Public should be publicly informed

From: Harlan Wegscheid
Lester Prairie
So, the elections are over, for good or bad, and everyone probably has had their fill and would love a nice long break, but it’s not meant to be.
According to the Herald Journal, our wonderful school board has scheduled a referendum on Jan 16 asking for an exemption from a ruling by the Minnesota Board of Education that denies them the right to spend another $806,000  from a certain fund on various items, ruling instead that money is to be spent on debt reduction.
Now it seems the board is going to play “Peanuts” with the taxpayers. You remember, I’m sure, the annual fall comic strip where Lucy talks Charlie Brown into letting her hold the football while he kicks it – faithfully promising to hold it for him as she is supposed to, reaffirming that he can trust her to do it right. If you remember the ending, it’s always the same – she lies to him and pulls the ball out of the way at the last moment.
I’m sorry, boys and girls, but I don’t think a lot of us are about to be that trusting. How does the old adage go? “Fool us once, call us careless; fool us twice, call us stupid.”
As an example of the built-in dishonesty in this administration, I will quote from different news articles in the Herald Journal over this last summer.
First, “the administration informed the board that the state fire marshall recommended that a sprinkling system be installed.” The next month, the administration informed the board that the fire marshall had ordered that a sprinkling system be installed.”
The next month we were back to “The administration informed the board that” the fire marshall recommended that a sprinkling system be included, but there was a problem.” The money for that could not be used from the existing fund –monies in that fund could only be used for debt reduction.
The board appealed, but the state denied the appeal, saying that would be a violation of state law. The only course of action open to the board would be to get permission from the taxpayers to move the funds.
The Herald Journal prints from eight to 10 pages every week with stats on every student athlete in every sport, in every school in the area, but we can’t get any real information on bids, bidders, amounts, how the money is being spent, even though the open meeting law says everything before the board “must” be before the people in attendance,” and I know for a fact that does not happen.
After the referendum failed, the new plan, presented six days after the vote, had a dollar amount of roughly $4.4 million that could be raised in various ways without public approval. That figure appeared quite regularly in the paper after that, so let’s go with that amount.
When bids were let, a total of somewhat less than $1.8 million was published. A taxpayer picked up his phone and called a board member and asked what had been left out, that the bid was so low. He was informed that nothing was left out, the board had gotten everything it wanted. So let’s take that $1.8 million, add the $806 thousand that supposedly is still in a fund – that’s $2.6 million. $4.4 million minus $2.6 million leaves $1.8 million floating around someplace.
Where did it go? We would like a detailed print-out within the next month. If the Herald Journal can print all those sports stats, it can do its civic duty and get us this information – unless the school board has something to hide
Starting from right after the referendum failed: When were bids let? For what purpose?  Where and when were the call for bids published? For what part of the project? When and where were they opened? Who all bid, and what were the amounts?
If at some time the lowest bid was not accepted, why not? What parts of the project were awarded, to whom, and for how much, without bidding being required?
All this information is required by law to have been made public at the time it was done, under the open meeting law. It may have been done, and for some reason the paper chose not to report that part of the meetings. So, now, under the freedom of information act, we are asking for all these details, and within the next month. Time is short. If we think of something else, we will be asking.

Comments are closed.