May 11, 2007

Judge puts breaks on anti-teacher and anti-union smear campaign

Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille is giving the Howell Education Association (HEA) and Howell Public Schools officials up to two weeks to review thousands of email to identify which e-mails, written by union leaders on school computers, contain verbiage "regarding politicking" so that he can review them following a hearing Thursday, according to a story in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

Rightwing operative Chet Zarko of Clawson attacked the HEA, the union representing the 475 Howell Public School teachers, claiming they are abusing taxpayer-funded resources to promote union causes based on e-mails he received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Earlier in the week Latreille signed an injunction that prevented HPS from releasing more e-mails by leaders and members of the teacher’s union after a joint circuit court petition by the school and the union until Thursday’s hearing.

Some emails were released that should not have been released before the injunction was signed. HEA President Dough Norton has said that some of the e-mails are inappropriate for disclosure under FOIA because they are private and contain subject matter that should not be disclosed under the law, and the emails constitute information or records subject to attorney-client privilege. I don’t know the scope of the FOIA request, but it makes you wonder if Zarko also has his hands on sensitive information from union leaders – who, by the way, are also teachers – to parents talking about student grades or behavior.

To be honest, I was surprised that the school district even has access to all the teacher’s emails. Perhaps the school district can be like the White House and claim they just lost the emails.

As a former journalist who supports open and transparency in government, I strongly support FOIA, but this is nothing but an attempt to smear a group of dedicated professionals and smear the union by an anti-union, rightwing zealot. I am happy that Latreille is the judge reviewing the emails for “discussion about election candidates, officials in office or ballot proposals to determine if the correspondence should be released under FOIA.” He is a former reporter, and he knows how important FOIA is.

Basically, Zarko’s smear campaign comes down to allegations that teachers are using their school email accounts for personal reasons and they allegedly passed or talked about passing out pro-HEA flyers at a parent-teacher conference in March. Zarko claims the union violated state law, and I say then file a complaint.

He has a very receptive audience in Lansing in the form of Republican Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terry Land, and there is also a marked campaign against worker unions. Zarko’s past endeavors with the shady campaign to end affirmative action ensures him he has contacts to Cox and Land or knows other Republicans who do. The recent witch-hunt of Democratic Rep. George Cushinberry for alleged campaign violations that were thrown out of court proved that fact. I would not bet against Cox taking this case up, but the good news is there are sane judges out there.

Norton has said the union has a "recognized right" to use the district e-mail server for union business, and the district is backing that claim up. The district's attorney, Raymond Davis, said it is not against district policy for employees to use the district's server.


Chet said...

Raymond Davis also said that while it isn't against district policy to "use the district's server," he far from "backed up" the "recognized right" crap you and Norton are proferring (oh, I love Norton's "its a friendly lawsuit", too). Davis also clearly argued that teachers were aware every time they signed on that the "use of the server" "was NOT private" - that makes them public records, subject to FOIA and exemption review (and I agree with exemption review to remove student or other information).

You, a dishonest writer yourself, conveniently ignored that quote in the link you provided (""I think employees should know when using a taxpayer computer those things are subject to disclosure," he said. "E-mail is not considered private and school officials have the right to monitor the e-mail."") So, as a reporter yourself with someone else's (at least Roose-Church just presents both sides' arguments, even if incompletely and with minor errors) newspaper article in front of you and all the work done, you only report half the story you'd prefer to see. Your lack of skill is also proven by this false assertion of your's:

a joint circuit court petition by the school and the union until Thursday’s hearing.

No. It wasn't a "friendly suit", nor a "joint petition." MEA sued HPS for an injunction which HPS was compelled to respond to. While no one, including myself, disagree with a temporary restraining order while the issues are sorted out, there was no "joint petition," and HPS isn't arguing any thing close to MEA's expansive new crater-sized FOIA loophole that they are trying to invent out of legal thin air.

You on MEA's payroll, CG? Who's paying you? Or you just sloppy?

Have you read the email chains? Hughey not only "I can make copies after school." which is misprint by the Argus, he says, "I can make copies after school, I just need one to do this." ("one" means that he must have printed one using the school system the email was on - even if he took it to an MEA copier - the flier WAS ATTACHED TO THE CHAIN). It's a misprint by the Argus because the period isn't there and should be ellipsed. But again, the issue of a few pieces of paper isn't important - what's important is the misuse of the time at the parent-teacher conference. Can I prove copies were made on school property - No, short of videotapes in the school over the copy machine. That's why I said "suggests" and "implies". Their hyper-focus on the physical copies issue without answering the misuse of time, the e-mail system to generate the original, and the most important breach of trust at the PTO (where "kids should be first") by turning it into a political-whoring session.

I want to be clear, CG, this isn't about teachers at all. It's about a few union leaders protecting themselves AGAINST TEACHERS. Most teachers are good teachers. My latest releases show how Doug Norton has attacked teachers who ask questions, how Norton has insulted them, and how the union leadership has bred a culture of fear and secrecy, at least in this one union.

I've talked to several teachers in the last few days off-the-record - some describing other school unions that operate transparently and somehow never seem to have contract difficulties while at the same time seeing differences from district to distict. These are folks that are quite liberal and believe the MEA fails to genuinely or democratically represent them. It's partially top-down from the MEA - and partially how the local union leaders personalities play into that. But all were disgusted by the individual MEA/union behavior here, and see room for internal union reform and a change in the way collective bargaining is done. I propose the whole process be opened up to the Open Meetings Act, explicitly. This would empower the average teacher - although it would weaken the union leadership in a limited way (it would weaken their ability to be arbitrary, but the union as an entity would be stronger because more teachers would be empowered to participate). It would also empower the public.

Truth hurts, CG. Cognitive dissonance is hard to cope with. Do you have any ability to see some of the truth in my releases and approach here? I'm not trying to destroy MEA at all. I want it - and all of public education - to be better. No one is 100% right? I'm probably wrong in some ways I can't see. Is Doug Norton a 100% right here? Is he the superhero you spin him to be?

BTW, I haven't filed a campaign complaint because I don't have evidence for that YET. I'll bet you again though, in a bet I am less sure than my previous offer (you game?), that by the end of this matter that will turn up too.

Also, my primary interest is making people aware of the issue more than anything else.

Chet said...

I just caught this. You write:

Perhaps the school district can be like the Whit House and claim they just lost the emails.

So, CG, you advocate criminal destructiion of records in response to FOIA? Sounds like you're no better than Coulter in your glib advocacy of criminal activity.

Communications guru said...

Give me a break. That’s what is called sarcasm.

Chet said...

Exactly! I used the word "glib", so I obviously understood that. Your criticism of Coulter is for her SARCASM. And while I grant you that her sarcasm goes farther than it should at times, the tactic is no different than your comment above. What's good for the goose ...

Regardless, that's not the issue here. The rest of you ad homimen against me is all without evidence and heavy on the nasty labels. You say you "support FOIA," but it appears you only support it as a tool only when used by "your side of the aisle."

Communications guru said...

No, my criticism of Coulter is because of her racial attacks and hate speech, not because of her SARCASM. Show me the racism or discriminatory in my comment above. That must be you condemning her quotes.

I see no personal; attacks from me. It’s a simple fact that you are a rightwing zealot, and your writings and history prove that. You are also a rightwing operative, and your web site even says so.

Yes, I strongly support FOIA, but you are not using it to hold government accountable or to uncover corruption. Like I said in the post, this is nothing but an attempt to swear a group of dedicated professionals and smear the union by an anti-union, rightwing zealot.

Chet said...

You are hilarious.

Communications guru said...

I know, but great comeback and analysis, by the way.