Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pepsi Contract Foiled Again

Remember the movie (or book), "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"?
We have our Sun Prairie school board version: The Chronicles of Egomania: The Smirk, The Flipflop, and the Abstention.
In our last episode, the board voted 4-3 AGAINST approving the 7-YEAR Pepsi contract, with Diedrich, McCourt, and Whalen the dissenting votes (i.e. IN FAVOR of the contract). In a Hail Mary attempt, a vote was passed to send the contract back to the Wellness committee for review and approval (the committee was bypassed initially).

So here we are back to square 1. The interesting development was the absence of David Stackhouse, who originally voted against the contract. This, of course, opened a door of barn-sized proportions for Terry Shimmerek (some tenderly refer to him as Turncoat Terry) to do what he does best: flipflop his vote. If Shimek held firmly to his original position [a crapshoot at best given his history] on the issue, then the likely ending would be a failed vote on a 3-03 -1 tie. (It was clear from the get go that neither Jill Camber-Davidson nor John Welke were budging from their contrary position.) It was equally clear that McCourt and Whalen were putting the pedal to the metal to make this contract happen. Would Shimek (yet again) do his best imitation of Charlie Waffles? And what zany things could we expect from Caren Diedrich???

The Smirk
Early on in the proceedings, Jill Camber-Davidson reiterated her initial concerns about responsibility to promote wellness, and the dangers of approving what amounts to mass-marketing targeting our kids. Camber-Davidson also did her homework and pointed out that Pepsi had not met the RFP bid specifications. Following up on Camber-Davidson's revelation, John Welke took the floor and proclaimed that, since Pepsi had not met the bid specs, the board had no other recourse but to reject the contract. In response to Welke's passionate plea, board member Jim McCourt was clearly chuckling. [Note to Chris Mertes of the STAR: say, Chris, was this the element of "decorum" you praised in your support for McCourt's initial school board candidacy? We're not aware that this kind of rude body language being associated with the concept of decorum. Looks more to us like boorish behavior of someone who isn't getting their way.] Of course, the cameras never show this stuff, as they zoom in on the speaker.

To his credit, Welke politely called McCourt out on his poor form, by saying, "Jim, you're over there smirking...I'd love to hear what you have to say". McCourt responded something along the lines of "I'm just enjoying the creative ways you're finding to reject this contract." Welke had a response for that which effectively squelched McCourt: "Jim...let's do this the right way". Got a comeback for that, SeaBass? While some may consider it poor form to call out a fellow board member's reprehensible behavior publicly, we'd say that sometimes, these things MUST be addressed publicly. Board members need to be held accountable for the behavior at the big table, and if they know that someone will call them on it publicly, sometimes that's the only way to nip bad behaviors in the bud.

The Flipflop
Terry Shimek pulled off the equivalent of a double gainer in dive competition last night. When the contract first came up, he voted against it. In his initial comments at the board meeting last night, it was clear he was flip-flopping his vote once again. Before public comments were taken, Shimek said, despite acknowledging receipt of about 18 e-mails from SCO and booster parents opposed to the contract, "I'm leaning towards this contract...it provides revenue the schools could use and doesn't really change the status quo". He followed that up by seconding McCourt's motion to approve the contract.

During the public comment period, community resident Rick Mealy made mention of Shimek's clear indication of intent to reverse yet another vote on an issue. That's when the double gainer set in. As he cast his vote rejecting the contract, Shimek admitted that he was indeed, "flipflopping here". Suddenly he made reference to the 18 e-mails and the 3 community members that spoke against the contract (only Athletic/Activities Director --and the person behind the contract--Jim McClowry spoke in favor of it) and suggested these as rationale for changing his mind about changing his mind form the initial vote. Interesting. He knew about the 18 e-mails initially yet still voiced support. So...what moved Shimmerek to stop in mid-waffle?

The Abstention
A needed bit of levity during a tense meeting was provided by board member Caren Diedrich [can someone PLEASE explain to us how she got re-elected last spring?]   She's a nice lady, but her board table antics are getting old if not sad]. In the midst of some heated discussion, Diedrich shouted, "I call the question!" -- a Roberts' Rule mechanism to cease discussion and proceed to voting on a motion before a group. Unfortunately, no motion had been made!

Then....during the roll call vote, when her number was called, Diedrich responded by asking how many votes were needed to pass. Um...hello! You've been on the board for over 15 years and you don't know that a majority with a 7-member board is 4 votes? Stackhouse's absence didn't change that! Then....drum roll...Diedrich ABSTAINED! Audible chuckling was heard throughout the audience. Admittedly, poor form. But...sometimes it's hard to stifle that stuff. What was the point of abstaining? With McCourt and Whalen voting YES and Camber-Davidson, Welke, and Shimek voting "NO", if Diedrich cast a YES vote--as she did in September-- the motion would still have failed on a 3-3-1 tie. If she had cast her vote with the 3, the motion would still have failed 4-2-1. With her abstention, the motion to approve the 7-year Pepsi contract also failed 3-2-2. Her abstention was meaningless.   You know what an abstention means

The Aftermath
So that was it, folks. The Pepsi contract was rejected on a 2-3-2 (For-Against-Abstain) vote.

Our take: We agree completely with 4 very solid arguments against the proposal: (1) nutrition/health concerns, (2) the contract promoted mass-advertising to our kids, (3) the contract would mean less revenues and less flexibility for booster clubs and no money for elementary schools, and (4) 7 years is too long. But in the end we point to one concern that trumped all of these. The simple fact is that Pepsi did not meet the bid specifications. We appreciate McCourt's comment that none of the bidders met every tenet in the RFP, but his point doesn't move us. In fact, it underscores what John Welke said. The board had no other recourse but to reject the contract on the grounds of INTEGRITY. Sun Prairie does not do business as Mr. McCourt apparently would like us to. The foundation of the Sun Prairie School District MUST be integrity. And in the spirit of integrity, even an arguably lucrative contract proposal must be cast aside if the proposal does not meet specified criteria. In fact...shame on whoever brought this forward KNOWING that bid specification had not been met.