May 31, 2007

Thinly veiled anti-union smear campaign runs its course


Andy Warhol was correct when he said “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” and we can only hope Chet Zarko’s 15 minutes are about up.

The Oakland County rightwing extremist is connected with racist and extreme causes, and his latest rightwing cause is smearing the Howell Education Association (HEA), the union representing the district’s 475 teachers. You may recall that earlier this month Zarko submitted a Freedom Information Act (FOIA) request for emails from union leaders. After receiving emails he was not supposed to receive, he made the ridiculous claim that HEA leaders have "conducted a large amount of union business on public time by using public resources for union business, specifically, the email server. But when that attack failed after the district said the union has a “recognized right" to use the server he took another tack and used the emails to cherry-pick a few sentences to claim union leaders were mean to a few members.

Wow, what a crime.

He has now stumbled onto a bigger issue. Because the emails 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, as well as personal information about students, the HEA filed suit to stop the illegal release of the emails. On May 10 Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille gave the 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 for relapse.

Yesterday, the rightwing Detroit News editorial page editorialized that the emails should be released. Any newspaper that has Nolan Finley as its Editorial Page Editor is suspect. It calls Zarko a “political consultant and activist,” but it failed to mention his extreme rightwing stance.

“Zarko says he was searching for information on whether there had been an abuse of taxpayer resources in Howell and several other school districts on political or other issues.”

Well, he has found nothing, and he is now using the emails to simply smear the union and HEA President Doug Norton, going so far as to falsely claims Norton “doesn't like the "United States system" of elections.” I’m not sure what the internal workings of the union by the elected union leader has to do with anything, but it proves Zarko’s true intention is simply an anti-union smear campaign. Zarko has also refused to tell us who is paying for this witch-hunt.

The editorial’s position is “Private student information or sensitive teacher personnel information should be off limits. But other than that, e-mails produced and sent on the district's computers should be open to review by the public.”

I also agree Norton when he told the News earlier this month that Zarko "has an ideological bent to attack unions,” and the facts have shown that to be the case.

As a journalist, I support transparency in government, and I think they should be released, even to a person with such low motives. Zarko has shown he will take whatever he gets and takes things out of context to attack the union anyway. There is nothing we can do to prevent that, so the larger principal of open government has to apply, even for such low and despicable intentions. Let him have his 15 minutes so he can find another district's union to attack.

8 comments:

Chet said...

First, I'm glad to see you now believe the records should be released.

Second, upon rereading the Norton quote, I've modified (and, while I don't believe my first interpretation was beyond what was written, when I believe there are alternative explanations, I'll make changes, something I don't see from you) my editorial writing on the US system quote, as it dawns on me that Norton could be an advocate of the "spoils system", rather than an advocate of a slate system or parliamentary system (which would eliminate some checks and balances), although it is clear from the context he prefers the harmony of the slate system in his union. His actual words:

I did not make this motion myself because, as with how I feel about the United States system, I think that the members would be ill-served if officers of the association, elected to coherently run the association, were from opposing camps.

It is clear that he prefers no internal dissent within union leadership, regardless of what aspect of the US system his unclear writing is referring to, and the upshot of my posts, that you summarize as "he was mean" to other union members, is something you admit to.

And while that may not be a "crime," as you refer to it sarcastically, it is not an ideal or professional way to conduct one's self or a union. Not every story of interest is a crime. As I've stated time and again, this is like a speeding ticket, not a felony. Most speeding goes unnoticed - and like police - I don't have the resources to catch it all. But it is important to issue the citation - which is all I've done here. I've pointed out the issue so that the school and union is aware of it in the future. I'm not asking for Norton's head (that he be fired - unless he repeatedly and wontonly misuses public resources) and that would be out-of-proportion to what I've received so far. I'm asking for greater awareness and sensitivity (isn't sensitivity something Democrats want?) to the issues of taxpayer-funded political activity and union professionalism and structure.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Government reform begins by pointing the little things.

Communications guru said...

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Government reform begins by pointing the little things.

First, I have never said they should not be released: even to someone with an anti-union agenda like you.

Second, I will modify what I write when and if you prove it’s wrong. That hasn’t happened. How the elected head of the union conducts himself is none of my, or your business, and I don’t see the relevance of your attack on him. If he is committing a crime then that’s another matter.

You can ask for Norton’s head all you want, but you have not shown he has misused any public resources. In fact, when you could not show any misuse of public party you stooped to trying to simply smear him.

What a crock. You are simply bashing the union. “Sensitivity” is not the issue, honesty is, and you are lacking honesty. This is pure and simple an anti-union attack, and this has absolutely nothing to do with “government reform.”

Chet said...

Actually, the head of a union in a school is the other half of the equation (the Superintendent and administrative staff) for the vast majority of costs in a school, and of tremendous interest.

And the head of a union is a large percent of the morale of the teaching force, and the e-mail shows some of the low morale to be caused by Norton. Again, a demoralized and fragmented teaching force is of tremendous interest to the public.

Your reduction of all that should interest the public to only that of criminal activity is absurd. While I find crime in the newspaper, its not all that is of legitimate interest.

I have "... shown he has misused any public resources." First, he used the e-mail system which he consents to only use for official use for his personal use (you "believe" his assertion that he has a "recognized right," and you falsely assert the school recognizes despite its printed Acceptable Use Policy), by his own admission to which he now claims privilege to do so, and second, he used the e-mail to coordinate various political activities in furtherance of the union's objectives. While one of the e-mails discusses a postcard idea that may not have been followed through on, the "photocopying" e-mail discusses a flier which was transmitted via the e-mail for printing of a master and was disseminated at a parent-teacher conference which is time that should have focused on students.

My delay in publishing all the e-mail was a matter of reading it thoroughly and not timed for any other purpose. It's harder to understand those longer chains than it was to see the taxpayer resource issue.

You're idea that the "internal workings of the union" are "none of [anyone's] business" is simply a reiteration of the union argument that it is above FOIA and that there should be a special union business exemption. It's also your opinion - not a "fact" - hardly one that "proves Zarko's true intention is ... an anti-union smear...". It stands to reason that opinion, let alone your opinion (my opinion could prove something like this), can't prove that claim.

As to me "proving you wrong" and asking you to amend something, that would be impossible since you've given me no facts by which to do so. I can't disprove your opinions, or the opinions of Mr. Norton, such as "ideological bent", etc. (you again assert "the facts have shown" that opinion true, but it's not a factual claim of any meaningful kind, so you are either intentionally conflating facts and opinions or you aren't a "journalist" worthy of the label).

Communications guru said...

I am not aware of any “low morale” of teachers in Howell, and I’m at the high school almost everyday. However, the only thing I have seen that may contribute to any low morale of the teachers are the constant attacks on them from right-wingers like you and the anti-gay hate group “Love,” who you are apparently helping out. The majority of the people in Howell, especially parents, are behind the teachers.

I stand by what I said about criminal activity, and for you to say otherwise is “absurd.”

Again, you have not shown any misuse of public property, and when you could not you stooped to a personal attack. Mr. Norton not only said using the email for union business was an accepted use, so did the school district.

I never said union business should not be subject to FOIA, I said it’s irrelevant. Whether there is an exception under the law, a judge is deciding that. Sorry, it is proof that this is an anti-union smear. You went on a fishing expedition because Howell was in the news, or at the invitation of the “love group,” and when you found nothing you tried personal attacks. I’m still waiting for you to tell me who is paying for this.

The way the union used the email is an accepted use is a factual claim, not an opinion. On this blog I’m not a journalist. I’m a liberal Democrat, but I don’t twist facts, lie or use purely personal attacks like you do.

Chet said...

In Orwellian terms, you are a master of spin. Black is white. War is peace. And you and only you "don't twist facts, lie, or use purely personal attacks like [I] do."

You're full of yourself. Unwilling to admit anything not fitting into your neat world view. Inflexible. A flat out liar. It's not surprising to see the liar call those they disagree with liars. I'm used to it - By Any Means Necessary fabricated an entire urban legend around that story that I and others masterminded the greatest fraudulent conspiracy mankind has ever witnessed (for MCRI to have been a legitimate fraud, 150,000 counts of fraud would have to have occurred).

So, "on this blog," you've lied (you say "you are apparently helping out" "LOVE" -- a lie which you toss out onto the wall without a shred or iota of evidence -- I've never met Fyke or anyone from LOVE and condemn her group), you've "twisted facts" (more than I can count), and you've engaged in purely personal attack (one, you ask the irrelevant question of who is paying me, which I've answered, and you've accused me of "union smearing", "racism" by association, right-wing extremism by association , etc.). Even if all these labels were true, how do they relate to the substance of this story.

On the other hand, I've only impuned Norton's (un)professional conduct, not his personality or person, and contrary to your lie, never "asked for his head" -- indeed, I suggested he shouldn't be fired for this event, although it should be the basis for a lesson.

Finally, I have "shown he has misused any public resources." Read the e-mails. You have never addressed why the e-mails don't demonstrate my claims, except to set up a straw man (an argument I did not make, which you use as a distraction). If there wasn't something to my claims, you wouldn't have spent the time so whining about them without something more real than your childish "I say you're a racist, evil right-winger because you attacked my friend."

Chet said...

Ron Gettlefinger was quoted as saying, "you don't have to be anti-employer to be pro-union." Reverse or converse that phrase and you'll get my position. I'm not attacking the union as a concept here - I'm criticizing specific individual actions.

Communications guru said...

Let’s see; I disagree with you and you call you out on out on your anti-union and anti-teacher campaign, so that makes me “Orwellian,” a liar and a spin master. Fine. Coming from you I take that as a compliment. What’s ironic is that if you and your allies had your way no one could even be able to read Nineteen Eighty-Four because you want it banned because of the sex between Winston Smith and Julia. If you want to talk “Orwellian” take a look at Bush’s “Clear Sky” policy, “Healthy Forest Initiative” or the “war on terror” in Iraq.

You can’t possibly be claiming that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative's (MCRI) did not use fraud to collect signatures? I don’t know if you were involved, but I never made that claim.

I said, “However, the only thing I have seen that may contribute to any low morale of the teachers are the constant attacks on them from right-wingers like you and the anti-gay hate group “Love,” who you are apparently helping out.” That’s a true statement. Your attacks are helping in their mission. Now, whether you are working with them, I don’t know, but I believe you are. However, that sentence does not say that. I still want to know who is paying you for this anti-union smear job of yours. As for not meeting Vicki Fyke or anyone from “Love” I’m going to continue to be skeptical of your denials. If you “condemned” them I must have missed it. How your attack relates to the substance of this “story” is you have a personal agenda, and there is no story here.

Sorry, you have not “shown he (Doug Norton) has misused any public resources,” and I have read the emails. When you could not prove that, you stooped to attack him personally, and I have shown why you didn’t prove your untrue claim.

I agree with Mr. Gettlefinger, but a union is not trying to destroy the company and keep them out.

Chet said...

My FOIA had nothing to do with Fyke - and I agree with you, anyone who tries to ban 1984 because of any of the content is wrong.

I condemn Fyke's efforts on the book matter, and have in many locations on the internet condemned those efforts. As to Wendy Day, the very fact that I requested she contact me by posting on her blog on (or about) May 4, should be evidence that I had no previous contact. May 4 was days before my press release and the controversy started, and before anyone claimed a connection, so it that connection makes no sense. Day, by the way, responded to me by e-mail that she couldn't send the unmarked (no "paid for with" statement) political postcard because she didn't have it, and that was the end of our only communication.

Of course, you'd have people believe I'm wired into the vast right-wing conspiracy, which is obviously one of the most well-organized conspiracies ever known to mankind. It ranks up there with the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind (180,000 counts), which I also allegedly co-engineered with Jennifer Gratz and Ward Connerly.