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16 June 2012

School District 5 consultant stiffs public’s right to know

Today’s Daily Interlake (print edition only) reports that School District 5 trustee Jack Fallon, was removed from the school board’s committee considering retirement services proposals for disclosing the time and date of a committee meeting to the district’s former business manager, Todd Watkins.

Fallon’s dismissal, and the reasons for it, are important — but at least as important is the highhandedness of Jack Young, the Billings, MT, based consultant the district hired to oversee the request-for-proposals project. According to the IL:

The information posted on the school website and published in newspaper classified ads included a description of the documentation needed and contact information to obtain a request-for-proposal packet. Young said it was a matter of personal preference he didn’t upload the entire document online because he wanted to attract serious questions and inquiries and “reduce the chance of such a technical document being misinterpreted.” [Emphasis added.]

Proposals were to be sent to Young’s office in Billings rather than the school district in Kalispell. Trustee Joe Brenneman asked why proposals couldn’t have been sent to the district, opened at a public meeting, then sent to the consultant to summarize.

“That way everybody knows what came in and can keep track of it,” Brenneman said.

A matter of personal preference? Eh? Jack? Time for you to reread Montana’s constitution. Those request-for-proposal packets are public documents. Everyone has a right to read them, they should be available for download from the school district’s website, and responses should have been sent to the district and opened at a public meeting.

I’ll withhold comment on Fallon’s fate at this point except to say he should neither be sacrificed on the altar of consultant relations, nor denied due process.

Young’s fate is another matter. To my mind, his decisions to route the responses to his office before delivering them to the school district, and not to post the full request package on the district’s website, are serious lapses in judgment that should disqualify him from further service to the school district. Dismiss him now, pay him off, and make sure his replacement does not repeat his mistakes.

I’m not letting the school district off, either. Hiring Young was not a smart move. At a minimum, someone seems to deserve having a letter of reprimand placed in his jacket. Policies for avoiding stiff-the-public consultants need to be adopted and enforced. And a policy to post all request-for-proposals, bids, and such, on the district’s website should be adopted. That would protect the public’s right to know, and clearly forbid consultants inclined to indolence from taking shortcuts.