Yesterday I shared details about Southern Indiana taxpayers getting hoodwinked. After uncovering details of Greater Clark County Schools officials deliberately misleading a Courier-Journal reporter, I appeared on The Francene Show to discuss the whole mess. (read what happened after my appearance by reading yesterday’s story)
So I thought I’d share the audio from my appearance on Francene for those of you who weren’t able to listen live:[audio:http://thevillevoice.com/audio/francenegccs.mp3]
If you’re at work or can’t play the mp3, you’ll find a rough transcript of the appearance after the jump…
Francene: [T]his information was found out by Jake Payne, blogger for PageOneKentucky.com and TheVilleVoice.com. So, once again, it’s very interesting to me, Jake, because it seems like they are no hiding behind ‘if we don’t know where the money’s coming from, we can’t possibly tell you.’
Jake: Francene, that is entirely their strategy. Specifically the legal counsel’s strategy. There are multiple emails, which I have published this morning, that discuss just that. Um… And it seems to me that they have some sort of mysterious reason to hide the identities of those contributing to Daeschner’s salary. In… in light of that the legal counsel is also ex… on the receiving end of criticism and questioning from actual board of trustees members and other Clark County officials.
September 16th Christina Gilkey, a GCCS board member … asked for transparency, saying taxpayers were asking questions. She expressed her disappointment with the board’s behavior when it came to fundraising. And on the 24th of September Martin Bell emphasized the need for transparency. And after that … Lewis continued to withhold information from the Courier-Journal, going so far as to draft letters in the name the chief financial officer responding to Christopher Quay’s open records request.
Francene: **Laughter** This is insane. I mean, it’s just an open records request about a guy’s salary. It shouldn’t be that big a deal, it’s done all the time.
You mentioned that one of the board members with Greater Clark County Schools … said that she … she’s very uncomfortable and she wanted to know where the money is coming from. Was she, did she every get any response to the fact that she, she brought up the fact that taxpayers are asking questions?
Jake: Well, Francene, my records request would’ve … would have recovered any document – electronic or print – in response to her September 16th email. I didn’t receive anything beyond her original message. So if there was a response, the legal counsel, Sandy Lewis, withheld it from me for whatever reason. I’m not saying she withheld information from me, but if there was a response, I did not receive that.
Francene: Well, once again I think it’s very telling that in the emails … and as you just said, they are now up on PageOneKentucky.com and TheVilleVoice.com, uh, it clearly says, um, I mean this general counsel says that, that she and Clark County Schools aren’t breaking the law by withholding public records because they don’t know who’s contributing to this pass-through fund. So this fund basically allows them to circumvent the law. Once again you would think that they would say, ‘well, we need to find out, cause we’ve gotta make sure there’s no conflict of interest.’ But they don’t wanna know.
Jake: They do not wanna know. They are willfully playing dumb. And that’s not just my opinion, there’s written proof that they’re playing dumb. Uh, they played dumb so much so that Chris Quay went above and beyond as a journalist and filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, uh, which then forwarded that complaint on to Sandy Lewis. Unfortunately, she again responded that, you know, she hadn’t broken any laws, that she wasn’t withholding any information. Despite there being on the official record – her email record – evidence to the contrary. So they’re going above and beyond to hide information while reporters are going above and beyond to uncover it.
Francene: Well, and…
Jake: It’s public information.
Francene: Yeah, absolutely, it’s public information. It’s the superintendent’s salary. Which is $225,000 a year.
Now, you also asked for a copy of Daeschner’s employment contract, which you and I actually compared with the employment contract of his predecessor, Tony Bennett, who once again is the superintendent of public instruction now. It’s pretty much the same except for this extra slush money.
Jake: It is, uh, about the same. Daeschner is unfortunately making about $95,000 more per year than Charles Bennett.
Francene: Tony Bennett, yeah…
Jake: Sorry, Tony Bennett.
Francene: That’s okay.
Jake: Who was making $130,000 per year. There are a couple extra perks: Daeschner receives $1,500 a month for 24 months as a housing allowance and he received a cell phone. Bennett only received a $5,000 moving expense and $50 toward a cell phone. … Beyond that, there wasn’t much difference. It’s that $75,000 secretive slush fund from, uh, a non-profit that Daeschner’s receiving which the public has a legal right to know whom is contributing to.
Francene: Mmm hmm. Absolutely. And once again, I, I mean, it would be very … nobody’s saying that, that this is wrong to, to get public donations. It is very unusual and could be rife with problems. But, you know, we’ve, these are, these are tough economic times so maybe this is the new way of supplementing salaries. But once again, there should be full disclosure. But they’re able to do this because the, the fundraising component this, uh, this, this, uh, bank fund is technically private. That, that’s the loophole, right?
Jake: That is the loophole. It is um, uh, the Community Foundation is a 501©3 non-profit. And while it is a noble effort on the part of Dale Orem and others within the community to raise these dollars to pay for Daeschner, it behooves them to release the names and entities of donors contributing these funds to Daeschner. The public has a right to know. There’s no reason to withhold this information unless you’ve got something to hide.
Francene: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and frankly, if you were somebody who was just contributing because, you know, whatever … your finances allow, because you feel like, you know, hey, I want my kids to have the best superintendent possible, I’d wanna know who else’s money was going in the pot, and to make sure nobody else was getting some deal on the side.
Again, there are too many instances of wrongdoing and collusion and, and favoritism and preferential treatment. This is why this needs to be open. This is why this should all be public record. Just like his contract is. I mean we even know from his contract that he’s gotta have a physical once a year. I mean, it’s open. Except for this extra money. Which bears a lot of questions.
Well, we’ll see what happens and how the Courier-Journal responds. And I’m glad that you continue to ask the questions. … Obviously, they, uh, you know, considering they turned your request down from the beginning and then only after you repeatedly pressed did they give you information. It just shows that they don’t want to be pestered by media. Well, too bad. That’s what their job is.
Jake: Francene, unfortunately for them, I’m gonna continue uncovering. And I’m going to continue uncovering the fact that they willfully mislead a reporter and willfully withheld information that he had requested. And that to me is the lowest of the low as a public employee. Somebody has some apologizing to do and somebody needs to release some documents quite soon to make some taxpayers pretty happy.
Francene: Well, good for you. And absolutely, because there are taxpayers who wanna know. I know for a fact that’s one of the reasons Chris Quay from the Courier got on, uh, on the story because people wanted to know what was going on. They wanted to make sure that their kids were getting the same opportunities as other kids. And, and people who are asking for contracts or bidding for contracts or, you know, arrangements with the school district , they weren’t getting eked out shoved into a corner because somebody else was ponying up some, some cash to put in the superintendent’s private pocket.
This is why this needs to be public. And, and sure enough, when the general counsel figures out ways, I mean when they have email conversations among them, “how should we respond to the Courier-Journal? How should we respond to Chris Quay?” And then talk about “let’s play nice in the sandbox” and “here’s what we can say to shut him up” and basically not giving him anything, that, that’s ugly, that’s dirty and that’s inappropriate especially for public servants.
Good work, Jake, I appreciate it.
Jake: Thank you, Francene. Thanks for bringing this to light and kudos to Chris Quay for his endeavor and this open records search.
Francene: Yeah, I think he’s gonna love what you’ve found. And once again, all those emails are posted – as well as a copy of Stephen Daeschner’s contract – on PageOneKentucky.com and TheVilleVoice.com. Jake Payne, thanks so much.