May 9, 2007
The unfounded accusations by rightwing operative Chet Zarko became a little more clear with a follow up article Wednesday by the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.
Zarko - a self-described metro-Detroit, Michigan-based, political and marketing research consultant, focusing on conservative and “moderate” candidates and other clients – accused the Howell Education Association, the union representing the 475 Howell Public School teachers, of abusing taxpayer-funded resources to promote union causes based on e-mails he received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
It appears where there is smoke there is nothing but smoke, or in Zarko’s case a smokescreen. According to the Press & Argus, Zarko alleges HEA leaders have "conducted a large amount of union business on public time, including trying to retain MEA (Michigan Education Association) affiliated MESSA health insurance, and using parent-teacher conferences to recruit parents (to) their side of a collective-bargaining debate."
Zarko also claims the teachers used parent-teacher conferences to "illegally lobby" in getting teachers to attend the March 12 school board meeting and advocated speaking on behalf of the teachers. He also claims that one e-mail implies the union used school resources to make copies on behalf of union business.
But further investigation by reporter Lisa Roose-Church, revels the alleged smoking gun that proves Zarko’s inflated case only says "I can make copies after school."
When asked how that statement proves improper conduct, Zarko said whether copies were made is not important. The real question, he said, is whether union members used school computers paid for with taxpayers' money for union business. Say what?
However, the union officials say they have a "recognized right" to use the district e-mail server for union business, and no one but Zarko has disputed that claim. I’m not familiar with the HPS email server, but the Michigan House of Representatives, for instance, has a portal where you can work at home from your own computer and that includes receiving and sending emails at home. This is an accepted practice everywhere.
HEA President Doug Norton said, according to the P & A, that the e-mails were "mistakenly released under FOIA" and that the district official who released the e-mails acknowledged "it was a misunderstanding that led" to the release of the documents." Livingston County 44th Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille signed an injunction Tuesday stopping any further release of emails, and a hearing has been set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Judicial Center, 204 S. Highlander Way in Howell.
Despite people like Zarko and the anti-teacher stance of the anti-gay hate group known as the “Love” PAC trying to sabotage the effort, the district and the HEA reached a tentative agreement yesterday after a year without a contract.
According to the Detroit News, the three-year contract addresses working conditions, salary and medical coverage for the duration of the contract. The HEA Board will consider the contract on May 14, and the full HEA membership will consider it on May 21. The School Board will consider the contract next month.