It’s Our Turn Now
The May 2015 special board meeting, held in the morning with no visitor or press in attendance, was an unusual meeting. The 4 hour meeting, held with less than 24 hour notice, had a single line agenda (and the “anything else we feel like” agenda topic that they often use), which was not unusual, the board has taken to holding these extended sessions out of the public eye often in the last couple of years. What made it unusual was the meeting notes that they recorded and posted online. These notes are normally devoid of details that allow you to know what the board is up to, except in the most general sense. This May meeting contained the following in the notes –
“80-‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”
“Feeling of MORAL IMPERATIVE to do something” (that capitalization is directly from the meeting notes)
Amid the gray jargon of the normal meeting minutes, this “our turn” line, the first record of the meeting, stands out like an emotional shout. I have never, in all my time reading minutes from board and council meetings, seen “MORAL IMPERATIVE” in all caps, used to comment on a public body’s feeling about an action they plan to take.
Genesis of the building project
Looking back over the past board meeting notes, it isn’t clear where the sudden urge to build came from. You can speculate that the board looked at the city, and saw big new projects going up, like the announced build of a new city pool. The board might have looked at those projects and said “it’s our turn now”.
The publicly discussed reason was a report the board had contracted from an outside group called K-12 Consulting, this report was titled “The Permanent Improvement Cost Assessment”. I have another post on the way that examines this report in detail (read this post on the report),but after a quick scan I see big red flags that indicate this was a predetermined report that was tailored to support the results the board wanted to see.
The K-12 report would have been useful if it broke out the expenses that are a result of keeping an old building running. Instead, they threw everything they could find into the cost bucket, including replacement costs for school vans, snow cleaning equipment, and more – the stuff that’s considered fixed costs, no matter what kind of building the school owns.
I found one item on the list of facility costs particularly red flagged. The school board went though a scandal back in 2006 over the cost of installing artificial turf on the football field, and used unethical shenanigans to justify spending school money on a project that was supposed to be completely funded by donations. Now 9 years later the field is nearly worn out and is scheduled for replacement in 2017. How is this for Chutzpah – that $365K cost for the replacement is being used to bulk up the facility costs, in a bid to scam the tax payers into building another expensive project!
When you throw in the cost of replacing the turf into the general facility costs, it is easy to make statements like the panic inducing TVN article, where board member Truett said the the school would be spending “$800,000 and $1.2 million a year for at least the next five or six years!”. He was not telling us that the $1.2 million (the report said $1,070K, I don’t know where the extra money came from) was only a single year cost boost from the turf replacement. I also don’t understand where that “five or six years” is anything but BS. The report said $500K the fifth year, and dropped down in subsequent years.
That same May 2015 special board meeting created a “Facilities Task Force”, which was supposed to be filled with construction and architectural experts, who were going to give an objective look at the need for a new building. I have another post in the tube that looks at these “experts”, but I can give this comment on the group – if you place the husband of a board member on a task force, how objective does anyone think they will be?
The urge to build is powerful
If you have never been in the position to be part of a group that builds and gets their names carved into the dedication plaque on the side of the building, you don’t know the draw that path holds. History is filled with people who built oversized palaces, sized for the ego of the builders more than the practical use of the building.
Suggested reading – the Wiki article on Terror Management Theory. It provides a comprehensive framework for the motivations of society, and symbolic immortality sought by providing the sense that one is part of something greater that will ultimately outlive the individual (a building with a plaque).
If you read through some of the past special board minutes, it is shocking how long this train has been on the tracks, railroading the district into a new building. The meeting notes say they went on “Mariemont/Wyoming site visits” – the board was already visiting other schools and getting plans for the new building back in May 2015. It is hard to believe that the school board is committed to allowing the Task Force to give a yes or no answer on building, when they already are measuring the curtains for their new offices.
Do not underestimate what this board will do to push this new building to completion. They will spend school money freely, they will work in secrecy, they will fudge numbers and create implausible projections. They will try to intimidate anyone who speaks out against the building. “IT’S OUR TURN!” will be the board’s battle cry, and will be the overriding motivation of this school board for years to come. Unless Grandview is willing to remove this group from their board seats, expect to see all other functions of the board suffer as they focus on getting their building.
(Later)The secrecy begins
The secrecy I mentioned above has started. I sent an email to board president Brannan asking when the Task Force group would be meeting, and requested to attend. Days later, I got an email back in response, that said there was a meeting going on that evening – somewhere. I asked for confirmation of the place of the meeting, and assurances that I would be allowed to attend the meeting (I know that there is no valid reason I could be blocked from attending, but I wanted confirmation in writing from the board president). Mrs. Brannan told me where the meeting was being held, and confirmed my permission to attend – at 7:30 PM, as the meeting was probably ending.
I asked when the next meeting would be held – she didn’t know, said they didn’t schedule yet. Why do I get this feeling that I will be receiving emails at 7:30 PM on the nights of future meetings? It’s such a childish little trick, yet it allows them to say “we notified him”.
Board bans public attendance
That didn’t take long, Brannan now says the public can not attend Facilities Task Force meetings. Nothing helps inspire the public to have confidence in a public meeting like having the public banned from attending!
(2018 Edit) This post written in 2015 shows how the board closed down public involvement in the facility process by closing the Task Force. Then the board spent months telling us how they are “transparent”. And then they created a Finance committee that would have total, unsupervised control over the facility plan. The board knew they would be watched closely when this committee was being formed, but the board showed no interest in any open process – the handpicked finance committee was closed, no meeting notes, in violation of Ohio open meeting laws. This was a very public middle finger to all of the Grandview Heights community.