Jeff Ward: Hayhurst, McQuillan! It's Time to Knock It Off, and Those Are the FACTS

This just needs to be said!

I realize the general opinion of opinion columnists is that we sit by our flat panel displays while emitting evil cackles as we wait for the next juicy tidbit to come our way. Once we get that gossip in our grubby little hands, performing no due diligence whatsoever, we proceed to exaggerate, excoriate and exacerbate.

But the reason so many of you adhere to this implausible journalistic model is you rarely hear about the ones we let go. The sad truth is, the average socio-political opinion columnist spends more time on stories that go nowhere than on those that bear fruit.

Here’s a perfect example.

Geneva For Accountable Tax Spending (FACTS) member Rich Hayhurst sent me a copy of his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for District 304’s current enrollment numbers, Superintendent Kent Mutchler’s denial of that request, and a subsequent Mutchler memo outlining the cost of processing that denial.

As you can see from the memorandum, between staff and outside attorney time, it looks like the district spent $805 just for the privilege of saying no to the simple petition. Though that apparent silliness would’ve made a great column, I wasn’t buying it.

All you really have to do is apply a little logic. District 304 administrators know Hayhurst and his FACTS cohort Bob McQuillian are always out there. They know the Kane County Chronicle, the Daily Herald and yours truly are out there, too. There’s no way they'd spend that kind of cash just to issue a terse “no.”

So despite the district doing their best to make themselves look silly, with a little effort, I determined that Hayhurt’s request wasn’t that cut and dried (they never are), District 304 denied it because accurate enrollment numbers have to come from the state (long story), and I really should’ve become a lawyer who can get away with charging $190 an hour to review simple FOIA requests.

If I were to take District 304 to task here, it would be to ask Mutchler and communication coordinator Kelly Munch how the heck they let that misleading memo make it out there in the first place. Munch, a former reporter and capable columnist for the Chronicle, really ought to know better than to wave that kind of red cape in front of FACTS folks like Hayhurst and Bob McQuillian (or opinion columnists like me, for that matter).

If I am going to lower the bigger boom here—and I am—it would be on Hayhurst and McQuillian for creating the kind of atmosphere that allows a simple FOIA request to balloon into a full-fledged front-page Daily Herald story.

Rich and Bob! While I certainly appreciate your stop-the-schools-from-spending-too-much sentiment, it’s time to grow up and knock it off.

I’ve been pussyfooting around you two for the past year in hopes that you’d finally understand you’re actually doing more damage to your cause than good, but, having failed, it’s time to take off the gloves.

Here’s how the dynamic works.

It starts with a simple e-mail to business services honcho Donna Oberg asking for the current enrollment. If I were Oberg, I would have explained the numbers weren’t final, ballpark it, and be done with 'em. But because FACTS tears into every perceived District 304 “malfeasance” like a monkey on a cupcake, administrators didn’t want to “make the mistake” of passing along inaccurate information.

So now this denial causes our two relentless FACTS friends to get their hackles up and turn it into a full-blown FOIA request. So now the district decides to dig in and wait for the official numbers. So now this whole thing has to be the result of a conspiracy between the board and a school district clearly bent on world domination.

Stop it!

Rich and Bob! By your incessant haranguing and harrassment, you’re creating the very District 304 behavior that you then so bitterly complain about. And now it’s become a self-fulfilling feedback loop. People can take constant criticism for so long before they’re afraid to make a move for fear of the next mortal blow.

And sure enough, there I was discussing the situation with School Board member Tim Moran when another e-mail from McQuillian came in claiming that if that memo was incorrect, then “How many other memos written by the administration are also wrong?”

And here we go again. Stop it!

I hate to tell you this guys, but everything you don’t like in life doesn’t come down to a conspiracy. On rare occasion, the CIA or FBI may be able to do it, but most of us can't keep our mouths shut long enough to pull it off. Whenever the nefarious faction of the Kane County Board tries to come up with something, I typically hear about it a mere 10 minutes after it’s been hatched.

Rich and Bob! People make mistakes! And being a semi-reasonable citizen, the second I saw that memo I knew there had to be some sort of error. But to then take advantage of that mistake by turning around and shouting, “See! You can’t trust them with anything” shows how morally bankrupt FACTS can become.

Another interesting irony is Hayhurst’s and McQuillian’s persistent FOIA requests might cost District 304 as much as 20 grand this year. In six years as a columnist, I’ve filed a few FOIA requests myself, but I’d be shocked if their total cost came to anything near $1,000.

Loyal readers are well aware of my own disagreements with certain School Board spending decisions. Those Williamsburg School windows show that Geneva champagne taste in a beer economy, Fabyan School was an unnecessary mistake, and their aversion to proactive thinking can drive me nuts.

I just got my “Notice of Revised Assessment” from the county, and if the school portion of my property tax bill doesn’t decrease by something approximating that 4 percent decline, I'm probably going to make Rich and Bob look like Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa.

But those are philosophical differences! And the fact that we have those ideological disagreements doesn’t automatically mean that any district administrator or School Board member is inherently evil. And if I consistently conduct myself as if they were, then what does that say about me?

So Rich and Bob, from this point on, whenever I think you’ve crossed the line and you’re making the situation worse, I’m going to let you know.

But alas! Despite my rational attempt to show them the error of their ways, I don’t think they’re about to change anytime soon. And since we can’t fix other folks, what we’re ultimately left with is self-examination.

Part of the reason we find ourselves in this endless loop predicament is the School Board’s propensity to take things too personally. Don’t get me wrong, I love former president and current board member Mary Stith, but she’s the poster child for the “victim” response. And once that “poor me” blood hit the water, FACTS just couldn't resist going for more.

School Board members! For better or worse, you took the job, and at the end of the day, you have a job to do. Trust me! No one knows the feeling of having folks constantly hammer you better than me. (Try writing about Internet anonymity!) But regardless of any feelings you may have for FACTS, you need to respond to Hayhurst and McQullian as reasonably and unemotionally as you would to any other concerned citizen. If you choose to come from a place of fear and disdain, the cycle will only perpetuate itself.

So stop it!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! When I’m the only adult in the room, it really ought to scare the crud out of the rest of you.

Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 03:46 PM
George, If the sledgehammer fits... I will continue to use that analogy. And who took the teacher's union to task over that tactic? Too the point where they bitterly complained to my editors I might add. The problem is, FACTS scares the teachers union so much they took that ridiculous risk. And then I called 'em on it. Jeff
George Jackowiec October 18, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Sorry, technology mishap. Jeff, if their are other citizens groups besides FACTS out their, please pass that information along to us so we can help them as well. I will stand along side the citizens that also feel that Tax FACTS is fighting the good fight of providing information that we all need to know. I am not anti-school board. I am not anti-teachers, schools, or anything else. I hope we will be able to afford the school system we have.
George Jackowiec October 18, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Once again Jeff, if you know of any other citizens groups out there, please advise. As for the teachers union complaigning to your editorial board, that is interesting. They do something that is wrong, then they complaign to your board, apparently hoping to influence your comments online. Jeff the school administration and the teachers union are only concerned about themselves and frankly citizens need to keep the focus on responsible government and costs. Thanks for all you do on keeping the focus on the school issues. The rest of us will keep the faith as you say, but we will also do our part as well. let's ALL try not to "kill the messenger" when hopefully we are all saying the same thing. Fair enough?
Bob McQuillan October 18, 2011 at 04:28 PM
To remind everyone of the column Jeff wrote about the Geneva Teachers Union, here is the link: http://geneva.patch.com/articles/how-the-geneva-teachers-union-just-hurt-teachers And Jeff's comment from today: And who took the teacher's union to task over that tactic? Too the point where they bitterly complained to my editors I might add. The problem is, FACTS scares the teachers union so much they took that ridiculous risk. And then I called 'em on it. What does the teacher's union have to be scare of? And what do they bitterly complain to your editor about? Jeff, how are you doing with the promises you made in the article about having the Union President resign and a board member give up her committee seat?
Angela Kane October 18, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Jeff, you misstated what I said (and I just went back and reread all my postings on this subject). I DID NOT say FACTS should shut up--quite the contrary--I think their voice should be heard! (Error #1) And the term "tea bagger" is one of derision--oft used by the left's favorite gal: Nancy Pelosi. (check the definition in the Urban Dictionary) I suspect you use the term with the same disdain she does. We know why you used it so your attempt to pass it off as acceptable shows your disrespect (again). (Error #2) Just because you've used it before in the Beacon News is no excuse to throw that garbage at us here. One mistake does not excuse another. I'm very happy to have FACTS hold D304 responsible for the millions of tax dollars they receive. Most people who have recently paid their 2nd installments of their real estate tax bills are still wincing from the financial burden taxes are upon us all. Again, you've "jumped the shark." Just fess up and move on.
Bob McQuillan October 18, 2011 at 05:00 PM
In anticipation of Jeff Ward's article on Monday, I suggest that everyone do a little reading. Lets start with the school district website: https://www.geneva304.org/d304_finances/documents/2009_10.26WilliamBlairPresentation.pdf This is a summary of OUR outstanding debt. Zero in on page 5 on the far right, this recaps our debt as of 2010 which is 351.9 million. Now look at the debt service column which shows the yearly payment that must made. This payment is not subject to the tax cap laws and must be paid every year. Look at those yearly increases that rise every year until they peak at 24.9 million in 2021 but continue until 2027. At a recent forum, where the district had two experts in school finance present, they could not answer the question of what the 25 million dollar will mean to an individual homeowner because there are too many variables. Funny, when they went to referendum, they have no problem saying that new construction would not raise OUR taxes. Now go to page 2, look at the last line and see that our most recent bonds were underwritten by the same company that presented this report. You're not finished just yet, go to page 9 titled EAV Assumptions. The assumption made for 2010 is already wrong. Look at column 3 where they call for an increase in EAV starting in 2010 (WRONG) and they call for a 6.5% increase starting in 2015. Based on my current assessment of -5%, we are not going to see an increase in 2015. Basically this entire page is wrong.
Angela Kane October 18, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Thank you Bob. This is EXACTLY why we need FACTS. Doesn't everyone remember when the promoters of the bond referendums to build new schools and enlarge others told us "don't worry--it won't cost us any more money." HOW CAN YOU BUILD NEW BUILDINGS AND IT NOT COST MORE--that's why I yelled at the time. Obviously the blissful ignorance thing was the way people wanted to go. What do we have now? DEBT (and oh ya, empty classrooms) and LOTS more people and spaces we have to pay for. I hope everyone enjoys those shiny new buildings because YOUR taxes will go up in a major way. We'll be retired and I doubt we'll be able to stay and pay the bills. I wonder how many of those fresh faces who were recently moved into their gargantuan houses and voted for the bond referendums are now in foreclosure. And probably like many, we recently got a letter with a significant lowering of the evaluation of our home. I'll bet my taxes don't go down in proportion to that drop in value. I'll just bet I'll be paying more every year for my real estate taxes! Pretty soon we'll be in full force retirement and looking to leave because we'll be (like other seniors) taxed out of the area.
Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 05:21 PM
And once again, a group I write about in a column goes out of their way to prove my point. The group who is so unlimited in their criticism of others can't take the slightest critique of the themselves. I love it! Jeff
Jerry McMurphy October 18, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Ha! Look who's talking. Your insecurity is so comical. You're no columnist. You're just a blowhard who likes to hear/read himself talk/write. Come to think of it, I must say the editor/cheerleader of this soon-to-be defunct site and you are a perfect match!
Angela Kane October 18, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Jeff--At this point any discussion with you on the subject of FACTS or the school debt or funding is absolutely futile. How you took away from the information Bob just posted what you just said is absolutely beyond me. Your universe is weird buddy. Hello shark--say hi to Jeff Ward!
Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 05:34 PM
And yet more proof!
Bob McQuillan October 18, 2011 at 05:35 PM
No go to page 10, the last column. This shows the amount of debt that is still available. Now think back to 2008 when the administration was proposing a 85 million dollar referendum to expand to the high school. Plans were drawn for a third gym, a performing arts center auditorium and about 30 classrooms. Then guess what, they found out that the maximum they could borrow was 37.4 million. Why didn't any administrator know that the expansion was impossible? An outside consultant told them! Now go to https://www.geneva304.org/district_information/pdf/gea_contract_2009-2012.pdf This is the teachers contract for 2009 thru 2012 (end of this school year). Read through the contract to get an understanding of the current working agreement. The contract outlays things like: medical benefits, retirement enhancements, workload, and salary based on what is known as steps and lanes. Now got to http://familytaxpayers.org/salary.php Under the heading District type in Geneva and hit search. Go to the bottom of the page and click on Geneva CUSD 304. This will take you to a list of salary information for all teachers and administrators. Click download at the top right and you cam save it as an excel file (this actually provides more information then just salary). Then go back and repeat the process for 2008 and 2009. You now have a three year history of all salaries. Last step is to compare salaries from 2008 to 2010 and find the percent increase that was given.
Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Well, that an an unhealthy obsession with sharks!
Bob McQuillan October 18, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Sorry for the length of the last few comments but the goal of FACTS is to educate the community on how your taxes are determined. If you visit the links listed above, you now have the following information: 1. the amount of debt that must be paid from now till 2027 2. the current teacher's agreement 3. a three year salary history of all teachers and administrators Now we can have an intelligent conversation about the top two financial issues that we, as a community, face; the amount of long term debt and how it will be repaid & the next teachers contract. Keep in mind that all this information is fact, not someone's opinion. I can now put the sledgehammer away because my points on the financial problems that I have been talking about for four years are now on your doorstep. Lets all get to work and solve the issues that we face. It is not someone else's problem anymore it is now your problem ... get involved and educate yourself before it is too late. If anyone has any questions on what I have posted, you can reach me at taxfacts@sbcglobal.net or I'm listed in the phone book. Thanks for listening.
Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Now this is a Bob McQuillan I can get behind!
Bob McQuillan October 18, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Jeff Welcome to the discussion. I look forward to your opinion on the real issues we face.
Jim October 18, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Jeff, In a comment above you said, "If, as a school board member, I had to listen to Bob go off about every perceived slight at every single school board meeting, I'd want to flip the figurative bird by digging in too." If you have not been to a school board meeting and heard Bob speak, how can you make the above statement? Where are you getting your information from? I have heard Bob speak. He has never been disrespectful in any meeting I have attended. If the definition of sledgehammer is "being a knowlegeable taxpayer and aking tough questions of your elected officials" then Bob fits the bill. Quite frankly, if there were more "sledgehammers" in Geneva, perhaps Geneva taxpayers wouldn't be saddled with a school they didn't need, a bus barn to keep leased buses warm, etc. Now that I think about it, Geneva has Bob to thank for the school board not building a second bus barn! Were you at that meeting, Jeff? You use sledgehammer in negative connotation. Quite frankly, sledgehammers can be a very useful tool.
Jeff Ward October 18, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Jim, Bob has a somewhat short memory. Though I've certainly attended more county board and Geneva City Council meetings over the years, I've probably also attended about 6 or 7 school board meetings. The massive Williamsburg meeting was one and the issues involving gay student Jordan Hunter were two others I specifically remember. And Jim! I'm watching a D304 school board meeting on Comcast channel 10 as I write this very post. Public access television is an amazing thing for someone who writes 5 columns a week. Jeff
Rich Hayhurst October 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Regarding watching School Board meetings on Channel 10.... Jeff, as you might recall, it was only after MANY requests by TaxFACTS and after TaxFACTS started showing up -with their own video camera- at Geneva 304 school board meetings, (and posting those meetings on the TaxFACTS website for the public to review), that the School Board -finally- decided to broadcast meetings, such as City Hall has graciously done for many years now. Even now, several years later, the public must have Comcast Cable, which excludes much of Mill Creek as well as Dish and DirectTV subscribers, and wait for quite some time (8 day lag for the most recent meeting) to see the videos. A preferred option, one we've requested before, would be to post meeting videos of taxing bodies on the internet in streaming fashion, and in this way demonstrate a healthy and proactive approach to involving the community in it's own governmental processes.
Jim October 19, 2011 at 12:32 AM
Jeff, Well, if you have been at those meetings, was Bob disrespectful? Was he beating people with a sledgehammer? I was at the Williamsburg meeting too and remember Bob taking a stance against another bus barn. Not sure if I remember everything, but I believe Bob was the one who pointed out that site work was being done for a new bus barn before the project was ever voted on or capital approved! Another waste of money...and something that I that was not appropriate. As i remember it, Bob was direct and made his point. He surely didn't beat anyone with a sledgehammer. I think the problem the Board has with Bob is that he knows his facts and figures and has done his due diligence. Listening to Bob speak, he often appears to know the subject matter and figures better than the Board. There is no BS'ing Bob. Bob knows his figures, so don't try to pull one over on him. At the same time, in regards to a request such as the number of students in the school system, I am quite sure that a range would have sufficed for Bob. Bob appears to be a reasonable person. If an answer had been given to Bob and or the TaxFacts group, the school district would not have had to waste $800+ in attorney's fees. (more)
Jim October 19, 2011 at 12:33 AM
I do not even know why the enrollment numbers were requested. I am guessing, however, that a number could have been given with a qualifier, +/- range, etc. If the enrollment number changes daily or for some reason an exact number can't be quoted, I am sure TaxFacts would understand as long as a fairly tight range could be given. (And there is no reason a tight range shouldn;t be able to be given) If Bob hadn't have been happy with a range, I would be the first one criticising Bob. The problem here is that you are blaming Bob for the way this was handled....but nobody gave him the opportunity to be the sledgehammer you claim him to be. The Board goofed here. And you goofed by defending them.
Rich Hayhurst October 19, 2011 at 12:59 AM
The best way to eliminate the need for FOIA's is to open the school board meetings to allow the public to question and receive answers from board members. As long as Geneva Board 304 prefers to serve the public by refusing to reply to questions asked at board meetings, the only option left is the polite request outside of the public meeting, and when that is denied or ignored, the FOIA. The bottom line though is that this is taxpayer owned information, and I am frankly amazed that a reporter such as Jeff would be on the side of diminishing, as opposed to encouraging, the public's access to that material. Let me add that there is a mistaken notion that we're (TaxFACTS) out to 'get' people who are on the board, or in the administration. That couldn't be further from the truth. I admire more than I can tell you the hard work and dedication of all of the board members, and prefer to be personal friends with them. I admire the long hours put in by teachers, and their dedication to their craft. Finally, I feel that Donna Oberg, Craig Collins and others that I have dealt with have done, for the most part a logical, professional and fine job of dealing with our questions. TaxFACTS isn't looking to get anyone fired, or to make any radical changes, we just want a school board that lives up to it's oath of office, and proactively engages the public, rather than hide from them.
Heidi Roed October 19, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Jeff, I'm very stunned at your column. I think this is completely low class and an abuse of your position. I have emailed Rich and Bob has helped me understand a lot about how the school district works over the last 6 months. I've only lived a couple of years here in the area, but my husband and I were shocked and dismayed at the last tax hike. Further digging on my own has shown that the district has areas where it can cut costs without hurting education. I'm saddened that you don't like people who question government. That is our right to do living in the US and also Geneva. The school board refuses to answer questions both online and in their meetings. MANY of us taxpayers are frustrated, but you have become part of the machine in blocking information getting into the taxpayers hands. Shame on you. Shame on you for this vilification of two people who just want answers.
Jeff Ward October 19, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Heidi, An abuse of my position as an opinion columnist? You mean I'm too opinionated? I took everyone to task in that column because the current dynamic isn't working. Did you really read the whole thing? Jeff
Jim October 19, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Jeff, Your unwillingness to answer a direct question I asked you above (Well, if you have been at those meetings, was Bob disrespectful? Was he beating people with a sledgehammer?) tells me that Bob was not disrespectful and that he didn't beat people with a sledgehammer. at the meetings you attended. Your information is obviously coming from people who have an axe to grind with Bob. I would guess it comes from the same people who don't like fielding the tough questions Bob asks. No need to answer me at this point. I'm sure you have more pressing matters such as writing those fact-filled 5 columns per week.
Rick Holinger October 19, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Wow. Really, Jeff? REALLY? I'm reminded of the last scene in a thriller film when the good guys are just about to get to the bomb to defuse it, or right outside the apartment where the sniper is about to fire, when a well-intentioned, but naive soul believing he's doing the right thing tackles the good guys to the horror and chagrin of the audience, who knows better. Don't do it, Jeff, don't do it. Let the good guys, who are spending their time, talents, and expertise, do what most of us won't, don't, or can't. You're tackling the wrong guys.
Jeff Ward October 19, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Rick, Oh favorite co opinion columnist! I tackled both guys! You, more than anyone, understand the notion of, by being relentless, creating the very phenomenon that you're railing against. I love Bob and Rich, but they need to understand when to pick their battles. Jeff
dana October 20, 2011 at 06:39 PM
it seems pretty clear to me. how much money is being taken in, how is it being spent? what is it being spent on? why has debt occurred? how can debt be reduced/illiminated? who is making these decisions? what is the motivation behind these decisions? if citizens who pay the bills are not satisfied with the decisions being made, then they must get involved, they must educate themselves about the truth and they must step forward to challenge what they disagree with and they must vote for change. unfortunately so many of us have made excuses for so long why we do not get involved then the elected officials will do what they want whether you agree with it or not. i think we all can agree that there is never enough money for everything we want in our community so we all must share in the burdens of any cuts. if we all did that as a community, we could solve our problems. the first step is get involved, put your ego aside and face the truth. whoever you are the truth will come and find you eventually.
B.A. Paczki October 22, 2011 at 03:19 AM
Jeff, You crossed the line with your despicable, biggoted comment to Mr. Loebel. The Western Suburbs should protest - Rick - get rid of this guy.
dana October 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
this reminds me of sat night live jane you ignorant sl__


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