Cronyism by any other name would smell just as bad.
The Fountain Hills Unified School District, like many other public school districts in Arizona, is asking its voters to approve a budget override in the November 4th election.
The school district was recently in the news because its governing board voted 4-1 to fire teacher Pam Aister.
The public is concerned because the media has framed the situation as the teacher having intervened to defend a minority student who had been subjected to bullying. It's difficult for me to overlook bullying for whatever reason. But when Fountain Hills' royal family, Linda and John Kavanagh, insert themselves into the situation, I have to take a step back and consider whether that is really what was going on.
On October 1, Mayor Linda Kavanagh sent this email to Jerry Miles. Jerry is one of the citizens who paid for the ad (pictured above the Kavanagh email) that I'm told appeared in the Fountain Hills Times. Miles is also a former mayor of the berg on the extreme NE end of the Valley of the Sun.
Linda Kavanagh wrote,
I know I said that I would support the Override but I have reconsidered and have to withdraw my name.
Because of what happened to Pam Aister, I am unable to support this Override until they rescind their recommendation to fire her or we get a new board.
There are hundreds of people contacting me asking me not to support the Override because of Pam. I am also a close friend of both Pam and Cassie and supporting the Override is now being associated with supporting the board.
It's unfortunate but I think that the school board should have considered the consequences of its actions.
LindaCronyism oozes out from Mrs. Kavanagh's email. I've read news reports of Aister's firing and I've read the report from the hearing officer who recommended Aister's termination. Aister rebutted the hearing officer's report in a PDF file linked to the Fountain Hills Times.
My source indicated that
once the email was in public circulation, [Mrs. Kavanagh] attempted to back track from her 'quid pro support' for an advertisement that was planned for the local paper. The concept for this advertisement was to list a number of (prominent) names who were going to support the override. She claimed that she was misquoted and that she always supported the override but that she didn't like how it was worded.
Because of the about face, no one has ever challenged the Mayor's contention that she was always "for" the override but that she simply did not like the way the advertisement was worded. The fact is that the committee never produced 'copy' for the advertisement when the Mayor wrote this email. It was simply collecting names with the understanding that those names would vote 'for' the override.The source says,
It is very clear from her email, the Mayor was attempting to use her office to influence the outcome of a vote taken by an independent jurisdiction regarding a personnel matter. In her reaction to this decision (to fire her 'friend') she violated numerous Town Council Rules and her own Code of Ethics*.That may be a difficult charge to prove in a courtroom. But the appearance remains nevertheless. And it certainly coincides with John Kavanagh's quid pro quo exercise of the influence of his public office.
The source goes on to say,
Cronyism and coercion are badges of pride for people like the Kavanaghs. God forbid we let the welfare of our students and public trust get in the way of personal relationships or disdain for our political opponents.From where I sit, the fact that Linda Kavanagh dismisses -- out of hand, completely -- the reasons why the school board would submit the question to voters for authorization for an operating budget override is stark and alarming.
Linda Kavanagh did not make a legitimate case or a sound, valid argument for denying Fountain Hills school children the resources necessary to be provided the best possible education. Instead, she laid bare that her reason for exercise of the influence of her public office was cronyism.
Isn't it time to tell John and Linda Kavanagh that what may have worked for them in New Jersey won't fly in Arizona?
Dump the Kavanagh's of Fountain Hills. Their disdain for the integrity of their public offices and for the legitimate use of taxpayer funds is dreadful and should be stopped.
Fountain Hills Unified School District issued a media release following the board's decision to terminate Pam Aister.
Fountain Hills Unified School District (District) is well aware of Ms. Aister's claim that she was intervening to stop a group of students from racially taunting and bullying another student. But based on a full investigation, the District is confident that no racial taunting or bullying ever occurred. More importantly, the independent hearing officer, that both sides agreed to, likewise concluded that Ms. Aister's claim is not credible and that no racial taunting or bullying ever occurred.
So what is most unfortunate is that a group of young students is made to sit by as they are unjustly labeled and maligned as racists, bullies, and now liars. Such mistreatment of these students, or of any student, is wholly inconsistent with the District's values and mission.
For anyone seeking to understand the District's basis for terminating Ms. Aister's employment, you are invited to review the independent hearing officer's report, copies of which are available at the District office.
Furthermore, and notwithstanding the conclusion that this is not a case of racial taunting or bullying, the District affirms its commitment to nondiscrimination in matters of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, and disability, as well as its commitment to providing a safe learning environment that is free from bullying, harassment, or intimidation.-----
* NOTE: Pertinent excerpts from Fountain Hills Town Council Rules and Code of Ethics include (but are not limited to) Section 7 on Conflict of Interest, and Section 8 on the Code of Ethics,
7.7 Public officers and employees are prohibited from using or attempting to use their official positions to secure valuable things or benefits for themselves, unless such benefits are (A) part of the compensation they would normally be entitled to for performing their duties or (B) otherwise permitted according to State Law.Using her influence to benefit a close friend, at the expense of school children served by an independent jurisdiction is most unseemly.
7.9 ...It is the policy of the Council to encourage members to adhere to strongly held ethical values, which are exercised in good faith...
8.3 AFFIRM THE DIGNITY AND WORTH OF THE SERVICES RENDERED BY THE TOWN GOVERNMENT AND MAINTAIN A DEEP SENSE OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AS A TRUSTED PUBLIC SERVANT.
8.4 BE DEDICATED TO THE HIGHEST IDEALS OF HONOR, ETHICS, AND INTEGRITY IN ALL PUBLIC AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS.
A. Public Confidence. We shall conduct ourselves so as to maintain public
confidence in Town government and in the performance of the public trust.
B. Impression of Influence. We shall conduct our official and personal affairs in such a manner as to give a clear impression that we cannot be improperly influenced in the performance of our official duties.
8.5 RECOGNIZE THAT THE CHIEF FUNCTION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IS AT ALL TIMES TO SERVE THE BEST INTERESTS OF ALL THE PEOPLE.
We shall treat our office as a public trust, only using the power and resources of public office to advance public interests and not to attain personal benefit or pursue any other private interest incompatible with the public good.
8.8 CONDUCT BUSINESS OF THE TOWN IN A MANNER, WHICH IS NOT ONLY FAIR IN FACT, BUT ALSO FAIR IN APPEARANCE.At no point in the email communication cited above did Mrs. Kavanagh indicate that she was exercising her rights as a citizen (as opposed to being the Town Mayor) to voice an opinion on the school district personnel matter. In failing to make that distinction, the Fountain Hills mayor crossed a very serious line giving a strong appearance of impropriety.
I'm confident that Linda Kavanagh knows the significance of the school district governing board's responsibility to evaluate all information provided to it in personnel matters such as Pam Aister's. Yet, Mrs. Kavanagh gave a clear impression that she was in fact improperly influenced -- by her relationship with Ms. Aister -- in the performance of her official duties.
No doubt she considers herself having spoken out for the public good. As a citizen, she may have a right to say she doesn't approve of the decision. As Mayor, she has no right to insinuate herself into the affairs of another government body.
John and Linda Kavanagh conduct themselves as if they have NO understanding of the proper boundaries of their duties and responsibilities as public officials. And right now, they are both public officials.
I hope the voters of Fountain Hills approve the budget override and along with the rest of the voters in LD23 elect Paula Pennypacker to represent them in the Arizona Senate for 2015-2016.