May 31, 2007
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.