The Duluth School Board already is meeting today to discuss the alleged wrongdoing of one of its members, Art Johnston.
It could leave some time to reprimand another of its members, Harry Welty.
A week ago today, the board voted to move forward with a sale of the
77-acre Duluth Central High School property. The district declined to reveal publicly the sale price, the developer’s name or other details until the deal was finalized, citing a nondisclosure agreement with the buyer.
This sale would be huge for the district and all district taxpayers. For three years, the district has been trying to sell this property, asking $13.7 million. Its inability to sell has hampered district finances.
So, recognizing the importance of the sale and the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations, School Board members were instructed to keep in strict confidence the not-yet-public details. The nondisclosure agreement was stressed. School Board Chairman Mike Miernicki even sent out an email reminder after a closed-to-the-public meeting about the sale.
Inexplicably then, on a blog he writes, Welty disclosed the sale price, putting the whole deal in immediate jeopardy. He claimed it was “inadvertent,” though he’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone how such a mistake could be made.
“I’m quite embarrassed … (and) am immensely flummoxed at my faux pas,” Welty told News Tribune reporter Jana Hollingsworth, who broke the story in Saturday’s paper.
Embarrassed and flummoxed will be nothing if Welty’s revelation torpedoes a deal the district needs to get done for the good of its bottom line and that the city of Duluth will welcome for its property tax windfall. We taxpayers are the ones with the most at stake here.
And it wasn’t as though this was Welty’s first offense, either. Also in a blog post, as well as in a column for a Duluth weekly publication, he disclosed details of the investigation report against Johnston. A letter from the school district’s business services manager informed School Board members that the document had yet to be redacted for public viewing. Welty posted that letter on his blog, too - and then
Much like Welty’s “faux pas,” on Monday, a six-page response to the investigation report against Johnston, a response Johnston told News Tribune editorial board members last week he was still working on, was distributed via email to “supporters of Art and concerned citizens.” Intended recipients included at least two news reporters. Unlike the six-page response Johnston shared with the editorial board last week, the one distributed electronically Monday wasn’t redacted. Sensitive, private information wasn’t blacked out and, as a result, was publicly revealed.
Another “faux pas”? This one violated the privacy of people who, unlike Welty and Johnston, aren’t public figures but are, rather, private citizens.
Let’s have disagreements. Please, let’s. From a diversity of viewpoints and differing opinions comes compromise and, often, the best solutions. But let’s be sensitive, always, about protecting information that for very good reasons needs to be protected and that if revealed could harm people or disclose sensitive data.
For crying out loud, let’s be professionals and act with decorum.
Voters should be able to expect at least that when electing their representatives. But apparently that depends on who they elect.
The Duluth School Board is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. today to discuss the investigation into allegations against School Board member Art Johnston. In the boardroom of Historic Old Central High School, 215 N. First Ave. E., board members are expected to ask questions of the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based investigator who spent four months looking into the allegations and who substantiated a majority of them. The public is welcome, but no public comment is expected to be taken.