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Monday, October 5, 2009

Tuesday's Broward School Board meeting, honest govt. audits and Ann Murray

Monday October 5th, 2009

3:55 p.m.


I received this important email from savvy, well-informed

Broward civic activist Charlotte Greenbarg on Saturday,

and it's something that I'd strongly urge you to consider,

since it concerns a subject that in my opinion has gotten

far too little attention in the South Florida media,

such as it is.

That is, other than from the Daily Pulp's Bob Norman.


My own comments follow.

---------------------

This is really important for everyone who values honest, ethical government and those teachers and administrators who are trying to do their best under very, very difficult circumstances.

On Tuesday, October 6, the School Board agenda Item D-5 has the reports of audits, including the infamous ASHBRITT/C&B audit. At the June 4 Board meeting, even though the Ashbritt audit was not on the agenda, four Board members subjected Chief Auditor Pat Reilly to what can only be characterized as an inquisition (three of the four were particularly offensive.)

A Federal Grand Jury is looking at the circumstances surrounding the Ashbritt/C&B situation and the audit findings, and both FEMA and the FBI are investigating. We expect that Chief Auditor Pat Reilly and Director of Facility Audits Dave Rhodes will be the target of more Board members’ abuse. Deputy of Facilities Mike Garretson, whose department was the subject of the audit, has said that no one should speak to Pat Reilly because it was his fault the audit got to the FBI.

The meeting begins at 10:15 a.m., but of course there’s no way to know when Item D-5 will be heard. And of course, it costs quite a bit to park downtown in Fort Lauderdale to get to the School Board building aka Crystal Palace. It’s at 600 SE Third Ave.

If you cannot attend, please let the Board members know that you fully support the independence of the Auditors, as well as the findings in the Ashbritt/C&B audit that revealed the district is owed $765,000 from Ashbritt. The audit is on the district’s website www.browardschools.com

We need a show of numbers to protect our Auditors.

Here are the emails for the Board members. Please pass this on to your entire email blast lists.

maureen.dinnen@browardschools.com (Board Chair)

jbrooks@browardschools.com (Ben Williams)

jennifer.gottlieb@browardschools.com (Vice-Chair)

phyllis.hope@browardschools.com

ann.murray@browardschools.com

marcia.simmons@browardschools.com (Bob Parks)

stephanie.kraft@browardschools.com

robin.bartleman@browardschools.com

There are only eight of the nine members presently serving, because as you may have heard, Member Beverly Gallagher was arrested by the FBI recently on corruption charges.

Thanks,

Charlotte
---------------

Well, I will be there in person on Tuesday,
what about you?

Since many of you may've been out-of-town
or otherwise distracted in the sweltering last
dog days of August prior to Labor Day,
when some important things were coming
to light about the Byzantine world of the
Broward School Board, and their latest war
on taxpayer accountability and their
very own auditors,
I wanted to make sure that before I wrote
anything else, you had the opportunity to
make yourself aware of the facts of an
excellent Bob Norman Daily Pulp
blog post from August 28th
,
which adroitly zeroed-in on the
fund-raising activities of our own
School Board Member, Ann Murray,
whom I skewered in an email and
subsequent blog post on August 20th,

Voters Remorse: Ann Murray on thin ice in August with constituents after latest Broward School Board debacle


Norman's spot-on investigation of
Ann Murray "Going for the Gold"
is here:
Ann Murray Gets the Royal Treatment
http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2009/08/ann_murray_broward_school_board.php

After first reading that, I then looked at
this bit of helpful info, which gave me
some important context and perspective
to filter all this troubling news:
http://www.browardsoe.org/CFFilingDetail.aspx?type=contribution&file_id=642

I like to think of myself as a fair-minded person,
but in the five weeks since Norman's column ran,
Murray has seemed to only make a bad situation
worse with her clumsiness and cluelessness.

Murray's
tone-deaf comments in this Herald
article from Friday:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/5min/story/1262422.html
to wit, The bottom line, board members agreed,
is to try not to get bogged down in what Board
member Ann Murray called "the ninnies and
the nay-nays.''
does nothing whatsoever to assuage
my already existing strong doubts about her.

She STILL seems completely oblivious to not
only her own particular responsibility to do the
right thing, but also oblivious to the large and
growing number of personal doubts about her
in the local community.

Which is to say, oblivious to Southeast Broward
voters' perfect willingness to simply chalk their
vote up for her last year as a mistake,
and dump her overboard, and then promptly
vote for someone else new next year
who means what they say about reform
and accountability
.

I know that because despite the fact that
I haven't said much about it on my blog,
since then, I received quite a lot of comments
to my email and blog post about Murray
and the School Board six weeks ago.
http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/2009/08/voters-remorse-ann-murray-on-thin-ice.html
Surprisingly, not a single one of them was
positive about Murray.

For that matter, it was the exact same for
Jennifer Gottlieb, who REALLY seems
to rub a LOT of people the wrong way.
http://www.nationaleminentdomain.com/2009/09/articles/national-eminent-domain/a-monument-waste-in-florida/

Many complaints about them were about
specific issues, but most concerned their
overall lack of responsiveness and their
rather aloof cliquishness, almost as if
they thought they were the cool
High School seniors, and the voters
were the lowly freshman trying
desperately to fit in, which just rankles
the Seniors something fierce.

I don't claim that this is a scientific
representation, but I will say that
more than you'd expect, the folks who
wrote were very upfront about saying
they made a mistake in casting their
past School Board votes but
"won't make the same mistake twice."


For instance, to pick just one random
sentence out of the many upset emails
I received:
"It seems that Jennifer’s main objective
is to get a public (Montessori)
high school built for her sons…
a feat she has yet to accomplish
..."


Yes, a lot of people expressed a very
strong desire to be rid of both
Murray and Gottlieb in a
two-fer next year.

Addition-by-subtraction at its very best!


As for the subject at hand, Tuesday's hearing,
the most recent Norman blog post on Ashbritt
makes utterly clear who is leading the charge for
the entrenched interests on behalf of corporate
cronyism and campaign back-scratching
-Stephanie Kraft.

FBI Takes Over Ashbritt Case; Officials Nervous

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2009/10/wanna_see_a_subpoena.php#more


And did you see this rather curious
Miami Herald article last Monday?
I've highlighted the bizarre paragraph
below in red.

sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-broward-schools-gifts-092909,0,4569379.story

Gifts to district employees is topic of School Board meeting

Meeting is first since board member's arrest on corruption charges

By Hannah Sampson

The Miami Herald

8:28 PM EDT, September 29, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE

At their first meeting since suspended Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher was arrested on corruption charges, her former colleagues on Tuesday took up the question of what gifts district employees can and cannot accept.

While the discussion was timely -- Gallagher is accused of promising to steer construction work to undercover FBI agents for cash -- it had been planned long ago.

The updated policy includes few changes, but will mandate training for teachers, employees who are involved in purchasing and other district workers on the subject of soliciting and receiving gifts.

"I think that would be necessary and helpful," said board member Stephanie Kraft.

School Board members' actions are governed by state statute and ethics rules.

According to the district's policy, employees cannot solicit or accept anything of value based on the understanding that the gift would influence their actions.

Also prohibited: accepting meals, free entertainment or sports tickets, cash or other ''tangible gifts of appreciation'' from anyone doing business with the district. Any gift from anyone doing business with the district that would give the appearance of impropriety is also forbidden.

Allowed: birthday or holiday gifts of appreciation for teachers from parents. Vendors or potential vendors can also give testing incentives, employee of the year awards or school supplies if officials approve those in advance.

The previous policy didn't address whether teachers could accept parents' gifts.

"The clear intent is that we're talking a bottle of perfume or something," said board chairwoman Maureen Dinnen. "We're not talking a trip to Paris."

Last Wednesday's arrest barely got a mention. Opening the meeting, Dinnen said: "It has been a very difficult time for us, but we are hardworking people. We work together and we are a great board and we are going to work like that today and in the future."

Board members also said they want to change district policy so that internal school district audits do not become public records until a completed audit is presented to the School Board or audit committee, as allowed under Florida law. A completed audit would include responses from the audited department.

"I believe the process itself gets tainted when things come out before it's complete," Kraft said.

One of the companies federal agents have asked School Board members about is AshBritt, a Pompano Beach-based contractor mentioned in a controversial audit earlier this year that said the school district had overpaid more than $765,000 in repairs after Hurricane Wilma.

An early draft of the audit suggested that work done by AshBritt and another company may have involved fraud or collusion. The company has denied any wrongdoing.

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

-----------------------------
Re-reading this story from a week ago
caused me to think something that may
well have occured to you as well the
first time you saw it.

First, which self-serving School Board member
or employee was dumb enough to share the bit
about "as allowed under Florida law" with
reporter Hannah Sampson?
I'd really, really like to know who that was!

Second, changing the Broward School Board's
self-serving policy procedures doesn't trump
Florida's State statutes.
Period.

Stephanie Kraft can think she's powerful enough
to call a frog a prince, but as far as the State
of Florida is concerned, it's still legally a frog.

The State of Florida has already made
quite clear that regardless of whether
or not the Broward School Board wants
to call something a "public record,"
any drafts of any letter, memos,
correspondence, proposed policies,
renderings, et al regarding any public
matter are, by definition, public records.

I think the FBI shares this opinion, too,
don't you?
You don't have to be Perry Mason to
know that, simply paying attention.

For myself, tomorrow's meeting will be
the last time for Murray to show her
true colors.
If she continues to conveniently forget
she was elected because she ran on a
platform of reform and accountability,
as far as I'm concerned, it will prove
to be her own personal Waterloo.
There will be no going back.

If Ann Murray dithers or obfuscates,
or if she tries to play the lame
'peacemaker' card, instead of being
the person SHE said she was when
she campaigned, she becomes
persona non grata and
DEAD POL WALKING all in one.

As quickly as she burst onto the scene,
she can be Gone With The Wind.

Given how little she's actually done
to assuage the doubts of those
of us who went ahead and voted
for her over Rick Saltrick last year,
she better have her 'A-game' together
on Tuesday or it will be sayonara
for Ann Murray,

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