Maybe it wouldn’t have even made a difference. A traffic offense and drunken driving aren’t necessarily or automatically disqualifying for a job applicant, especially one taking responsibility for his actions.
But Duluth School Board members still should have been informed about Assistant Superintendent Jeff Horton’s record — including a careless-driving conviction in 2009 and DWIs in 2013 and 2017 — when they were asked last year to approve hiring him to a top district post and a taxpayer-paid six-figure annual salary.
They may have signed off on his hiring anyway, but School Board members needed to at least know and have provided to them the complete information for their consideration. The district residents they represent ought to be able to expect such transparency. In this hiring, it wasn’t there.
As School Board member Nora Sandstad said in a News Tribune story about the hiring over the weekend, providing such information “should just be automatic.”
“When issues come up in a background check of someone being recommended to be hired, those issues should be disclosed to the board without needing a policy to say so,” she said. It should be common sense.
Apparently it was to Horton. To his credit, he “offered up anything and everything I could have about myself to give them a good picture,” as he said in the story. “I wanted to make sure that Duluth knew who I was as a person (and) who I was as a leader so I could go through the process and know that Duluth was the right fit for me and I was the right fit for Duluth.”
Among those who knew about Horton’s criminal past but didn’t say anything — even though they should have — were Superintendent Bill Gronseth, who plans to step down from his position when his contract ends next June, and the School Board chairman at the time, David Kirby, who remains a board member.
Kirby’s and Gronseth’s responses to media about their silence were less than reassuring to anyone paying taxes in the district.
Gronseth at first offered no comment to Fox 21 News when it broke the story last week. To the News Tribune he offered a statement making a point that was beside the point: “While I do not condone this type of behavior, it does not preclude people from being successful,” he said. “As Dr. (Tony) Kinkel from the Minnesota Board of School Administrators shared, sometimes people that have had struggles in their own lives are able to help others through struggles as well.”
Kirby also provided a statement to the newspaper that didn’t address the lack of transparency: “Mr. Horton was selected for his extensive background in education as a teacher, principal and district administrator as well as for his knowledge of student achievement strategies, and experience in student culture,” he said.
Yes, it very well may have been a good hire, the best person for the job. And Horton’s past may indeed make him “a better leader,” as he claimed in the News Tribune. “You learn a lot from your toughest moments,” he said.
But when hiring a top administrator, those responsible for the public’s money learn the most with complete information. Grosnseth and Kirby led the list of those here who failed to provide it, who fell short in doing the right thing.