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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 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.”

Amen!

Claire Rickert October 26, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Let's see how long it takes Ward to warp into his patented defensive mode when the first commenter -- gasp! -- dares to disagree with him. Never has there been a more insecure, um, "columnist." Only on Patch.
Jeff Ward October 26, 2011 at 01:48 PM
No! I'm insecure in Beacon News and Courier News too! Jeff
Kurt Wehrmeister October 26, 2011 at 02:21 PM
I am consistently amazed by the dedication, discipline, and self-control of the members of our Board of Education. Unlike the City Council, school board members' compensation is exactly zero -- and while it has always been the most difficult and thankless volunteer post in our community or just about any other . . . nowadays, dealing with much greater challenges, and constantly with the demagoguery cited here, it has to be agonizing. Were I on the school board today, Tim Moran would have to restrain me on a regular basis from rising at board meetings and announcing the following, rather loudly: "You want this damn seat? You think you can do better, given the challenges that face us? I'd gladly give it to you tonight. But I promised to serve until the end of my current term, and I think I ought to honor that. If you think you can do better, please -- file your petition and run in the next election, and see if you can convince the voters to unseat me, and elect you instead. That's how this whole thing works. Until then -- unless you have something legitimately helpful or constructive to offer, kindly shut the hell up and let us do our best."
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Great article and yes Jeff you will continue to receive all FACTS e-mails because you are on our members list, as is your editor Rich Nagel. FACTS has, and never has, anything to hide. I also know that some member of the list forwards all e-mails to a school board member so there is no reason for the school board to be on our list. Now to your opinion piece. Does my delivery kill my good ideas. Yes, I would agree with that comment to a point. I have been attending board meetings on a fairly regular basis for about 10 years. I can count on one hand the number of people that have taken the board to task on their spending before I started to speak out. Please don't count those people that attend for specific issues like when a teacher made a homophobic comment. I was at that meeting and the comment was totally out of place but you need to know that teacher has been doing things like that for many years. And he retired last year with a $6,000+ "retirement enhancement". I'll continue with the next comment because I am out of words
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I have run for a board seat and came in 4th probably because: people ran specifically because I ran and I didn't spend hundreds of dollars on signs because it is not a popularity contest. The "job" pays nothing so way would I spend money to obtain a job that pays nothing. I have all the respect in the world for every board member that has not only sat in that seat but has taken the time to run. Make no mistake, everybody that has run knows exactly what they are getting into and yet they still do it. They also take an oath to serve not only the children but the entire community. Any community member has the right to ask questions of the board. The board as no formal policy on how those questions are answered. If they aren't asked in a public setting then no one knows what the answer is. The solution is simple. Ask the question at a public meeting and the board agrees to answer the question at the next board meeting and also posts every question and answer on their website. Now everyone knows what has been asked and also has the answer. Check out the video from Monday night, you'll see the reaction of some board members to the questions asked about the debt repayment presentation. the time to be a cheerleader for the district is at sporting events, the board meetings are for business issues to be discussed.
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Ask a question or provide a suggestion to the board via e-mail. You will receive a response from the board president that basically says; thanks for your question (comment) we will take it into consideration. Your questions (comments) are always welcome. Unless you speak out and doing it firmly nothing will change. A prime example is the current problem we have with debt repayment. In September of 2008, I started let the board know that they have a problem on their hands because we built schools and the population hasn't followed. Monday night the sky fell and we are facing debt repayments as high as $25 million per year in the next 4 years. Finally a plan was discussed and I thank the board for that. Speaking out about issues the problem, not addressing them is. Now to the FOIA costs. Jeff you stated "maybe 20 grand this year" not as an opinion but as fact. I jumped on the number because I knew it wasn't correct. Back in February 2011, Kelly Munch and I had a conversation when, during the election, the same thousands and thousands of dollars rumor started. Kelly said that the rumor wasn't true but that I question asked did take a lot of time. We agreed that in the future if any question was not specific enough she would call me and we would change the question.
Claire Rickert October 26, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Nobody reads the Courier or Beacon. Just ask your editor.
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 03:19 PM
I added the wording, if this takes more than two hours to answer, please don't do it, on the actual FOIA request. Jeff's story is that he misheard and that the number is $13,000 over two years. If our total "bill" over two years includes legal fees, those should be deducted. If the district chooses to incur legal fees then something is wrong. According to a representative of the state's attorneys office, FOIA requests are for documents and it is usually not necessary for an attorney to get involved. Rich and I can share all the information we have obtained from FOIA requests but the district might not be too happy. As to the sledgehammer comment, Jeff is the person to coin that phrase when I took the risk to run for State Rep in District 50 two years ago. My opponent's camp challenged my petitions and took me all the way to Cook County Court. Jeff wrote a story about it, how a "nobody" has a tough time running for elected office. Jeff knows that I do my research. My approach is sometimes rough and I know it It is something I have been working on, we all have our character flaws. Speaking out brings my major flaw out but that doesn't stop me from expressing my opinion. This has never been a personal issue with any board member, if they see it that way, they might want to look in the mirror. As the old saying goes, don't throw the baby (issues) out with the bath water (my comments)
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Sorry for the multiple comments but, as of yet, the Patch has not offered me my own opinion column. Wouldn't that be fun, a point counter / counter point between Jeff Ward and I. We would both be ridden out of town on the next train! Jeff, yes I have heard you message and I can take constructive criticism, as long as both sides of the story are presented. I can't change the past but we all can change the future. This is my last comment on this topic, I now consider Jeff's columns addressed and it is time to move on. It is time for the entire community to watch the video of Monday night's school board meeting. Maybe the Patch could host a viewing party and get suggestions from the audience on how to handle the debt problem. As I said at Monday's meeting, the school board isn't the only group on the hook for the debt repayment, we all must deal with it. These schools were built because the voters said yes. True a small minority of the registered voters actually voted and the questions were asked, for the most part, during primary elections but they did pass. This is a problem that is knocking our doors and will not go away. We need to help the school board make the best decisions for everyone because in the end, they have the final word. Thank you and good day, I need to go make some money. yes, Jeff I have heard you message and I can take constructive criticism, as long as both side of the story are presented.
Jeff Ward October 26, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Bob, And right down to my column on gay GHS student Jordan Hunter's experience with that slur using teacher, I always do my best to be non-partisan in cases like these. Jeff
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Agreed
Rick Nagel (Editor) October 26, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Kurt — love the post, but please refrain from the swearing.
Terry Flanagan October 26, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Wasn't disgraced congressman Tom Delay called "The Hammer"?
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 06:57 PM
He was also known as "Hot Tub Tom" and a member of the "Texas Six Pack" which like your comment has no relevance to this opinion column.
Terry Flanagan October 26, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Just a thought that using the moniker "The Hammer", whether symbolically as a Patch picture or as an actual nickname, might not be wisest choice if one wants to be seen as a reasonable man. Tom Delay was not called "The Hammer" because of any finesse in negotiations.
Bob McQuillan October 26, 2011 at 07:25 PM
I understand your point but when you described him as "disgraced congressman" you lost all relevance to this article. Please keep in mind that Jeff Ward referred to me by that name and I added the picture to show that I have a humorous side. Actually, anyone who knows me, would agree that the humorous side appears much more than the hammer side. My wife and close friends call me Quill. I'll let you figure out why!
Michael James October 27, 2011 at 12:05 AM
I read all the comments....wouldn't it be nice if there were no school boards? Billions of dollars would be saved if we just implemented the Khan Acadamy method of teaching...and reduce the need for schools, teachers, administrators and the rest of the bloated and wasteful school bureaucracy! I'm thinking light years ahead ...but you know what...time passes very quickly. And the future is right at our fingertips! The old methods do not work for the disadvantaged! Why not forge ahead ...... instead of always asking for more money ....let's get creative and reduce the bloated system for a more streamlined and effective transfer of knowledge by using the ever more brilliant interactive videos created by Salman Khan? mj
Mike October 27, 2011 at 01:15 PM
WOW, some tiraid. Let's not forget the past school board members are the ones who got our community into this mess. Don't think they ever met a tax hike they didn't like. However, there is change in the air and there are 4 seats coming up next election so we will see what we will see.
Mike October 27, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Applaud you comment McQuillan on running for the board. Spend to get nothing? Amazing but civic minded people really do want to help but don't know how. Then when the Status Quo gets a tremendous helping hand from the ITA it's understandable the tax-hikes keep on rolling along. 4 seats open next round.
Todd Milliron October 28, 2011 at 04:39 AM
Quill, may I suggest that you ask your Patch Editor, for you own blog spot. You will get significantly more room to discuss important issues within your local community. My local Patch Editor has granted me a blog upon asking for it and then meeting with her. It is one step away from being a columnist and is a good place to start.
Michael James October 28, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Yes..it will be a whole new ballgame once the internet and interactive videos dominate the landscape. No more giant library buildings or librarians, no more school boards that waste tax payers money, a reduced school system, a vastly reduced need for teachers in old antiquated classroom settings, a reduced need for school buildings, a reduced need for fat cat pensions. These are just some of the reduced costs that will happen. My suggestion to students in college looking for a career in teaching is to get the heck out of that field....those jobs will be ancient history. Don't waste your parents money! Get with high tech learning industry (The Khan Academy) if you want to stay in that field. Our higher learning institutions are already a thing of the past and one of the most wasteful money pits in the nation right now! The goal we should strive for is ever more innovation to get rid of 75% of our real estate taxes, which is currently being dumped into the schools! mj
Rich Hayhurst October 28, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Dear Kurt, It's ok to cheerlead for your long time friends on the school board, but in the name of full disclosure, I feel that we should mention that as a Librarian for Geneva School District 304 your spouse receives $122,000.00 plus a pension.Why does a Librarian for Geneva School District 304 cost the taxpayers $122,000.00 per year + annual salary increases, when the -average annual wage- for librarians is less than $60,000.00 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a TaxFacts member, I feel that those claiming demagoguery such as yourself, are themselves appealing to emotions, and prejudices rather than rational argument. In a nutshell those issues (which you are free to address) are: 1) Excessive taxation and waste of Geneva citizen's resources. 2) Routine dismissal of public concerns as expressed at board meetings. 3) Budgeting, compensation, and taxation methodologies that appear to be based more on cronyism than on rational, independent analysis. 4) Mismanagement, leading to the overbuilding of facilities and unfunded long term general obligation debt.
Rich Hayhurst October 28, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Dear Kurt, It's ok to cheerlead for your long time friends on the school board, but in the name of full disclosure, I feel that we should mention that as a Librarian for Geneva School District 304 your spouse receives $122,000.00 plus a pension. Why does a Librarian for Geneva School District 304 cost the taxpayers $122,000.00 per year + annual salary increases, when the -average annual wage- for librarians is less than $60,000.00 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a TaxFacts member, I feel that those claiming demagoguery such as yourself, are themselves appealing to emotions, and prejudices rather than rational argument. In a nutshell those issues (which you are free to address) are: 1) Excessive taxation and waste of Geneva citizen's resources. 2) Routine dismissal of public concerns as expressed at board meetings. 3) Budgeting, salary, and taxation methodologies that appear to be based more on cronyism than on rational, independent analysis. 4) Mismanagement, leading to the overbuilding of facilities and unfunded long term general obligation debt.

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