Editorial | Foolish embrace of secrecy

Editorial | Foolish embrace of secrecy

How the truth hurts.

On March 4, The News-Gazette editorial board took Champaign school administrators and board members to the woodshed for their slippery handling of a $3.4 million building purchase.

Our beef was not with the purchase itself, but the conspiratorial silence concerning the building they bought at 502 W. Windsor Road and the weak defense they offered in response to criticism.

It was our position that $3.4 million is a lot of taxpayer money, the board and administration have an obligation to discuss and explain major purchases like that, and they undermine their credibility, however much they have, by trying to pull what looks like fast one.

In this matter, the board members approved the purchase without discussion. The measure was buried at the end of a long Feb. 12 agenda on new/unfinished business, labeled "approval of contract by deed — 502 W. Windsor Rd."

It would be unrealistic to expect public officials to appreciate being called to account in that manner. But it's completely realistic to hope — even expect— the responsible parties learn something from it.

But if board member Kathy Richards is representative of the board and administration, it's disappointingly clear that Unit 4 has learned nothing.

In a post on Unit 4's website that was headlined "A Matter of Public Record," Richards doubled down on duplicity by contending the district's handling of this matter was above board and open to public scrutiny. Any suggestion to the contrary, she said, is inaccurate and unfair.

To make her case for forthrightness, Richards refers readers to a Unit 4 webpage where visitors can review video of a Nov. 12, 2017 meeting.

"Fortunately, again due to our District's commitment to transparency, the video of that entire meeting can be viewed on the Unit 4 website if someone wanted to check what they might have missed," Richards stated.

By all means, let's take a look at the video: http://bit.ly/2oW5krk

What a viewer would see is that 1 hour and 21 minutes into the meeting, Superintendent Susan Zola offered what she called a "brief summary" described as a "Building for the Future Update." Outlining the timeline surrounding the districts' $208.4 million school building and renovation plans, she finished about four minutes later.

Her presentation consisted of showing a series of slides that featured various aspects of the ongoing construction program.

One minute and 22 seconds into her presentation, Zola presented a slide that featured six items, one including a plan to move existing Unit 4 employees to three buildings — 703. S. New St., 401 N. Randolph St., and 502 W. Windsor Road. The latter facility was described by Zola as a "purchase to lease at 502 W. Windsor" and characterized as an "existing office building."

"Our discussion about using 502 W. Windsor for administrative space as well as our vote to approve the purchase were both transparent," Richards said.

Actually, there was no discussion at either the Nov. 12, 2017, or the Feb. 12, 2018, meetings. No one said boo about spending another $3.4 million on top of the $208.4 million building and renovation plan.

Frankly, it's hard to know which of two explanations concerning this purchase is worse — Richards' ineptly defending the indefensible or, to accept her words at face value, Richards' indication that she really believes the board's action was open and above board.

There's an old saying in politics: When you're in a hole, stop digging. Richards, obviously, ignored that advice. In doing so, she demonstrated that she either has no regard for transparency or no understanding of what it requires. The public that pays the bills deserves far better.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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Mr Dreamy wrote on March 12, 2018 at 10:03 am

That sure looks transparent to me. Public meeting, publicly accessible website, prior transparent discussion about the building. 

It seems the News Gazette is miffed it missed the story and now has egg on its face.

So the NG does what it does, deflects, blames others, and won’t step up with a mea culpa. Sad.

Stuffers14 wrote on March 12, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Amen! Yes, we the tax payers deserve a heck of a lot better. Thousands of us believe this. That is why we will remember in November. 

Stuffers14 wrote on March 12, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Amen! Yes, we the tax payers deserve a heck of a lot better. Thousands of us believe this. That is why we will remember in November. 

Stuffers14 wrote on March 12, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Amen! Yes, we the tax payers deserve a heck of a lot better. Thousands of us believe this. That is why we will remember in November.