. Part of Griffin’s salary (estimated at 20%) comes from grant money passing through the ESE department.

ESE’s lawyer: On Feb. 8 and 11, 2011,Quinn-Lunny exchanged emails and phone calls with attorney David Earle. She wrote to him, in part: “I hope you are well. I talked with Marya your assistant today regarding my reason for calling … Your name was recommended to me as a good candidate to serve in this [mediation] role. Please contact me to discuss this role and the possibility of establishing a contract with the district for this purpose ... It was a pleasure speaking with you. Please find a copy of the District’s Independent Contractor Agreement. Please review and let me know your thoughts.””

Appointment of ESE lawyer to Board: On July 14, 2011, in a memo to School Board members, Griffin recommended “that the Board appoint David Earle to serve as special counsel to the School Board in this matter since I will be a necessary witness during the investigation.”

What???  Appoint Quinn-Lunny’s lawyer to be the Board’s lawyer, when she may sue the Board? OUTRAGEOUS!

We recognize that Griffin serves at the pleasure of the Board majority that is antagonistic to Kline, but recommending Earle is too much. Would that we could be a fly on the wall at private discussions between Griffin and some Board members.

In the same July 14 memo, he recommended attorney Michael Grogan to do an investigative report of Quinn-Lunny’s July 5 Equity Complaint. Then Griffin noted he “will be a witness during the investigation” - testifying before the very same lawyer-investigator that he recommended for the job of judging who is at fault!!!

Perhaps Grogan, too, knew who butters his bread because he came up with a 20-page report dated Sept. 16, 2011. In it he sustained Quinn-Lunny’s whistleblower and retaliation charges. The report looks like a hatchet job to us because it does not focus on the documented information we have presented here (and more of same is available) that fully justifies Kline’s actions. Otherwise, how could Grogan fairly come to his biased conclusions?

 If Grogan had included the insubordinate non-performance information, Kline would have been vindicated. She would have been seen as being very patient with an employee who, some who knew all the facts would say, should have been summarily fired.

Adding the Stuart News viewthat “Kline is a bully … will have to answer to voters in 2012” to School Board chair Sue Hershey’s calculated and questionable opinion that "Kline violated board policy and state statutes, and it's going to cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars,"  simply ignores the documented record. It may make folks wonder if this barrage isn’t just a concerted political smear campaign against Kline.

Readers respond to Push-Poll article

We received a number of emails from readers who not only read our Push-Poll article in Issue No. 240, but also were targets of poll takers. Apparently the callers are not too well trained. They gave away information that is normally withheld.

Palm City Farms reader BB reports:

“I too received a call from one of these ‘polls’.  It did not take me long to catch on, and I was very firm and direct in my responses.  The female caller said most people she was talking with were of the same opinion...slow growth and no change in the comp plan ... somehow I doubt that will be the outcome of the ‘poll’.”

Millions spent on incentives, but little job benefit

For four biotech projects, two each in Palm Beach and St. Lucie Counties, $982.8 million has been paid in incentives to companies. The state paid $488.8 million, and local government match was $494 million. The projects jointly “guaranteed” 1,069 jobs. That comes to $919,364 per job. As of Dec. 2010, only 362 Treasure Coast employees worked in biotech, a piddling increase of 80 workers over the prior year.

How much can we depend on gaining those “guaranteed” new jobs?  The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity recently reported that of 729 tax-incentive contracts signed with the state, only 71% were fulfilled.

Locally: As required by the Sherlock Sunshine Case settlement, on Oct. 11, 2011, the Martin County Commission reviewed its million dollar “BDB Toolkit” incentive/stimulus for favored companies. Business groups rallied their followers, and the Commission re-approved it as-is by 3-to-1 vote, Fielding dissenting, Heard absent. None of the suggested new provisions that would have curbed pay-to-play or inside dealing* were adopted.

* Eg. It was kept secret that a BDB director was connected to a company receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the “BDB Toolkit” / Half of companies receiving incentive money have execs on the BDB board.

OBSERVATION: When politicians spend your tax money by Solyndra-style pick-a-winner guess for jobs they claim are “promised, guaranteed, expected, projected, anticipated, forecast or predicted”  - substitute the phrase “uncertain self-serving guess” for those words.

Inlet dredging – an imprudent funding proposal

St. Lucie Inlet dredging is an important maintenance function. We salute the County Administration’s efforts to cobble together multi-source funding for the work. However, Commissioner Patrick Hayes’ related proposal at the Oct. 11, 2011 Commission meeting is a bad idea for good purpose. He proposed that the County borrow part of the funds needed for dredging, even though there are still untapped sources.

Whether for home or government, loans should be restricted to capital projects if you support conservative fiscal policy. You might take out a bank loan to add a wing to your house, but you would surely be wise enough not to do so to pay for lawn mowing or pool maintenance. It would be a dangerous precedent to start backloading future County budgets with routine maintenance expenses of years gone by.

Quotable quote

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
- Winston Churchill
+++++

For a free subscription to The Martin County Defender, send request with “Subscribe” in the subject line to: editor@MartinCountyDefender.com

Comments and requests to unsubscribe may be sent to this same address.

Al
Al Forman, Editor                                  10/13/2011

The Martin County Defender is published and Copyright 2011 by WordsmithAmerica, Box 1828, Palm City, FL 34991. All rights reserved. No part of this issue may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording for public or private use, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. NOTICE:  All correspondence not bearing legal copyright notice which is sent to the Defender or its editor is subject to being edited and published.

All previous issues of the Defender are archived at our website:

www.MartinCountyDefender.com