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All posts for the month September, 2015

President Brannan declares Task Force meetings closed to the public

Published September 30, 2015 by justicewg

No TalkingThe school board created a group called the Facilities Task Force back in May of this year. According to the board, the purpose of the group is:

“This group will be charged with exploring all options on how the district should move forward with our school buildings and facilities. They will serve as an advisory and oversight team during a comprehensive, multiyear process.”

That’s sort of a vague, open goal for the group. How are they studying the facilities – are they only processing information provided to them by the board? Who are they advising – the board, or are they choosing and advising an architect who will design a new building? Without a better explanation from the board about what this group will be doing, they are a mystery group. I wanted to know more, so I asked permission to sit outside the group at a meeting and see what they are doing.

I first found out there was a preliminary meeting being held on August 27th. I asked President Brannan for permission to attend, and she seemed to be OK with it.

There’s no public announcement of the meeting, it’s not meant to be a large public meeting; that being said I’m sure they would welcome you in if you went tonight.  – Debbie Brannan

One problem with getting Brannan’s OK was that she was telling me about the meeting on the same evening that the meeting was occurring. I didn’t get full permission to attend until 7:30 PM, probably after the meeting ended.

That was bad, but there were more meetings to be held, it sounded like there would be many meetings. But then I found out that the second meeting had been held, and despite multiple requests to attend the second meeting, I wasn’t told about it until it was over.

I asked Brannan why I wasn’t allowed to attend the meeting. Somehow, between the first meeting at which I was allowed, and the second, the meeting became closed to the public.

The Facilities Task Force is not a Board committee, and therefore, its meetings are not open to the general public – Debbie Brannan

There was no reference to laws that supported her choice to keep meetings closed. It apparently is closed “because I said so”.

The board is more closed to the public at every turn

This new decision to close the FTF meetings is in keeping with this school board’s secrecy and failure to involve parents in important decision making meetings. The board had many special meetings this year, many times more than regular business meetings, often for long hours with big agendas. The records show that no parents or press have attended any of these meetings.

Keeping the FTF meetings private really makes no sense. The board could have hired an architectural firm, there are many that focus on upfront planning services for facilities review and building design. They didn’t hire a firm, possibly because we all know that consultants can be counted on to make the choices the people who hire them want to see.

Instead, they empaneled a Task Force that was comprised of community members, none with school facility experience. I think the idea was that this was going to be a group of “regular people”, who could have an open conversation about the school facilities.

But now the meetings are closed. We have no idea what is happening behind locked doors. How is this any different than the paid consultants?

Sorry, Task Force Members. You now will become “the mystery group that nobody can know about”. All your work is going to be discounted by the people who have to pass high taxes to build the big new school buildings you will recommend. Sort of a waste of time, isn’t it?

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Culp’s “Superintendant Speaks” TVN article reviewed

Published September 29, 2015 by justicewg
Andy Culp and the man who pulls his strings

Andy Culp and the man who runs his show.

Words are important things. When you use the wrong words to describe your actions, you are being deceptive. For instance, if I said “Culp and the Board are on the verge of pulling a facility scam on Grandview”, it would not be correct. “Long established and ongoing” would be the correct words to describe the scam the board is trying to pull on the community.

I read through the September 23, 2015 “Superintendant Speaks” article in the Tri-Village News, and found a few words that seem to be inaccurate.

The board started this facilities work before April 2015

Mr Culp started the TVN article with a vague history lesson, then the superintendent made a strange choice of words. “Today, we are on the verge of engaging in a process to explore our facilities and how they may serve our students for generations to come.”

As anyone who has been tracking the board’s actions knows, the announcement that they are “on the verge” seems strange. The board was quoted in an April 2015 TVN article that was headlined “District seeks plan for aging buildings”, it was an entire story about all the ways the board was getting started on the Facilities process. That was five months ago.

In the May 2015 special board meeting, the notes show a four hour long meeting that had one topic – school facilities. This is where they recorded the infamous ““80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”, and “Feeling of MORAL IMPERATIVE to do something”. They also talked about a visit they had done to other school districts to look at facilities, so they were working on facilities well before May. There have been other mention of the facilities work in the school newsletter, and other TVN articles.

The choice of “on the verge” by Mr Culp is just inexplicable, unless you make the obvious conclusion – he was trying to be deceptive, in order to try to hide the history of the board from uninformed voters. There is lots of stuff in those old meeting notes that the board wants to hide.

There were reasons the present school buildings were built in the 1920s

Going back to the vague history lesson Culp started the article with, what event was the reason that cause the Grandview Heights community to build new schools? If most homeowners look at the deeds to their houses, they will find a fact that has a big correlation – most of the homes in Grandview were built in the 1920s. The city had no choice except to build new schools to house an exploding number of new students.

The history lesson has no bearing on the present population of students at Grandview Heights schools. There has been a constant decrease in the student population since the 1970’s. Despite the new housing going in to the Grandview Yard development, the school attendance has been flat. I was told only two kids were added to the school who live in those apartments. There is no reason to think more housing at the Yard will increase student numbers enough to require new buildings.

Read the rest of this entry →

Councilman Smith on the new under 21 smoking ban

Published September 22, 2015 by justicewg

ashtrayOhio law says anyone over the age of 18 can buy and smoke tobacco. Under a new law just passed by Grandview city council, young adults 18 to 21 can now be ticketed by the Grandview cops. According to a group quoted in a Dispatch story, this will make Grandview the first city in the state to criminalize tobacco use for that age group.

The law was created to follow the actions of a number of other central Ohio cities, like Upper Arlington and Bexley, who had passed laws in June that made sale of tobacco products to those under 21 illegal. However, unlike those laws, Grandview Heights has a part of the new smoking ban that can result in charges for both the shopkeeper and the under 21 patron who buys the tobacco.

According to Councilman Ed Hastie, who voted against the law, not only the act of buying the tobacco is illegal, but any possession by an under 21 resident. This could lead to the police stopping 18 year olds who are seen smoking, searching them (because the act of smoking would be illegal and allow the police to detain and search), then if they found cigarettes they can issue a ticket that might result in paying a fine of $100 and performing 20 hours of community service.

A second Dispatch story said that the council is “at most, asking for those charged to be sent to a brief anti-smoking class”. But the law is still on the books as written, allowing stiffer sentencing.

I asked city council member Chris Smith to respond to questions about spending police resources chasing down kids for smoking. I also questioned if the latitude council is giving the prosecutor will mean that poor and brown kids will get charged, while white kids with parents who hire lawyers will be allowed to walk away from charges.

Words from Mr Smith

First of all, this ordinance was formulated and passed as a health policy issue to deter people 18-20 from tobacco use.  If we can deter people at that age from tobacco use, that may lead to less addition, and in turn, less health problems, lower health care costs, etc.

This was not meant to divert police resources and time.  I would imagine that enforcement would be akin to illegal alcohol sales where there are reportings and complaints of underage sales at a particular store which eventually is investigated.  Regarding sanctions and penalties, it is worth noting that under current law, underage alcohol consumption is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months; a much greater penalty than an unclassified misdemeanor.  It is my belief that sanctions at both the vendor level (i.e., store owner) and the consumer is a more fair and broader approach to achieving a public policy goal.

No I do not believe that prosecutorial discretion is a vehicle to open the door for racial and income inequality.  We have spoken with the prosecutor for Grandview Heights today, and what is envisioned is recommending a sanction of a smoking cessation/ education program for someone 18-20 years of age, at the harshest.  It is not our policy goal to slap fines on young adults or have the police round up a bunch of 18-20 year olds and send them to mayor’s court.  What you are describing with respect to racial and social injustice, unfortunately, is a widespread problem in our criminal justice system.  It is a reason to stop inequalities and injustices in the criminal justice system rather than to provide reasoning not to help solve a public policy problem.

It is not the case that Grandview is the only municipality to do this.  As you have probably noted in the Dispatch article, Upper Arlington and Bexley have passed similar ordinances, and from what I understand, Columbus is seriously considering doing so as well.  That will provide a much more vast geographical area that will enforce this policy, making it more effective than symbolic.

I realize that I am the sponsor of this ordinance.  My role with this legislation is more limited, however.  When a representative from Tobacco 21 spoke to council in July, I was actually out of town.  A colleague of mine on council asked our city attorney to draft legislation.  As Safety Committee Chair, the fact that I did agree with the policy and that I had the belief that a majority of council favored the legislation (which was made evident last night with the 6-1 vote), I agreed to be the sponsor and see it through to passage.  Despite my getting various emails and calls last night and today, I really did not play such an active advocacy role with this.

It is worth noting that I did amend the ordinance in committee to make it more fair: originally, the criminal standard for sales was strict liability.  I amended the legislation to create an affirmative defense for businesses when they reasonably rely on a valid license or identification card which is not the property of the purchaser.  I thought strict liability in that circumstance was vastly unfair.

There have been various complaints on social media.  I appreciate your input, as always.  However, it is worth noting that there was a public hearing on this ordinance as well as three readings.  The only person to voice any objection or opposition was my colleague, Ed Hastie.  At least three people came in during the hearing and readings to voice support.

I hope this answered your questions and addressed your concerns.  Please let me know if I can answer any  more.  Thanks.

Chris Smith  csmith@grandviewheights.org
Grandview City Council

My thoughts

I’m all for prosecutorial discretion, as opposed to brain-dead mandatory minimum and three strike laws. But here is an idea – if the intent is to never charge 18 year olds with the full force of the $100 fine and community service, how about the council re-hearing the ordnance, and removing those parts of the law? I wonder if any council member understands what a $100 fine means to a kid who is working for minimum wage?

And then while they are re-examining the effect a law like this can have, they might consider that they have gone too far with expecting the police to be the social agents in charge of keeping kids away from tobacco. There are too many ways already for the young to be made into criminals, with life long effects caused by zealous prosecution and fines. Maybe the police shouldn’t be the tool that is used for every problem we have with those darn kids?

After a second reading – wow, that section where Smith is saying he was out of town when the action happened, and he was just the sucker committee head who didn’t have much to do the the ordinance? Can you feel the flop sweat dripping?

The Flop Sweat is spreading

(Later) There is a long article by the city council on the Grandview City Blog. It presents a long list of reasons to keep the anti-smoking ordnance in effect. Gosh, I wonder if it might have gone differently if they posted all this stuff on the blog BEFORE they took a vote. I’m still reading a lot of people who were totally unaware that this was in the works (including me). Maybe one of the fine council members should have though “wow, this is going to be a big shock to the city, we should do more to publicize our plans”.

From the post – Councilmember Kearns says “It is not fair to make a law that only penalizes the seller with no opportunity for enforcement against the purchaser or user.” Humm. Fair? Maybe not, but again it is using the police to enforce a social health issue. We have lots of police, and lots of laws, and we are filling up the jails. Do we need another law?

And now that I read the post again, I see that it has a bald face lie. It says, “Grandview Heights City Council joined other central Ohio cities Bexley and Upper Arlington this week in raising the legal age of tobacco product sales and use from 18 to 21 at Monday evening’s City Council meeting.” No. False. Read the darn links, those cities made sales to under 18 illegal, not use. This is getting pathetic. I don’t know who wrote that post (it quotes a couple of council members, as though it were an interview), but the council is responsible for the blog. I think there are a bunch of council members who are going to be leaving office this November, and others who should follow them.

(later) A veto by the mayor forced the council to take the matter back up under consideration.

Catching the flasher

Published September 21, 2015 by justicewg

The reports about the flasher in Grandview seemed to be going away this year, but he is back. This is from the Grandview city blog.

“On September 17, 2015, at approximately 8:40pm, officers were dispatched to the area of W. Second Ave and Morning Ave on the report of a man who had exposed his genitals to three females, two of which were juveniles. Upon arrival, the victims stated they were approached from behind by an unknown male that had a black shirt partially covering his face. The suspect made threats that he was going to sexually assault the victims while engaging in a sex act. He is described as a Caucasian male, 6 feet tall, and 200 pounds.

There have been fourteen public indecency reports that have certain similarities since June 30, 2013, within the City of Grandview Heights. Those similarities include the suspect appearing from behind a structure or landscaping, and his face will be covered. However, the physical description of the suspect(s) remains inconsistent, and this is the first incident where threats have been made to a victim. Four additional incidents in the same time frame were unrelated and resulted in criminal charges for two suspects. A third suspect was interviewed but not charged.

We continue to ask citizens to be vigilant and not to approach or make contact with any suspicious individuals. If anyone has any information about these incidents they are encouraged to contact the Grandview Heights Police immediately at (614) 488-7901. “

There was also an email that was sent to parents, warning about the flasher. That email included a few suggestions, such as having the Grandview Police number above listed on your speed dial. The standard 911 call will reach the Grandview police, but there are delays caused by transfers from the Columbus police 911 operator to Grandview. It also suggested walking with another person (impractical advice for some). One good plan was to maintain a map in your head, so that you can quickly tell the dispatcher the exact location of a flasher sighting.

My not expert advice – scream loudly. This is a busy city, and screams are not normal sounds. You will attract attention, except in the most remote corners of the city like Goodale Ave. Pepper spray can be effective, but you have to train yourself to grab it and aim correctly, it will need a lot of practice.

The one item that most people carry without fail is their cell phone, and all cell phones now have cameras. If one person in your group is calling the cops, the others can start a video recording. Again, practice is the key, because a video of a person running away down a dark alley is not much use. Be ready to start the video at a moment’s notice. I’m thinking that there must be some physical characteristic of the flasher which will give him away – maybe a ring on a finger, or a stain on his clothing that can be matched with the clothing of a suspect.

Previous post about the flasher.

K-12 facilities report used by the school board to deceive

Published September 18, 2015 by justicewg

Facilities report - coverEarly in 2015 the school board asked a company called “K-12 Consulting” to produce a report that had the title “Permanent Improvement Cost Assessment”. After a special morning board meeting, the board used the report as the primary document to warn the community about high facility costs, and the need for new buildings. The board notes recorded them saying about new construction “It’s our turn now”, and how they had a “MORAL IMPERATIVE” to build, based on the facilities report.

I read carefully through that report. Not only does it not support the conclusion of the school board, It explicitly says it is not to be used to estimate costs for replacement or renovation of current school buildings. By quoting (incorrectly) some of the costs the school will face in the next 10 years, without specifying the second biggest cost category (Sports facilities) , in my opinion the board has fraudulently used this report to deceive the community.

The K-12 Consulting Report

K-12 Consulting is a Dublin based company that works with schools to produce reports and training. I don’t want to imply that the company did anything wrong, they appear to have used the data they were given, and costs estimates projections from industry groups, to make accurate guesses about the future cost of facilities at the school. However, the way the school board gave the scope requirements for this report failed to address the most important questions we need to know to make informed opinions about the future of renovation or new construction at the schools.

First, this report was limited to the years 2016 to 2024. This ignores the past costs that the school has paid in real dollars for facility maintenance. By looking at past costs, and projections of future costs (adjusted for inflation), the board could have substantiated their claims that we will be paying more in the future because of the age of the infrastructure. It’s an incomplete picture that could have been resolved with data existing in the school finance department.

Second, the report very clearly says that the data presented is only for current facilities costs. The second paragraph of the report says:

“This assessment was not intended to provide costs to renovate or replace the existing facilities. The goal was to capture the costs of yearly maintenance, equipment replacement, and capital repairs that include an allocation to start updating the student learning environment over the next ten year period. This process would be an incremental effort to move through a block of classrooms annually while performing yearly maintenance on the infrastructure of the district.”

I question this statement that the report is not about costs to renovate, while at the same time it contains costs for “updating the student environment”. Isn’t that renovation?

Because the report doesn’t contain anything about costs for new construction, it was inappropriate to use of it in the May 2015 special meeting as the prime document that lead them to the statement “80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.” That statement was unsupported by any projection of the costs of new buildings, as opposed to renovation of current facilities.

Digging into the Facilities report

I highly suggest you download and read the Grandview Final Facilities report Here is a quick overview of the content.

Facilities report - buildings

Click for the embiggening

The spreadsheet with the title “Buildings – mechanical equipment and repairs” is the most important one in this assessment. If the school board is correct in their claims that the school buildings are deteriorating because of age, this spreadsheet should show increasing annual costs over the next ten years. But look at the bottom line totals – they show costs that average around $350K, with small increases and decreases over time. There is nothing here to support a claim that the buildings are deteriorating and costing increasing amounts.

Facilities report - custodial and vehicles

This spreadsheet shows the cost of snow removal equipment, vans, and maintenance supplies – fixed costs. It has nothing to do with building costs. Why does this belong in a report that was used to support the board conclusion that new buildings are needed?

There are more spreadsheets that cover costs for flooring, roofing, asphalt and furniture. All are fixed costs that are expected, no surprises or spikes in the future.

Facilities report - athletics

Click to see me

The Athletics spreadsheet is the most important one to read for a full understanding the facilities costs at the school. Here you see the Recoating of the home stadium seating for $110K, the visitor bleacher replacement at $27K, fencing for $60K, the track surface replacement for $110K, and the big one, the artificial turf will need replacement in 2017 at $357K. I totaled up the costs for all athletic  facility spending for the next ten years, it is over $700K. As a percentage of the total costs for the future at the school, these expensive athletics projects are the second highest cost center on the pie chart in the report.

You would think with these kind of costs in the near term, the school board would be mentioning that Athletics are a major cost factor. Yet I can’t find any mention of this in the published information from the board. The boosters website is devoid of mention of these costs, or any plans for fundraisers specific to the projects.

How did the board come to its conclusions?

After you download and read the Facilities report, download the school MINUTES 2015 05 13 The board is recorded reading the report, and suggests that there are other costs not included (why didn’t they include those costs in the scope?) The board then makes statements like “80-­‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”, and “Feeling of MORAL IMPERATIVE to do something” (that capitalization is directly from the meeting notes). How does this report support the urgency to replace buildings?

If the board was honest, they would have said “We feel a MORAL IMPERATIVE to inform Grandview residents that the athletic departments facilities are very expensive to maintain, and the private donations are not expected to cover any more than a small percentage of costs.” Honesty from the Grandview school board is in short supply. Also, why was the board recorded giving reports on visits to other school systems – isn’t it way too early in the process to be doing visits? I get the feeling that the board was measuring the curtains for new offices they will include in plans for new construction.

The TVN article about the facilities report

The TVN did a story about the facilities report, given as a presentation by the facilities committee (made up of board members). This statement in the story stuck out:

“The audit was “a very reasonable, conservative” look at the district’s facility needs, Truett said. The cost of maintaining the buildings is projected to be between $800,000 and $1.2 million a year for at least the next five or six years, he said.”

First, no, the K-12 facilities report didn’t say $800K to $1.2 million. It said $750K to $1,070K for the most expensive years. Not much different, but why lie about the numbers that are printed right on the report?

Second, there is no support for the “between $800,000 and $1.2 million a year for at least the next five or six years”. The report said those extreme costs are limited to the next three years, after 2017 the totals drop down to an average well below $500K.

Finally, the reason for that high number of $1,070K is plainly printed in the report. The artificial turf will cost $357K, and it will be a budget buster for the school. The failure to include an explicit mention of the cost of the turf is deceptive, and it completely fails to inform the parents of our school system about the true reasons for high facilities costs.

As an aside – If you are wondering why the board has not set some money aside in preparation for the turf replacement, the answer is that they were still paying off the old loan for the installation as late as 2014.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Failure to honestly communicate important information is the fundamental mission of the present “Policy Governance” board. They need us to pass high levies for their new school buildings however, so expect to see lots more BS flowing from the board.

Courtesy guide for Grandview elections

Published September 4, 2015 by justicewg
No endorsement intended

No endorsement intended

Elections in Grandview Heights are similar to those in other cities. New candidates will make claims that change is needed, those who are trying to hold a seat will boast about the actions they took to deliver services to the voters. We have a big difference from other cities in Franklin County however, no other city is as small and has such easy contact between the voters and the office holders, and office seekers. They are quite likely to be the person living down the street from you.

How should we act when we meet a candidate on the way out to set our trash on the curb? What is appropriate to say to a council or board member when you bump into them at the grocery? Democracy works because our elected officials must respond to the voice of the voters, but they have a life outside of the office they hold. The line between private and public is not clear. This is my take on the issue.

Ask permission to engage in politics

The first words out of your mouth when you meet an office holder or candidate should be “Excuse me Mr or Ms (politician name), can we talk for a minute about this issue?”. They might say “Sorry, I have to get something done here, can we talk later?” and that should be the end of the conversation.

You should hold the candidate to their word, and ask for a time to call, or send an email to them. But you can’t expect a politician to be on your schedule. They might take a few days to get back, that is OK.

Email is the better option

Some people just feel better pinning a person down and having a face to face conversation. Some people like phone calls. The problem with both of these is that the words you exchange will disappear into the ether after the talking is done, with no record or ability to hold the candidate to the words they spoke. You could tape the conversation with the politician, it is legal in Ohio to record anyone as long as one party knows the recording is being done. But you will only have a recording of a voice, and it is hard to share the record of that conversation. When politicians say controversial things, they often later insist that they were not clear on the question, or speaking off the record, or drunk at the time.

Email is written communication that allows both parties to say exactly what they intend. Politicians can’t say “You are asking gotcha questions!” when emailed, they can take the time they need to research and give the best answer to any question.

Emails should be courteous but to the point. Some people though are angry at the actions of the politician, when their child is affected by action of the school board, or they lose property value because of the votes of the council, they can sent some bitter and angry emails. As long as the email doesn’t contain a direct threat to harm the office holder, they still need to reply. This is the “heat in the kitchen” and if the office holder doesn’t like it, the exit is always open.

A politician may chose to simply ignore your email, and never reply. There are some current school board members who do that, and they have a long tradition of acting like they can trash emails at their whim on the board. If I had my way in a better political system, I would make refusal to answer emails an offense that leads to removal from office. Here in the real world, they get away with it.

The family of the politician

You might find yourself sitting next to the spouse of a politician at the ball game for your kids. Is it also OK to ask them to discuss the political issues their husband or wife is involved in?

I don’t think there is any good reason to ever ask the family of a candidate or office holder to comment on their relative’s political stances. The person who runs for office is the one who asked to be a politician, their family didn’t run.

The spouse of a office holder should not be acting as a political arm of the candidate. This is especially hard for the husbands of office holders, they are used to acting as the “white knight” to defend their spouse against all insults. They can get offended if their wife shares an angry email from a voter, and want to speak up in defense. They should shut up and sit on their hands. They were not elected, their spouses took the office, and all the heat that is generated. Again, direct threats of violence are out of bounds, and the office holder may contact the police if they feel they are threatened. But this is still not the business of the spouse, they were not elected.

Stand up and work for your politician

The more people who take an interest in local politics, the better. We need an informed and engaged public, who are not cynical about politicians and the government. Actively seek out the candidates in the upcoming election, and support those who are better for the city and schools. Hand out fliers, post yard signs, and sign support letters. If your candidate loses, take it as a message to do better next time, not a call to shut up and go away.