Jeff Ward: Rich and Bob, Please Put Down the Hammer (The FACTS Sequel)
Please allow me to explain the hard FACTS of the matter.
Since opinion-columnist fools always rush in where the bravest of angels fear to tread, let’s elucidate a few of the things we discussed in last week’s column covering For Accountable and Controlled Tax Spending’s more-zealous members, Bob McQuillan and Rich Hayhurst.
My theory was and continues to be that, due to their relentless and occasionally rabid pursuit of the Geneva School Board, not only are they failing to get the desired result, but they’re actually making the situation worse. When you constantly hammer a group, it only makes them dig in, making meaningful dialogue an impossibility.
I further hypothesized that if they chose to moderate their approach, they might actually accomplish something.
As if to prove my very point, Bob’s immediate response was to fire off an e-mail blast rallying all those fine FACTS folks into responding on Patch. And the reason I know this is because, at least up till then, I was on that very e-mail list.
The e-mail itself wasn’t too bad, except for the part where he tried to rile the troops by blatantly misstating that my column criticizes "Geneva TaxFACTS for asking questions of District 304.”
Say what??!! That makes me wonder exactly what column Bob actually read, because I never criticized them for asking the tough questions. No! I criticized them for the manner in which that cross examination was being conducted. In fact, in both the column and the ensuing comments, I encouraged FACTS members to continue their vigilance, but to do it in a more reasonable way.
This was the kind of column that clearly did not require a mob response. This was the column I’d hoped would encourage both sides to reflect upon their actions, reconsider the situation and come up with a fresh perspective. Then maybe, just maybe, their better angels would take over and we could move forward.
Who says a man can’t dream?
Also, I clearly took the board and District 304 to task for a poorly written memo, spending too much of our money and, at times, an unprofessional response to FACTS.
So here’s where we have our first serious problem. The very gentlemen who are so willing to dish out boatloads of District 304 denunciation can’t take the slightest bit of constructive criticism themselves. And that kind of dysfunctional dynamic never bodes well for the future.
Then there’s this magnificent irony! This particular scuffle started when Hayhurst asked for current enrollment numbers but was denied when the district didn’t have the official state data. And the reason they decided not to just simply ballpark it is because of the disproportionate “gotcha” response FACTS loves to issue whenever they catch the district in any kind of error.
So, in the same pattern, when I estimated the total cost of the FACTS’ FOIA requests might run as much as 20 grand, by their reaction and ensuing rash of FOIAs, you’d a thunk I said Bob and Rich regularly do 50 mph through school speed zones with children present.
Guess what? I made a mistake! I misheard! The truth is, between 2010 and right now, the total FACTS’ FOIAs bill stands at $13,000. If you extrapolate that out over the next three months, that means their two-year total MIGHT come to $15,000.
You see, I thought that 13 grand was a one-year total. But instead of applying the same this-has-to-be-a-mistake logic that I applied to that original District 304 memo (see the previous column), Bob focused on that one paragraph in a 1,300 word column.
So now you see why District 304 isn’t willing to risk the wrath of an incorrect response. So now there’s no such thing as FACTS sending a simple email request to the district. So now you see how Rich and Bob (and District 304 to a lesser degree) have turned something simple into an utter quagmire.
But despite what Bob wants to believe, in no way does that error mitigate my point. Let’s say their two-year FOIA total is actually only $5,000. THAT’S STILL TOO MUCH! In six years of writing up to five columns a week, the total cost of my FOIAs to all government entities involved would come to less than $1,000.
It’s worth noting that if FACTS stopped screaming at the district long enough, they’d find that most of the data they’re looking for has been online all along. But since the district has to respond to each and every FOIA request, they often end up being secretaries for Bob and Rich
Either way, it comes down to using the Freedom of Information Act as a weapon.
Of course, then Bob and his folks love to shout this in unison; “If the board would answer questions from the public during School Board meetings, then we would not have to send FOIAs … ”
And some folks say I don’t do my due diligence?
Here’s what I want all you doubters to do! Head down to Springfield, park your butt in one of those Capitol building galleries, and as the session gets under way, start asking the senators all kinds of questions. Don’t let anyone deter you from getting your 2 cents in. Then, please let me know how your night in a Springfield jail went.
I’ve been to more county, library and school board meetings than you can shake a stick at, and they’re all run exactly the same way. While they always include time for public comment, these business meetings aren’t intended to be question-and-answer sessions.
Long before this columnist gig, whenever I had a question for a school board or city council member, I simply gave them a call. And they always called me back. In my experience, I don’t think Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns has ever failed to return a constituent phone call.
Ah! But the problem is Bob and Rich have completely abused that privilege. I’ll say it again, if FACTS folks were more reasonable in their approach, then they might get what they want without much ado. But considering the petulant way they can behave, you see why they might be less likely to land front and center at the School Board podium.
Then former School Board challenger George Jackowiec took me to task for metaphorically stating, “if you constantly carry a sledgehammer, then everything becomes a spike.” My response to him is, have you seen Bob’s new Patch picture? (It's a hammer.) I don’t think I hurt his feelings!
I’m willing to keep saying this until I’m blue in the face! Just because I don’t always agree with the School Board, that doesn’t make them evil. It doesn’t make them The Enemy. It doesn’t make them conspiratorial. And it certainly doesn’t make them my personal punching bags.
I’ll also say this again. While being involved in the process is commendable, despite what one reader said, not all citizen activism is a good thing. When you adopt an us-or-them mentality, it can actually destroy the political process. Our now-utterly-adversarial general election process had reduced us to the wackiest candidates because they’re the only ones willing to put up with that insanity.
Just as I’ve been willing to call out District 304 when necessary, if FACTS continues to resort to bullying, then it’s the role of any reasonable opinion columnist to level the playing field. And, moving forward, that’s exactly what I intend to do. Just like my hero Stephen Colbert, I’m putting FACTS “on notice.”
I think Rich is beginning to get it. But while I wrote this column, one of my former newspaper editors said this, “Bob has some really good ideas, but his delivery kills them.”