May 9, 2007

Where there’s smoke there is a smokescreen from rightwing operative

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.


Chet said...

When did I ever allege there was a "smoking gun"? I never inflated any of this stuff - I also never said that that e-mail proved physical copies (as I properly "admitted" to Ms. Roose-Church, and as I wrote precisely in my press release and blog) - but I have proved that e-mail itself, no different than paper according to the law and which takes employee time to write, was used for political lobbying, and far more important than either is the parent-teacher conference misuse of time.

You're attempting a trick ("trickster?" to use your words) of reasoning here - - you reason that because one tiny part of my argument or evidence doesn't prove all of my conclusions that all of my conclusions therefore are false, while you ignore the entire remaining body of evidence I presented. Do you think teachers should bring fliers to parent-teacher conferences? And that's the tip of the iceberg - if MEA/HEA leaders did nothing wrong and were all along properly using resources, why sue for secrecy? MEA sued - otherwise this story would be half as important (as I told Roose-Church, this story is not the end of the world, to which she asked why "make a big deal about it," and I said, "its' not a big deal but its not meaningless", not every story is 9/11-level important, indeed, most aren't, and I'm treating it as appropriately important enough to let people know about -- the most important people are the people in the future who will be dissuaded from doing the same thing).

And I'll bet you five dollars, to the winner's choice of charities, that "union officials" don't have a "recognized right" to use the district email server for union business - - at least not to use it and have a blanket exemption from FOIA (I'll admit certainly that there should be some exemption review for highly sensitive personal information, and I accepted the school's process of doing that, and I've not been happy with how long its taken, but the MEA has been meddling behind the scenes to stop too, so ...). You're also dead wrong that "no one but Zarko has disputed that claim". The Howell School District today argued that while it doesn't discipline teachers for modest frivolous uses of e-mail (that is, they're choosing not to grievance the teachers because the MEA/HEA is too powerful and would bind the grievance up forever, and the teachers probably don't have much a grievance history to justify trying to take them through the infinite number of steps required to terminate or even punish them - by the way, I don't think the teachers should be fired if this was their first grievable action, but they should be warned and reprimanded), it also has an e-mail usage policy which clearly states that the use of the system is "not private" and can be monitored by the district at any time.

So you game for putting your money where your mouth is? If you won't buy my picture ... I really want that Alzheimer's charity (I don't work for them either) to get some of your money. If MEA wins a blanket right to secretly use public e-mail, then I'll donate to your favorite charity.

By the way, its great to see a turnabout on FOIA. Now I have liberals saying FOIA is bad and advocating for secrecy all because their special interests can't handle the sunlight. I've always criticized (some of) the Republicans for not more fully embracing FOIA (which, of course is really one of the brilliant bi-partisan tool that cuts both ways) and at times being part of a coalition to weaken it. The greatest outcome of Watergate was the strengthening of open records and sunshine laws. Nixon's most enduring - if also most ironic - contribution to democracy.

Are you really saying that teachers should be able to use public email accounts for this purpose? Is the only inappropriate public resource that can be used a piece of paper (although I'm looking at a non-union case elsewhere on that issue too)? Who's paying you to take such extreme positions (and to label people so viciously as you've labeled me)?

It's an indefensible practice from a bi-partisan perspective - taxpayers should not finance political efforts for anyone (corruption is partially why Republicans last year took a justifiable beating, now you're a standard bearer for similar corruption because its your "side") especially if its done secretly. Would you mind asking the Governor to defend it too? I'd love to get her on record saying that (or even hemming and hawing, as is more likely).

Communications guru said...