Eric Lee Can’t Help It If He’s Lucky. But What About Those Who Aren’t?

This follows up on yesterday’s post, Be Careful What You Post on Social Media: Remember the Lee Brothers? and you should read that first.

I ended that post with a few questions. In December 2011, 4 people were arrested for trafficking. Two have court case numbers. Two don’t. The two that don’t aren’t the sons of the owners of the Pinnacle School, which has as one of its campuses the Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP). The CEO is owner Karen Lee. Her son Eric was employed at ERTP as a counselor and is now a supervisor and is one of the 4 arrested who doesn’t have a court case number.

This puzzles me: What does it mean not to have a case number? Not guilty? Dismissed? Or trial pending?

My speculation is that it means either not guilty or charges were dismissed. Why? Because the other son with no case number, Charles Lee, Jr., was arrested 1/30/2013 on an unspecified felony charge and released 1/25/2014. My thinking is that if he were still awaiting a court date for the 2011 bust and was convicted of a felony, then he would not have been released. This could well be erroneous thinking since it doesn’t factor in money and influence.

So if the 2011 charges against the brothers Lee were dismissed, I guess there would be no reason for the guy not to be a supervisor at a remote whatever ERTP is. His mother seemed sure all along he wouldn’t be convicted. But why?

As I said in the title, Eric Lee can’t help it if he’s lucky. Here he is, in the presence of 24 lbs of pot, $37,600 in cash, and a small arsenal when the Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team comes busting through the door of a $138,000 home in Madison. And yet he is free.

He can’t help it if someone (Mom?) can come up with $25,000 bond for him and another $25,000 for his brother so they were in jail only 4 days.  You, I and the man on the moon all know if he had been poor — guilty or not — he’d be in jail awaiting trial. Contrast his predicament with that of the 19-year-old who died naked on the floor of his Madison County jail cell from an infected foot that was never treated. He was arrested in June 2013 for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs and in July for passing a fake $100. By August he was dead. Couldn’t come up with bail, I guess. Freedom isn’t free.

So where are we? Either Eric Lee is awaiting trial or his 2011 problems just dissolved. If he is awaiting trial, then his mom, Pinnacle CEO Karen Lee, has some explaining to do about his job.

If not? Well, then there was no mistake about posting the picture of supervisor Eric on the ERTP Facebook page, maybe as a message that all is clear for Eric, or maybe as a middle fingered salute.

I don’t care if any of the Lees smoke pot or not. I’m unequivocally in favor of the legalization of the plant. For one thing, its illegality continues to destroy the lives of some who are arrested and not for others, and this is unfair. But even if marijuana were legalized and possession for personal use not a crime, trafficking would be. Legal marijuana would be taxed. And one of the best reasons for legalization would be to avoid the culture of trafficking, which includes being willing to harm others, which is why the rifles and weapons were confiscated.

I’d say that Eric could be a nice guy for all I know, except that even if he just stumbled into the house with the 24 lbs of weed, $37K in cash, and shotguns and rifles, what kind of man would be at ease earning his [artisan] bread and [creamery] butter for depriving teens of their liberty and subjecting them to who knows what kinds of torment because they were stupid enough to get caught with a joint in a Huntsville City School and unlucky enough not to have money for a high-profiled attorney and were not to the manor born? One with the integrity of puddle scum, I guess. Or a question of upbringing.

Even if Eric just stopped by the house at the wrong time, his judgment at hanging out with traffickers should disqualify him from a position of responsibility for other peoples’ kids. What does this have to with Huntsville City Schools? Some of those whom Eric Lee are supervising have been sent to ERTP by HCS, and some I expect are there because of social media monitoring. If private pay parents wish to spend tens of thousands of dollars on ERTP without questioning the qualifications of its staff, that’s their decision. But if the public is footing the bill, it should have the assurance that ERTP’s staff, every single one, is qualified and has good judgment. 

As I said back on Sept. 14, 2012, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lees were not convicted. I would be a little surprised if the charges were simply dismissed, but just a little. Why?

Enter Robert Broussard, DA Madison County.

If the charges against the Lees were dismissed, it comes down to the District Attorney for Madison County, Robert L. Broussard, a man for whom I have even less respect than I do for Col. Wardynski. And that is saying something. 

The  Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team is a division of his office, and this team is a specialized and extra-well trained and funded one. I would imagine that they look before they leap, and had an eye on the four people they arrested long before 12/9/2011. All four. A raid like this should have been executed when no stray people were on the premises. This was no broken tail-light, oh my, there’s 24 pounds of weed in the trunk bust. But “Lee” is a fairly common name, and so maybe they hadn’t done their homework well enough to discover they were about to mess with the sons of the power elite.

If the charges were dismissed, I for one would love to hear the story concocted to explain this.  I haven’t the brainpower to imagine how a specialized drug squad could make such a boo-boo. How, exactly, can you be in a house with 24 lbs of marijuana, etc. and walk away from the charges? What was special about the Lees’ presence that didn’t apply to the other 2 arrested, who do have court case numbers? 

What was different about the Lees in contrast to McDonald and Porter? Money. Not just the Lee’s own stash, being augmented by the public through their contract with the HCS, but the money that has gone into propping up Wardynski, who is a great enabler of Karen Lee.

So here’s the situation again. I expect no answer.

1. The charges against Eric Lee are still pending. This means that Karen Lee’s assurance to the public that Eric would not be counseling at ERTP needs some scrutiny.

2. The charges against the brothers Lee were dismissed or they were found not guilty. Did the Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team screw up? Or did Broussard choose not to prosecute? Why?

 

Be Careful What You Post on Social Media: Remember the Lee Brothers?

splcTime for an update on several previous posts from September 2012, starting with The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy and carrying on through Thank you, Crystal Bonvillian. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Nepotism. These posts came months after my first suggesting that sending HCS students to The Pinnacle Schools’ Elk River Treatment Program at the sole discretion of Wardynski was wrong for many reasons.   .

The Sept. 2012 posts were about the arrests of owners Karen and Charles Lee’s sons, Charles Lee, Jr. and Eric Lee for trafficking on December 10, 2011.  Reports noted agents seized “24 pounds of marijuana and about $37,600 in cash during the bust” and “weapons, including shotguns and rifles.” 

Two others were busted along with the Lees: Corey McDonald and Stephanie Porter.

Now, parents aren’t responsible for the behavior of their adult children. Hypocrisy, like Karen Lee claiming she can turn your kids’ lives around, isn’t a crime.

Apparently neither is employing someone awaiting trial on charges like these as a counselor supervisor in the remote Elk River Treatment Program, aka Wardynski’s teepees of yesteryear, boot camps this season. Lee says she told the Board about the arrests before her contract with HCS was approved. When the Lees’ arrest came to the public’s attention, and it became known that Eric Lee was up at Elk River,

“Superintendent Casey Wardynski expressed support for Pinnacle and Lee, who he said contacted him Thursday afternoon and told him she was altering her son’s duties with the program pending resolution of his case.

“She is removing him from the Elk River program and he will be working other duties,” Wardynski said. . . . Lee told The Times on Thursday that her son would remain an employee, just as any employee would if they were charged with a crime but had not been convicted. That will change if he is found guilty of the drug charges. “Of course, if he was convicted he would be terminated,” Lee said.”

So what does this have to do with social media? Well, I was doing a little bit of my own monitoring of Facebook, and paid a visit here:

Elk River Treatment Program. Look in pictures and who do you find? This guy. There are two instances of that same picture, one on July 30, birthday greetings, and then one on July 31, 2014 with the caption: “Mr. Lee is a supervisor at ERTP.” Well, Karen Lee did promise Wardynski  “she was altering her son’s duties.” She made him a supervisor.
lee3Now, it’s true he hasn’t been convicted of anything. He and his brother do not even have case numbers yet, although in a little over 2 months, 3 years will have passed since their arrest. Scroll down to the end of he post first to see what I am talking about.
But interestingly, the other 2 arrested, Corey McDonald and Stephanie Porter, have case numbers but no sentencing.
It took me a while to figure this out. If you have a case number, it shows up. If you don’t, you just have 000-0000 as a placeholder.
If you go to http://jail.madisoncountyal.gov/smartwebclient/, what comes up first are the new bookings, and they have 000-0000 for case numbers too, just like Eric Lee. Now Charles still has no case number for the 2011 arrest, but he seems to have gotten himself in trouble again in 2013 and spent 13 months inside.
McDonald has a case number for the Dec. 2011 arrest .Porter has a possession charge with no case number from the Dec. 2011 arrest, but does have a case number for the trafficking charge.
So what are we to make of this? Four arrested; two have case numbers and two don’t. Why? What does it mean not to have a case number? Not guilty? Dismissed? Or trial pending? I simply don’t know.
And by the way, the Pinnacle guard charged with torture, Julian Boykin? He too has no case number.

Enlarge Photo
LEE, ERIC EDWARD   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/30/1988 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014271 MniNo: MCSO11MNI002388
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 15:05:42 Released: 12/13/2011 1:50:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 23
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 13A-12-231 000-0000 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
TRAFFICKING (MARIJUANA, COCAINE, METHAMPHETAMINE, DRUGS)

 
lee

LEE, CHARLES IVY   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/20/1987 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014270 MniNo: MCSO00MNI058191
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 15:00:19 Released: 12/13/2011 6:40:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 24
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 13A-12-231 000-0000 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
TRAFFICKING (MARIJUANA, COCAINE, METHAMPHETAMINE, DRUGS

lee2

LEE, CHARLES IVY   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/20/1987 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO13JBN001160 MniNo: MCSO00MNI058191
Booking Date: 01/30/2013 09:51:51 Released: 1/25/2014 12:01:00 AM
Age On Booking Date: 26
Bond Amount: $0.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 15-10-60 CC12-3134 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) COURT SENTENCED (FELONY) F $0.00
COURT SENTENCED

 

MCDONALD, COREY ANDREW   (W / MALE / DOB: 10/9/1984 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014269 MniNo: MCSO11MNI014234
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 14:45:10 Released: 12/14/2011 6:45:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 27
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC11 7712 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00

 

Enlarge Photo
PORTER, STEPHANIE IRENE   (W / FEMALE / DOB: 8/26/1986 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014265 MniNo: MCSO11MNI000693
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 14:10:48 Released: 12/14/2011 5:20:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 25
Bond Amount: $2500.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC11 7709 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
[+] 13A-12-212 000-0000 (STAC) POSSESSION OF A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE F $2500.00


Enlarge Photo

PORTER, STEPHANIE IRENE   (W / FEMALE / DOB: 8/26/1986 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO12JBN008364 MniNo: MCSO11MNI000693
Booking Date: 07/19/2012 13:33:11 Released: 3/13/2013 6:32:00 AM
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC12-4952 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $0.00
[+] 15-10-60 DC11-7708 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) BOND REVOCATION F F $0.00
[+] 15-10-60 CC12 3133 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) COURT SENTENCED (FELONY) F $0.00

 

He Spies, etc. Pt. 5. Why is Deterrence Not an Option?

I wish that I had access to a sampling of HCS middle and senior high school students to ask two questions: What happens to students who are expelled? Does it matter how old they are?

For most of my life I have believed that being expelled was the same as dropping out, but with more drama. At least the outcome was the same: prospect of not getting a decent job unless the school-leaver got a GED. Family fireworks. Nothing worse, though.

I’m thinking now I was wrong. Consider this statement from the article alerting us to the HCS surveillance program, or whatever you want to call this latest outrage:

“The students were expelled and placed in alternative school and boot camp programs.”

If expelled means kicked out of school, how can a superintendent place an expelled student in an alternative school or boot camp?

What is the procedure? Pages A14 to A19 of the 2014-2015 HCS Student/Parent Handbook outline the procedure for expulsion, but there is no mention of alternative schools or boot camps. So how do students land in boot camps?

And more importantly, why are students not told that being expelled doesn’t mean they are through with school?

Why are they not told in graphic detail what they can expect their lives to be like if they land in Wardynski’s “boot camp” which I assume is the Pinnacle School’s Elk River Wilderness camp (the “teepees”) but can’t say for sure, since nowhere on the HCS website or in the handbook is there a single mention of an alternative school or boot camp.

This is what Wardynski said way back when he and the Board shut the Seldon Center and got in bed with Pinnacle:

“Those who do not comport themselves according to the regulations and rules of Pinnacle Schools will find themselves living in a teepee. And they won’t be coming back until they can behave. And if they can’t behave, they won’t be coming back to our schools.”

The contract included this:

“. . . HCS may refer students who are being removed from the program to Pinnacle School’s Elk River Treatment Program for intensive therapeutic treatment, upon such terms as may be agreed to by TPS and HCS and at the sole discretion of the Superintendent.” [emphasis added] — Pinnacle and Huntsville City Schools Contract

The prospect of being sent to the sticks far from friends and family with no phone, no internet, no privacy, and no freedom, for an indeterminate stretch could be a good deterrent to those contemplating an expulsion worthy offense. But not wanting to go through such a program would serve as a deterrent only if would-be offenders had a clue what awaited them on the other side of expulsion.

Why don’t they know? Why does the HCS keep this secret to surprise kids with after they have done wrong? 

I find it sinister and sociopathic to operate thusly.

Wardynski has his fantasies of calls from the NSA alerting him to Yemenis plotting to cut off teachers’ heads.

I’ll offer a fantasy of my own.

Imagine you have had enough of high school but you are only 15. You long for your 16th birthday when you will be able to drop out. You turn 16, go to get your license, and discover that the school leaving age has been bumped up to 17 (did you know this, Reader? Meanwhile, the UK has extended voting privileges to 16-year-olds). Despair follows. You cannot take another year of standardizing testing — why bother with all that when you could be preparing and taking the GED, a test that if you perform well will mean something to you, and not the suits? But you also have heard of truant officers and you don’t want to land at the juvenile detention center. So what are your options?

Maybe, you think, if you can’t leave voluntarily, you can get them to throw you out. So you devise a full-proof scheme. You buy a stiletto at the flea market, print out a picture of your principal, pin it to your wall by jabbing the stiletto through the eye, and take out your phone. You post it with the caption, after today I will never have to look Mr. Principal in the eye ever again, on your FB wall and a bunch of your friends’, toss the stiletto in the glove compartment, and off you go, happily thinking this is the last time you will be making this trip.

You are cheerful when confronted by all the assistant principals, etc. and show no remorse because all is going according to plan.

You are expelled the next day,

And then you are informed you will be spending as long as it takes to break you or until your 17th birthday in a teepee. Now it’s W who is flying high.

And there is nothing at all you can do.

No one ever told you that expelled doesn’t mean you are free of the school system’s authority. You didn’t factor in that if you aren’t 17 you have to be educated somewhere, and Mom and Dad don’t have the resources to send you to a private school, even if one would take you, and they have been threatened with arrest and jail if they don’t sign you over, and are too shocked to figure out a workable plan — if there is such a thing.

You would never have done the stupid little charade to get kicked out if you had known that kicked out really meant losing all your freedom.

Nobody is going to believe you that all you wanted was to be free and get on with your life.

You are screwed, in other words, facing weeks, months, years (do they have to release you at 17?) in a private prison with no legal representation, wondering why no one warned you.

Too bad.

 

 

It Gets Worse. The Pinnacle Schools’ Teaching Techniques — and Torture.

From the website of the private corporation that is being paid 1.5 million of tax monies this year alone to educate at-risk students:

“The academic programs of The Pinnacle Schools are designed to support students therapeutically by providing a safe learning environment in which their self-esteem is positively impacted by success in school.”

From al.com, Nov. 2, 2012:

“Police on Wednesday arrested a security guard for Pinnacle Schools, the Huntsville school district’s alternative school, in connection with the alleged beating of at least one Huntsville student at the school last month.

“Julian Lorenzo Boykin, 31, of Huntsville is charged with torture and willful abuse of a child, according to Harry Hobbs, a Huntsville Police Department spokesman. . . .

“Will he receive more charges?” Hobbs said. “My best answer would be (that) he might be charged with some more misdemeanor level charges if the evidence supports the allegations.”

Julian Boykin Pictured: Julian Lorenzo Boykin (Madison County jail)

Pinnacle Schools stands behind him. Innocent until proven guilty — fine. But you know what? Huntsville police spent 21 days investigating before pressing charges. I was starting to give up hope that this would not just disappear into the ether. I’m glad to see that this hasn’t happened.

In her report, Crystal Bonvillian quotes another boy whose allegations aren’t the subject of the current arrest but of the others possible as investigations occur:

“Boykin is accused of pulling several students out of class on Oct. 10 for talking.The boys were allegedly locked in a room with Boykin, who students know as “Mr. B,” and another security guard and forced to assume the plank exercise position.

“‘Mr. B teamed us all up and made us do planks on the ground, if one student fell the other team mate got punched in there (sic) sides and we were being hit so hard it was knocking the air out of us,’ one 13-year-old boy wrote in an account provided to The Times by his mother, Nacole Seldon.”

Note the offense for which the kids were punished: talking. Note how they were (allegedly) punished: by being forced to do exercises. Note the sadism: the boys were put into teams, and if the one doing the exercise fell, the other kid got punched.

These are 13-year-olds. What’s the most one of them likely weighs? Average weight for a 13-year-old boy is 102 pounds.

Take a look at Boykin. Weighs a bit more than 102 pounds —  likely more than 204.

What kind of lesson is being taught when you (allegedly) team kids up, force them to do exercises in the planking position (already outlawed as dangerous in a number of states), and then, when the one exercising falls — falls, mind you — you punch the other team mate black and blue.

I know Superintendent Wardynski doesn’t know squat about pedagogy — that is, teaching techniques — but would this be tolerated at any military boot camp?

Of course not. It teaches nothing but helplessness. It teaches that those who are bigger and stronger can behave as sadistically as they please to those at their mercy.

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Now, what I want to know is, if this is going on among the day kids at Pinnacle, what in hell is happening out at Elk River? Well, Supe? Board? You are responsible for this despicable situation. You should be ashamed.

Cancel the contract with Pinnacle. I’d say if these charges stick, it should lose its license, but I can’t find anything to suggest the day school is licensed. I’d say it should lose its accreditation — but it isn’t accredited. Great choice, W and Board

Let’s return before closing to the Pinnacle Schools website, where we discover that:

“The staff at The Pinnacle Schools has been carefully screened and selected for their leadership skills, maturity and compassion.”

Compassion? Compassion? Compassion?

The Lees are hopeless. So let’s invite comments from some of these other compassionate professionals.

Wayne Wilson, Ed.D, Licensed Psychologist.  Dr. Wilson: please explain to me how the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline for talking in class contributes to a safe learning environment and academic success.

Albert L. Sprinkle, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.  Dr. Sprinkle: Is the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline one you encourage at Decatur General West? Did Boykin train with your night staff over there? Listened to any concerns of your patients (yes, patients: or so they are regarded when it is time to file for insurance) regarding their after-hours’ experiences? How about your private patients? Do you suggest the the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” technique to their parents? Great way to build healthy sibling relationships.

Kimberly Cox, RN, BSN, Director.  Nurse Cox: I notice you are proud of your training “to facilitate others in interpreting the Bible for themselves.” Is the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline based on biblical principles?

You didn’t know what was going on? Sorry. That won’t cut it. Why didn’t you know?

Wardynski, McCaulley, Blair, Robinson, Birney: Enough is enough. Resign or start taking responsibility for your actions.

Good luck, new Board member Mike Culbreath. You’ll need it. I wouldn’t want to be associated with this crew. Don’t drop to their level of incompetence and indifference. Please — please — be a voice for integrity, decency, responsibility, and, yes, compassion.

 

The Pinnacle Schools: What Are We Waiting For?

Last year, the Huntsville City Schools outsourced its alternative schooling to The Pinnacle Schools at a cost of $1,596,000, entering a 19-month contract.

You want to find out more?

Don’t bother looking in the Student-Parent Handbook. No mention of the Pinnacle Schools.

Don’t bother looking in the HCS Policy Manual. No mention of the Pinnacle Schools.

Don’t bother searching the HCS website.

(There is one mention of the Pinnacle Schools on the website. Here it is, in its entirety: “A student that is attending the Seldon Center or Pinnacle is only eligible to represent the Seldon Center or Pinnacle. A student attending the Seldon Center or Pinnacle cannot participate at any other school.”)

I have been writing about this since last December. See categories: Pinnacle.

My biggest fear has been the potential for abuse at the Elk River Treatment wilderness camp where Col. Casey Wardynski, superintendent, sends kids that Pinnacle can’t handle. There they are held incommunicado for an indefinite stay — as long as it suits Wardynski [one censored letter home a week. No calls. No visits. No legal representation].

Frankly, even I didn’t expect this at the Huntsville City Pinnacle Schools campus: 20121010194922

Read about it here and here.

If what we see above is what is being done to kids who go home at night, just imagine what is going on at W’s private prison.

I’ll say it again:

If what we see above is what is being done to kids who go home at night, just imagine what is going on at W’s private prison.

I looked to see who licensed the Pinnacle Schools, but on its website no mention of a licensing agency is provided. I wonder if the Board knows. (Elk River is licensed as a detention facility by the State of Alabama, for what’s that’s worth.)

I wonder if anyone down at Merts, like the play-dead Board maybe, knows what standards are used to employ personnel for this cash cow. The CEO’s (Ms. Karen Lee’s) only qualification for running the place is that she has two sons who have run afoul of the law. She has no credentials in education or mental health services. Well, hell, we have an unqualified superintendent, so what? We do know that she saw fit to employ one of her sons who is awaiting trial for drug trafficking as a counselor at the Elk River detention camp, but when this was publicized, she moved him to Pinnacle instead.

What are the qualifications of the thug who beat this kid?

How many other kids have been beaten at Pinnacle Schools Huntsville campus and have been afraid to speak out because doing so could well mean that they risk being disappeared to the teepees until the Colonel decides they have been neutralized.

Even without the smacking in the ribs, planking or face-down restraint — and yes, I realize no mechanical restraints were employed to keep the kid in this position, unless you count risk of a beating about the ribs as a mechanical restraint (I would) — has been outlawed in more progressive states and has been at the core of a number of suits related to deaths in treatment facilities.

You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

Guess that’s what the citizens of Huntsville are waiting on for their wake-up call: a death.

Then there can be tears and hand-wringing, candlelight vigils, messages from pulpits, all the usual useless brouhaha to assuage a community’s guilt at just not giving a damn.

I never wanted to be in the I Told You So position because it would come only when someone’s child had suffered.

Haven’t you had enough? If not, what would be enough?

 

 

Best Board Money Can Buy

We’ve all learned quite a lot about the ethics and values of the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski in the past couple of days, namely, that it was so important to contract with Pinnacle Schools and have access to its own private detention facility, aka the teepees at Elk River, that they were all willing to overlook that the only argument for the effectiveness of programs like Elk River, its CEO Karen Lee’s assurance that such had done wonders for her kid, was just a little questionable, since when they approved the contract, not one but two of her kids were out on bond facing charges of drug trafficking and possession of a small arsenal.

Today I want to talk about the campaign finances of Superintendent Wardynski’s most fawning cheerleader and the Board member usually credited for bringing him to Huntsville, Dr. Jennie Robinson, and the Pinnacle Schools’ apologist, Board member David Blair.

When Robinson ran for re-election in 2010, she raised over $60,000, far more than her opponent, and the record amount ever raised by a Huntsville School Board candidate. She had “three main backers”: “the Committee of 100, the Alabama Builders and John A. Nolan III.”

Reporter Challen Stephens calls The Committee of 100 “a group of local lawyers and business leaders.” There are also a number of doctors in the 100. Working through this list might prove interesting. They supported Robinson to the tune of $17,500. Half of David Blair’s total contributions came from this group. What return did they expect on their $20,000 investment in Blair and their total $37,500 in the District 2 and 3 races in 2010?

In the 2012 election, The Committee of 100 endorsed Laurie McCaulley for Huntsville Board of Education, District 1 and Mike Culbreath for District 5. Both won.

The Alabama Builders PAC gave Robinson $10,000 and Blair, $7,000.

What really jumped out at me, though, was the third of Robinson’s supporters, John A. Nolan III. He and his wife gave her $13,600 directly. Stephens reported that she “also received $5,500 during the runoff from North Alabama Christian Conservatives PAC, a new group. Nolan said he gave to that PAC, but does not run it.”

Why would an individual donate $13,600 (or maybe the better part of $19,100) to Robinson. What horse does Nolan have in this race?

I don’t care who Robinson’s pals are; that’s none of my business. But I am interested in her campaign backers because money is a big factor in the sucess of a campaign. While individuals donate to the Humane Society or UNICEF out of the goodness of their hearts, I simply don’t believe they make large personal donations to candidates for purely unselfish, altruistic reasons.

So I googled, and this is what I learned. In my value system, Nolan would qualify as a unsavory character, not one I’d like to owe any favors. But I think it is fairly obvious that my values are not those held by the Board and Supe.

When Nolan owned Phoenix Consulting, he could fairly have been called a corporate spy for hire. One of his own clients — Proctor and Gamble —  says his company was “out of control.” Proctor and Gamble was involved in a corporate spying scandal in 2001. Fortune magazine reported that P&G:

engaged in a corporate espionage program against competitors in its hair care business – Unilever, in particular – that even the company itself admits spun out of control. . .  After . . . senior managers discovered what the company is calling a “rogue operation,” P&G executives wrote a letter to Unilever outlining the situation.. . .

Sources say that P&G hired corporate spies through a contractor, and at least some of them worked out of a private “safe house,” nicknamed “The Ranch.” Sources say one of the companies that was employed by P&G was The Phoenix Consulting Group of Huntsville, Alabama. Phoenix was founded and is staffed by former government intelligence officers, including its president, John A. Nolan III, who served in the Phoenix Program, a covert operation in Vietnam. Nolan declined comment.

Oh, my. Next I goggled the Phoenix Program. Nauseating.

The CIA-backed Phoenix Program assassinated and jailed large numbers of Vietnamese civilians without evidence of judicial procedure. This fact was confirmed by [former CIA Dir William] Colby in an admission to Representative Reid in his July 1971 testimony before Congress. According to Colby, the Phoenix Program had resulted in the deaths of 20,587 persons as of May 1971. That number, proportionate to population, would have totaled over 200,000 Americans deliberately assassinated over a three-year period had Phoenix been conducted in the United States.

Want more? Wikipedia quotes SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.):

The Vietnam War Phoenix Program is controversial to this day. Supporters say that it was a legal and closely controlled US-Vietnamese intelligence program aimed at destroying the Viet Cong infrastructure, while the critics say that it was an illegal system of arresting, torturing and murdering innocent Vietnamese civilians.

Let’s conclude by reviewing recent local history:

  • June 2009: Superintendent Ann Roy Moore receives perfect evaluation from Board.
  • Fall 2010: Robinson re-elected to School Board.
  • January 2011. Superintendent Ann Roy Moore agrees to Board’s contract buy-out.
  • Spring 2011: Colonel Casey Wardynski recruited for Superintendent position.

Thank you, Crystal Bonvillian. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Nepotism.

Crystal Bonvillian, education reporter for The Huntsville Times, is a brave woman worthy of respect. In today’s Times, she has a lead story, “Huntsville school officials defend alternative school after owners’ sons face drug charges.” Well done, Ms. Bonvillian. She is also seeking to discover what is going on in the HCS classrooms following the 1:1 Learning Initiative I-pad / laptop / Pearson curriculum thrust: “How is the Huntsville schools district’s digital transition working for you?”.

Bonvillian reports that Karen Lee, CEO of Pinnacle, said “‘My sons are innocent until proven guilty.'” That’s true. But the question I raised in yesterday’s post, did Lee tell Wardynski and the Board about the arrest before the lucrative contract with her company was signed, remains. [Update 9/14 evening: “When my sons were arrested I let them know and that was before the board vote took place,” said Karen Lee in an interview with WAFF. I didn’t think anything could surprise me. I was wrong.] Whether she did or not apparently doesn’t matter when it comes to Board member David Blair’s opinion: “‘If everybody got judged by their kids, a lot of people would be in big trouble.'”

As a commenter on al.com noted, “Compare this to Wardynski’s ‘off with his head’ response when Grissom’s football coach was charged with a DUI while mowing Grissom’s field.” Point well taken.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Lee, Jr. and Eric Lee aren’t convicted of trafficking. Maybe they were just at that house to deliver a fruitcake to Stephanie Porter, it being the holiday season and all, and had nothing to do with the “24 pounds of marijuana and about $37,600 in cash during the bust” or the “weapons, including shotguns and rifles.” I find it very odd that a reasonably intelligent woman like Porter (see comments here) was stupid enough to get caught again this summer with four pounds of pot. Make of that what you will.

When you look at mugshots over at the Madison County Jail site, smiles are few, and people who look like they are about to burst out laughing rarer still. Here’s the trio of interest here: Charles Lee, Jr., Eric Lee, and Stephanie Porter. Doesn’t Eric look like he is thinking, what in the hell have these two gotten me into this time?

It’s just weird. So Eric is too old for being one of the bad kids in the teepee, but Ma Lee needs to keep an eye on him, and so installs him at Elk River. Or maybe he was already working there as a counselor (does the Board ask for resumes of their contractors’ employees? Isn’t that kinda standard? What’s his degree in? Any relevant training?).

Bold as brass, but here’s another consideration: doesn’t the HCS have a rather extreme nepotism policy in place? See Redeye’s blog and geekpalaver. An owner’s son as employee? No prob, according to Wardynski, since Lee will be  “removing him from the Elk River program and he will be working other duties.”

Board member David Blair, who lives just down the hill from the Lees, is still a big fan of Pinacle’s. He claims,

. . . he and fellow board members looked carefully at the issue of whether to close the Seldon Center and go forward with Pinnacle before their January vote.

“We looked at Pinnacle, their past performance, their methods and the whole-child offerings for our kids that are struggling and are having some discipline problems,” Blair said. “Pinnacle has a proven track record.”

Problems, problems, problems, Mr. Blair.

Pinnacle’s past performance, which he alludes to, was as a very costly, private school.

Pinnacle’s curriculum, as I understand it, is delivered digitally. As we all know, presumably much of all the HCS’s curriculum is delivered digitally these days — when it is delivered at all. So why did the alternative education program need to be contracted out to a private school-of-sorts? Why couldn’t the Seldon crew have used the same technology and software that Pinnacle’s staff gets up and running?

But most important, to me, are Pinnacle’s Elk River programs, the private prison that Huntsville taxpayers are supporting to the tune of $750 a day, every day (now at $193,500).

What’s its track record? What is the track record of any of these wilderness camps? Again, if you can stomach it, watchCongressional Hearings Regarding Deceptive Marketing Practices, Torture, and Death at Behavior Modification Programs for Teens.” Visit the HEAL website, where “you will find links to lawsuits, news articles, and survivor websites detailing the abuses experienced at these facilities.” Elk River isn’t one of the horror stories yet, but aside from any moral or ethical arguments, how about running some cost-benefit analysis for this boondoggle, Mr. Blair? Or paying an unannounced visit? Talking to ex-staffers and inmates?

You want to know why I keep banging my keyboard about this? It’s simple. I’m appalled that children, even badly behaved children, have so few civil rights, including a right to legal representation, privileged communication with a legal representative, and protection from abuse and false imprisonment. And for people to make money, a lot of money, taking advantage of this, is despicable. Got it?