Letter: 834 Voice lacks transparency

To the editor:

In a deposition that is part of 834 Voice’s lawsuit against our school district, Dr. Hershel Zis Weisberg testified that 834 Voice had no directors or officers. When faced with a court order to disclose the directors and officers of 834 Voice, 834 Voice’s attorney stated that Dr. Weisberg was a director and the president of 834 Voice. So much for transparency and candor from 834 Voice.

In addition, Dr. Weisberg testified that 834 Voice is a 501(c)(4) organization under the Federal Tax Code. In English that means 834 Voice is a “dark money” organization, which is allowed by law to accept donations of unlimited size, and they do not have to publicly disclose the names of the donors.

Who are 834 Voice’s secret donors? Are they real estate agents and luxury home builders who often fund movements like 834 Voice? Are they anti-public education political action groups who also fund groups like 834 Voice? Why should anyone trust a dark money group funded by hidden political agents?

The cost to 834 Voice of its lawsuit against our school district surely far exceeds the donations they have publicly disclosed. Who are the special interests out to harm public education in our community by funding 834 Voice?

Carl Blondin
Stillwater

  • Patti Isaacs

    I am one of their “secret” donors. I am hardly an anti-public education activist—my kids attended Stillwater schools and I spent many hours volunteering in the classroom. Nor am I a luxury home builder—because of my husband’s illness we are currently living on disability. I don’t have “special” interests. Rather, I am interested in making sure our tax dollars (yes, still paying despite limited income) are put to their best use.

    • Carl Blondin

      Perhaps you can help me. I am an attorney so I know how much lawyer time goes into litigation. A very conservative estimate for the amount of time put in by 834 Voice’s lawyers would be 400 to 500 hours over the last year and a half. The cost for that would be approximately $100,000 to $150,000 Some would estimate The total fees as approaching $300,000, but for the sake of discussion, let’s use my lower estimate. The last time I researched 834 Voice’s publicly disclosed income it was $25,000. Who has paid the other $100,000 to Kolstad & Knaak? What is their agenda?

    • Tony Snark

      @pattiisaacs:disqus no, no you are not a “secret donor”. Unless that is of course you have donated $75,000 above and beyond the public fundraising. I am not sure if really do not understand the comments that Mr. Blondin has made, or if you are being intentionally obtuse. One is shocking, and the other is offensive.

    • Carl Blondin

      Why is 834 Voice hiding its exemption documents? Does not this failure to comply with the law bother you?

  • spunkygarden

    Dear Carl,
    I am 834 Voice. I’m not hiding in the shadows. I’m a long-time community volunteer, very active in the local nonprofits. I’ve hosted umpteen fundraising events in our home that support this community that I love. I have personally raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years that have gone to support worthy local causes. I’m an active supporter/donor and volunteer for District 834. I championed FOR the 2015 bond and all the improvements it promised the community.

    I’m a champion for the highest quality education we can get for our kids, and always have been.

    These are the reasons I’m SO involved in 834 Voice. I have spoken at numerous board meetings and forums. I’m a donor, a volunteer, a t-shirt wearing member, and proudly so. 834 Voice cares about restoring trust and transparency in this district, necessary for a bright future for D834. We will continue to work tirelessly towards this worthy goal.

    We are here, we are here, we are here!!!
    -J. Weiss

    • Tony Snark

      “I Am Legend” based on the criteria that Dr. Weisberg laid out in his deposition, I have as much credence to say that as you do to say you are 834 voice.
      It is so subtle, isn’t it? The words we chose to exclude when stating our case. Mr. Blondin suggested that the “dark money” donors to 834 Voice were, and I quote, “anti-public education”. But when you quoted it, you simply stated that you were not “anti-education”.
      You’ve made it clear that you have made substantial contributions to 834 Voice. How much money would you say you have contributed to the 834 Voice in support of their efforts to sue the school district?
      Frankly, I wouldn’t normally ask, but you seem so proud of the work you are doing.

      • spunkygarden

        Tony Snark, who for some reason always chooses to remain anonymous and snarky,

        Yes, I’m very proud to have worked side by side with 834 Voice. I was devastated when my yes vote to “improve all schools” was, in the wrong hands, used instead to close them. I was especially upset that they chose to leave an educational wasteland in the north. In addition to lying to us, this decision seemed particularly punishing, leaving those distant communities with no district school.

        This should be hugely embarrassing to any of us, that our ballot and public notice of bond was used against us in such a sneaky, fraudulent manner.

        I was happy to mobilize with hundreds of others to fight this voter betrayal. It is absolutely the right thing to do.

        And yes, I am proud of my years of dedication to this community. I love Stillwater, and my connections here, though admittedly, I’m not as proud of it as I was before this debacle.

        Our child went to public schools the whole way through, graduated recently from SAHS and we had a pretty flawless experience. Her teachers were excellent. We’re very pro-PUBLIC schools and in fact for years I was very involved with The Partnership Plan as both a volunteer and a donor. Your pals can confirm this for you, I’m sure. I do not know how much I’ve donated to TPP over the years, but it is certainly several times more than I’ve ever donated to 834Voice. So I am regrettably not the dark money donor you are searching for.

        My fear is that if we allow the district to trudge forward as if nothing has happened, not fixing the problems that caused this voter betrayal and ill-conceived plan to be forced through, over the clear wishes of the community, D834 will be sealing its fate. How will they ever pass another request now that the entire town knows that they might cheat us and get away with it, offering no apologies, or even basic human concern?

        I will never trust any of them again until changes are made and the people in charge of this mess are gone. And I was a strong supporter!

        You like to point a finger at 834Voice, but what about all the destruction the district has caused that will hurt the abilty to fund our schools in the future?

        I think that if you are really trying to help our district, PUBLIC schools, you’d care more about these issues too.

        • Tony Snark

          I find it telling that you have transmogrified from “I am 834 voice” to “worked side by side with 834 voice”.
          I would venture a guess that you, along with the vast majority of “I am 834 Voice”, “members?” have no idea of how much money has been spent on this lawsuit, or where that money came from.
          Setting that aside, I would be happy to debate your paragraph on “all the destruction the district has caused”
          Since the district chose to close three schools in the spring of 2016, what “destruction” has been caused?
          I would posit that it is fair to say the failed legal action by 834 Voice and Melissa Douglas have caused more harm to our district than anything else.

    • Carl Blondin

      With all due respect, if you want to pay for 3 unneeded elementary buildings that gave helped lead to over-crowded secondary classrooms you are anti-education. No two ways about it.

    • SweetJane33

      That’s great! If you ARE 834Voice, open the books! Let us know exactly who it is who funds the lawsuits against the district. I am sure the Gazette would be willing to post all the names right out where we can all see them. If what you say on this page is true, I am sure everyone who contributed would be PROUD to show their support for your noble cause. I hear a lot of calls for transparency from the district, but when it comes to 834Voice, not so much. The hypocrisy is stunning.

    • Carl Blondin

      Since you say you are 834 Voice, perhaps you can answer some questions for me. For over 7 months I have been asking 834 Voice to make available its exemption documents and tax returns for inspection by me as federal law requires. 834 Voice refuses to do so. Why is 834 Voice continuing to violate federal law? Do you consider yourselves to be above the law. ISD 834 scrupulously follows the law. 834 Voice violates the law. Why do you people in 834 Voice insist on breaking the law?

  • SweetJane33

    It’s ridiculous to have to write this, but.. Did you READ the letter? Y’all get it that the point is that perhaps the people donating $10 or $20 or $50 are not the “dark money”? Get a grip people. The amount of money spent for 16+ months of legal fees would seem to be well in excess of the small donors. Do you ever wonder if PERHAPS there is something else at play here? Maybe you (small donors) are being taken advantage of by someone who doesn’t exactly support public education? We know there are people involved in this who don’t even have kids enrolled in the schools. You know who they are. Ever wonder why they are involved? Why they care so much? Most people who don’t have kids in the public schools don’t care or pay attention to any of this. Remember, it’s the era of Trump. People are emboldened to show their true selves. Maybe believe what they are showing you.

    • Kristie Mack

      What a bunch of garbage/fear mongering/call it what you want. I think what’s happening is that people like Mr. Blondin are in denial that there are so many out there who DO NOT support what the school board and administration are doing. The majority DO NOT support them!

      • Carl Blondin

        Dear Mr. Mack: I do not want to shock you, but the truth is not subject to a majority vote. The truth is that 834 Voice has been evasive and exceptionally dishonest. Their “representative” denies that 834 Voice has directors and officers and then it turns out that he is a director and an officer. If you are ok with that, then we do not have any common ground l, and we will just have to continue to disagree.

        Carl Blondin

    • spunkygarden

      We are a community, a particularly tight knit one judging by how long it takes the average person to do a quick trip though the grocery store. Stopping to chat with multiple friends and acquaintances can take forever because we all know each other!

      Of course people WITH kids and WITHOUT kids in the system care about the strength of their schools. True supporters of public education care about schools at all stages of their lives, whether they have children or not, in this system, or in another school option.

    • spunkygarden

      And one more thing….why would “dark-money, anti-public education” folks want to exert so much time and effort to save THREE top-performing PUBLIC schools? I would think anti education folks would especially want those schools shut down ASAP. Why Can’t you understand why these communities would fight to save such amazing schools in their own neighborhoods, ones that were promised improvements in the latest taxpayer approved bond? When we voted, the bond notice was crystal clear — every community was to benefit. When the district took the money and proceeded to instead destroy 3 communities, it was a betrayal of mammoth proportions by people we should have been able to trust. This situation needs to be remedied, causes uncovered, before the district can ever expect to pass another request. That is what it means to truly care about public education.

      • Carl Blondin

        1. It is the students and teachers who are the top performers, not the bricks and mortar.
        2. By forcing the District to spend more money on operations and maintenance rather than on teachers and academic programs 834 Voice would be able to degrade the quality of education for all students.
        3. ISD 834 cannot 20 percent excess capacity, almost all at the elementary level. That is an obscene waste of tax money. Obscene.
        4. The cause does not need to be uncovered, it is in the open for anyone who opens their eyes. The District has added seats for 850 additional students at SAHS and Brookview Elementary, added massive gym space at the high school and the new Pony Activity Center at SAHS . All take money to operate and maintain. With no appreciable increase in income, some facilities must be shut down. With the huge over capacity at the elementary level the cuts were made there. Just as any responsible school board would do in the face of huge increases in operations and maintenance expenses. What is your proposal to balance the budget spunkygarden? Wave a magic wand?

  • Chad Sandstrom

    Mr. Blondin – I am a citizen and taxpayer and engineer and farmer who moved into the Withrow school area after living on the North Hill of Stillwater for 20 years. As a great school, Withrow literally saved my daughter’s life.
    Mr. Blondin’s tactics spreading silly and unbased rumors about ‘secret donors’ does nothing to improve our school district and is a disgraceful way to misdirect attention away from a school board that is mismanaging our community future.
    Elected officials are accountable to citizens and taxpayers. Bad governance is more costly than open accountability.

    • Tony Snark

      hmm.. @chadsandstrom:disqus where have I seen that name before? There are a lot of “and’s” in that opening statement. I wonder if there is an “and” missing.
      Anyhow, moving on.
      You could clear up all the “rumors” by answering 2 simple question.
      1. “How many hours has Mr. Knaak logged in the various cases on behalf of 834 Voice?”
      2. “What is the total amount that 834 Voice has paid Fritz Knaak?”
      Surely someone in your, how shall we say… “unique”, position would be privy to such knowledge.
      From an objective viewpoint, anyone who has been following this s***-show knows the amount that 834 Voice has raised publicly, If the legal fees are, as Mr. Blondin posits, in excess of $100,000 that would create a significant gap in what has been shared with the public.

    • Bob Katula

      Chad (or is it Jane?), if we don’t know who the donors are and 834 Voice refuses to say who they are, they are by definition “secret donors.” And if the school board is so clearly guilty of mismanagement and bad governance, why have five judges disagreed and ruled for the board and the district eight times? At some point, you have to face the facts and admit that the school board was acting in the best interests of all kids by being financially responsible in consolidating elementary schools.

    • Carl Blondin

      Who is funding over $100k in litigation expenses for 834 Voice? Santa Claus?

    • Carl Blondin

      The decision to stop paying for gross excesss elementary capacity is the first responsible act of governance the ISD 834 school board has made in a generation Mr. Sandstorm. The biggest expenses in the school district budget are employee compensation, operations and maintenance and transportation. The biggest problem our district faces is over-crowded secondary classrooms that seriously degrade the learning environment. We will always be a high cost transportation district because of our geographic shape. We have tbe most expensive teachers in the east metro because of their seniority and our generous pay scale. That expense will not become more reasonable for at leadt a decade. The major place where meaningful fiscal reform can be achieved is in operations and maintenance. Either support fiscal reform in unneeded excess spending at the elementary level or class sizes across the District will balloon.

  • Kristie Mack

    Gazette-how could you even think about printing something like this with so many innuendos and falsities. This is extremely disappointing.

    • Tony Snark

      @kristiemack:disqus spare us your mock indignation. If you have a claim, make it. What “falsities” are you referring to?

    • Carl Blondin

      Please name one false statement I have made. You may not like my conclusions, but I am very careful to not make misstate any facts.

  • Beth Ogren

    Intelligent retort. Maybe you or Dr. President Weisberg can shed some light on exactly who’s paying for more than 18 months of the top-notch legal services of Holstad & Knaak PLC, a figure commonly agreed to be well into six figures. The only public record of contributions is a gofundme page that shows $15,635 raised by 173 people in 19 months. So it’s not the $50 and $100 donations from a handful of supporters that raises concerns. It’s the tens of thousands of dollars that could be coming from outside the district that’s the issue. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ve got your head in the sand.

  • Patti Isaacs

    The strength of 834 Voice is that it includes people from all along the economic and political spectrum, from those of modest means to those more well-off, and from Bernie Sanders leftists to Ron-Paul libertarians to Trump voters. What unites us is our shared concern that decisions for our school district are not being made in ways that is transparent, fair, and legal. We are all contributing what we can to uncover the truth and implement change if it is warranted.

  • Triehle

    This has to be one of the most ridiculous ideas I have heard. Is this the best you can do? I mean really? Carl, I sit near you at nearly every board meeting, I’ve even reached out and said “Hi”. At any time I am more than willing to engage in conversation with you, please, if you have questions, just ask. There is really no need to make false accusations. Why is it so unreasonable that so many individuals could support 834Voice? The district’s own survey supports that. See you next Board meeting, let’s chat!

    • Carl Blondin

      Name one false accusation I have made. And please do introduce yourself to me by name. I like to think of myself as a very reasonable person. I would be happy to listen to your ideas on cutting spending. BOLD is not enough. Much more cost cutting must be done.

  • Tony Snark

    Seriously?
    There is this notion, put forth by 834 Voice, that if you speak your mind in public you will face ridicule and retribution. After reading your comment it is not hard to imagine where that through originates from. If this is your comment in public, I can only to imagine what is being said on your private forums.

  • Bob Katula

    So according to the 834 Voice hangers-on commenting here, anonymous critics are bad. But anonymous donors to 834 Voice should be respected in order to protect their privacy. Anonymous 834 Voice plaintiffs (John Doe, Mary Roe and John Smith) should be shown special consideration because of the possibility of “retribution by the district.”

    To 834 Voice, lack of transparency by the school board is outrageous and grounds for a lawsuit or three. But their own lack of transparency in failing to identify donors, failing to provide exemption documents and tax returns and failing to identify officers and directors until ordered by the court – well, that’s okay by them.

    And the biggest hammer for 834 Voice has been accusations of lying and deceit on the part of the administration and the board. Yet when the identities of the plaintiffs in their last-gasp lawsuit were revealed, it turns out we have been deceived. Jane Doe is a man, Mary Roe is a man and John Smith – initially described by 834 Voice as a dad with a student at Oak Park – is a woman with no children.

    The 834 Voice website has been deceptive from the start with its colorful links to committee pages for oversight & leadership, outreach, electorate, government relations, district improvement, district activities, fundraising and legal. Looks great, but the legal committee is, and always was, the only active committee.

    Now there’s a question as to whether 834 Voice has falsely represented itself as a non-profit corporation because they may not have followed simple rules for establishing such corporations.

    You have to ask yourself, in light of every court ruling supporting the district’s actions and disagreeing with 834 Voice’s version of the truth, who’s being honest and who’s being deceitful?