There are a thousand ways to be dishonest without actually telling a lie.
First of all, Happy New Year to all you loyal ScottsdaleTrails readers! I’ve been posting a few little things on the ScottsdaleTrails Facebook page, which in some ways is easier to follow than the website…particularly if you are a regular Facebook user. So click on over there and “like” it!
For the first real post of the new year, I unfortunately have another bad news story of public corruption in Scottsdale. In case you don’t follow the politics of the Scottsdale Unified School District (a political subdivision of the state for which all property owners within SUSD boundaries pay property taxes), you should be aware that SUSD voters recently approved a Maintenance and Operations budget override. The “M&O” gives the district millions of dollars more in taxing authority to levy taxes which are going to come out of your pocket.
The district has, like all AZ school districts, been chronically underfunded lately by our genius AZ State Legislature, which would rather spend the money defending themselves from lawsuits. So, SUSD needed the money, but voters skeptical of the district administration’s ability to control itself barely passed the override.
Almost at the same time as the override election was taking place in November, the SUSD governing board (with two seats opening after that term) was taking a vote to close Tonalea Elementary School at 68th Street and Oak due to under-utilization, and the expense required to keep it open. Kids in that area were subsequently bused to other schools outside their normal boundary.
Now we’ve found out that one of those lame-duck school board members appears to have been secretly negotiating a deal to gain control of a portion of Tonalea’s campus (the “media center”) for a $1 a year, including utilities!
Denny Brown, former vice-president of the SUSD governing board, former church sexton, former salesman, and one-time candidate for Scottsdale City Council, is that lucky lessee. Inadvertent hints point to Brown’s intention to operate a non-profit “community resource center” entitled “United Food Bank” at that location.
When I got wind of it, I emailed questions to David Peterson, SUSD superintendent. These are the questions and the responses.
The survey was conducted by ASU students as part of a research grant as I understand it. I had no involvement in it except to support finding out what needs exist in our community. I agree that the language used implies something that does not exist. United Food Bank representatives did talk with me about needs in the community and that was it. I have not received anything about a partnership or a request to enter into one.
In regards to your questions:
1. Is the City of Scottsdale aware of this effort? If so, with whom have you been communicating about it?
I did meet with the Director at the Paiute Center about their needs back in August. I have not had any other conversation with City of Scottsdale Staff about moving this idea forward. I believe Mr. Brown has talked with City people but I don’t know who they are or when they met.
2. Have you or any other involved parties pursued any zoning entitlements or city/county/state permits related to this effort?
No. The idea is just that and I have not pursued anything further.
3. How will this effort relate to or overlap with the City’s efforts like Vista del Camino?
That would have to be explored if the idea is further developed. I do not have any information from the City to know how efforts would be related.
4. Have you or any other involved parties entered into any agreements relating to this effort?
I have not entered into any agreements relating to this effort [emphasis added]. This has only been an idea. Any type of agreement would have to be approved publicly by the Governing Board. We did approve the idea of the ASU people conducting a survey to assess the needs of the community. The survey was done by the ASU people and we did not participate in its questions or its implementation.
5. Have you or any other involved parties expended any funds relating to this effort?
The only funds expended would be the time I spent meeting with the Director at Paiute and the ASU and United Food Bank people. I also visited the Chandler Public Schools and Tempe Schools Resource Centers. The total time would be approximately five hours over the last 5 months.
6. Under what statutory authority are you pursuing this effort?
Currently we have not pursued the idea in order to obtain statutory authority. If the idea is something our Governing Board is wanting us to look into further we will do that.
Dr. David J Peterson
Scottsdale Unified School District
Since I received that reply from Dr. Peterson yesterday, I received a copy of the lease between SUSD and Denny Brown (in his own name), which Mr. Brown signed on December 9, 2014 (while he was technically still on the SUSD board) and Dr. Peterson signed on January 6, 2015, six days before he answered my question with this reply, “I have not entered into any agreements relating to this effort.” [Correction: It was pointed out to me that the unreadable signature on the lease was actually that of SUSD CFO Danny O’Brien, not Peterson. Which of course does NOT mean that Peterson did NOT know about it!]
I think you can draw your own conclusions about whether Dr. Peterson was dishonestly parsing the language of my question and his reply so as to answer disingenuously without actually lying.
I’m going to be very frank here. I think Denny Brown is a little self-serving weasel. He may very well have committed some sort of statutory violation relating to conflict of interest. Even if the Attorney General doesn’t pursue the complaint that I understand has been filed, Brown has lost any shred of credibility he ever had, if any.
I had an exchange with Denny during the recent SUSD election campaign in which he and candidate Francesca Thomas questioned the integrity of candidate Laddie Guy Shane (both candidates were ultimately unsuccessful). I documented some of this in a ScottsdaleTrails article last year entitled “School Board Slug Fest.”
In that article I quoted a comment by Mr. Brown during his unsuccessful 2012 city council election campaign:
“We need to create a culture of civility and respect.”
Dishonesty and conflicts of interest do neither. Yet this is pretty typical of those on the city council who hide from criticism of self-serving agendas behind a veil of “civil dialog,” which I’ve thoroughly documented on ScottsdaleTrails.
I’ll be equally frank about Peterson. I don’t like folks being dishonest with me, regardless of whether that dishonesty comprises lying. I don’t draw a distinction between the two, even though apparently Peterson does. And I don’t want my kid or any other SUSD student being under the influence of such a person. If SUSD could teach only one thing, it should teach honesty.
I was willing to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt prior to his dishonest statements to me. Now I fully question every deal–real estate or otherwise–to which Peterson has agreed on behalf of SUSD.
I would encourage you to keep an eye on Peterson. Follow the “Respect our Scottsdale Students” (aka “ROSS”) Facebook page. And attend an SUSD governing board meeting if you can. You can also email the board members collectively at govbrd
There was (and may still be ongoing) a meeting of the board this evening, which I could not attend. I understand an agenda item relating to this issue was to be pulled from the agenda by the board president, but I cannot confirm that it was actually pulled.
David Peterson serves at the pleasure of the governing board which you elected. They can fire him, if there are enough among them who are–as I am–outraged at Peterson’s dishonest behavior. If there aren’t, you should make note of the ones who through inaction approve dishonesty, and keep in mind for the next election…or recall, whichever comes first.