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The Appearance of Impropriety

by Dennis Green

“And let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late!”
— Robert Zimmerman

Colleague David Howard, who headed up the “Action Alameda” opposition to Measure B, and publishes the “Action Alameda News” web site, is hot on the trail of apparent inconsistencies in school district practices. Knowing my interest in AUSD’s upcoming proposal for a huge new parcel tax, he’s keeping me posted.

As even the Bible says, “The mere appearance of impropriety” can taint a person’s reputation, and these apparent improprieties Howard has uncovered come at a time when the AUSD needs all the credibility it can get. What’s going on?

Well, one school board “Trustee,” (title not ironic), Mike McMahon, has a wife and a daughter both employed by the district. The wife works as a secretary at Paden school, and the daughter was hired last May as Webmaster to “Design and Manage the AUSD Website.” (Or something. Her story is still unfolding, and now she says she’s been employed by AUSD since 2004…)

But in August, School Superintendent Kirsten Vital signed off on an invoice for “Website Redesign” performed between May—August by an outside firm, Erwin & Muir, which bills itself as a “Public Affairs and Political Consulting” company, with no apparent expertise in website design or computer programming, an invoice for $14,000.

There is no breakdown on the invoice, but even at $140/hour that amounts to a bill for at least 100 hours of Erwin & Muir’s time! On the face of it, that invoice is very suspicious. I operated Lazzari & Green Advertising for more than 20 years, and know how massive such charges are.

The school district trustee’s daughter says that the work had already been done when she started in her position as webmaster, but in my review of changes to the AUSD website, I see no plausible outcome of 100 hours of labor — no matter who was hired to do it. The county auditor signed off on this invoice and payment approval, but only to verify that the funds were there to cover the charges, not that the invoice is genuine. Some other auditor will have to verify that fact.

Meanwhile, there is, apparently, no paper trail, no contract, no cost estimate, no detailed charges to back up that invoice. So what’s the big deal? What’s the mystery?

Well, by law, the AUSD — its Superintendent and its trustees — are prohibited from campaigning to pass that upcoming parcel tax. Erwin & Muir, on their website, take credit for passing the last Alameda school parcel tax, Measure H, but so does a firm calling itself now “A-Plus,” formerly KASE. Another AUSD trustee, Ron Mooney, president of the school board, had some personal involvement hiring KASE. And his son, William, also serves on the board as “Student Representative.”

The California Education Code 7054 (b) (2) reads that any information produced for the citizens must adhere to certain standards, and is illegal unless: “(2) The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent Vital nominated Maggie Muir and Maureen Erwin to an “advisory group” to aid her in developing the AUSD “Master Plan.” Apparently without any compensation for such service…which might well be illegal and unethical.

If all this begins to sound like a can of…conflicts of interest, you might be right. Trustees who don’t recuse themselves from voting on matters that impact family members…a Superintendent who skirts the letter of the law, perhaps, while apparently scoffing at its spirit…only one Trustee, Trish Spencer, who appears to vote regularly against such irregularities… where does it all end?

It ends when we the voters defeat the parcel tax initiative and then vote the offending Trustees out of office.

3 comments to The Appearance of Impropriety

  • Alameda Resident/Parent

    Seems as though you are doing some work for Trish Spencer.. hmmmm sounds more like a personal vendetta on her behalf then real “investigative journalism” by a BLOGGER

  • So this sounds like the same writer who resents the fact that David Howard and I don’t just attend AUSD meetings and report on them verbatim, knowing full well how orchestrated they are. I’ve lived in Alameda since early ’88, served on the boards of directors of the Chamber of Commerce, (also as president for 18 months), the Boys & Girls Club, the Frank Bette Center for the Arts, had my op-ed column, “Geezerville: A Wry Take On Aging,” published in the Alameda Sun for four years, had a column there recently, “Representation Without Taxation,” publish in the Journal as well, have interviewed Kirsten Vital twice, Mike McMahon once and Trish Spencer once. But let’s hear YOUR credentials, besides “residing and parenting,” perhaps “teaching” as well???

    DG

  • Barb

    Thanks to the ever present cable vision, all residents, teachers, parents, voters, and students can watch the AUSD, City Council, Planning, and other meetings in the comfort of their own homes.

    They can also be recorded for viewing when you have more time. It is obvious that no one has been keeping a close eye on many of these boards for a long time.

    I enjoy the commentary by the citizens and the investigative work that I really don’t have the time or inclination to do.

    Even if I don’t agree with everything or all of the comments, thanks for all your work and providing a venue for others to have a voice.

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