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Letter: Theater of the Absurd?

There has been a constant barrage of misinformation and nasty personal attacks emanating from a vicious little cabal which has kept up a continuing stream of cowardly (and in many instances anonymous) emails concerning the Transportation Outsourcing. They have referred to the district board meetings as the “Theater of the Absurd.” I will illustrate why this little “Group,” is, in fact, absurd.

The Taylor Law - The Taylor Law: This Group makes a continuing worshipping reference to the Taylor Law as if it were carved in the tablets of the Ten Commandments or on a par with Article I of the US Constitution. This statute, in reality the The Public Employees Fair Employment Act, was enacted in 1967 as a typical payback to the most important constituent of the Democratic Party—public sector employees—in large part to secure a ban on public employee strikes. One need only look at the state of the finances of New York State to see what this type of legislation has created. Nevertheless, the striking thing about the Group’s and its self-made lawyers’ (in fact one of them appears to be an attorney which is all the more shocking) continuing reference to the Taylor Law is that it does not in fact explicitly bar all outsourcing but like any statute is interpreted only by reference to a vast, complicated and highly technical history of administrative and judicial decisions.

Cindy Didn’t Read the Taylor Law: The Group takes great delight in concluding erroneously that Cindy (the manner in which they disparagingly refer to the president of the board, who happens to be my wife) didn’t read the Taylor Law despite being a labor lawyer. I can assure you that not only did Cindy read the Taylor Law, including much of the above-referenced case law, but so did our attorneys (who, unlike Cindy, were paid to do so) as did many of the other members of the board. I have no idea what the attorneys told the board but I am confident that the board made an informed decision based on good advice from a highly qualified law firm. Inasmuch as we are all on a first name basis now, most people in our community are well aware that Cindy, Larry, Aline, Pat and Carlo are, and Debbie and Tom were and are, very intelligent, serious and dedicated to their fiduciary obligations to the district and, most importantly, the students.

Show Me the Letter: The Group continues to demand access to a letter or letters from counsel to the district. The Group has concluded and claimed that either the attorneys gave bad advice or the district ignored the advice of the attorneys. Surprisingly certain members of the Group claim vast business experience and enormous success with employee relations and litigation. Anyone with any experience or history with attorneys in any matter, especially litigation, would be aware that often attorneys give great advice and clients take that advice and still lose the case (e.g. Penzoil v Texaco) and that attorneys do not give clean opinions. Every proper opinion is or should be reasoned analysis of the facts and law and perhaps, if one is lucky, one can extract words like “more likely than not” from the attorney. No client, least of all a fiduciary board of a public entity would ever disclose documents covered by attorney-client privilege. Some people have laughingly claimed that the taxpayers are the client and everyone should be entitled to see these confidential communications. I suppose they are also entitled to see letters from the White House counsel to the president? I am confident most people in Manhasset see the idiocy of that logic. Unfortunately for our board and administration, they just have to keep saying “we cannot disclose due to the need to maintain the privilege” no matter how many times these people make the same request and no matter how many times the board and the administration is ridiculed for giving the same perfectly normal and appropriate answer.

I also find it incredible for these people to ignore that the New York State School Boards Association and others filed amicus briefs in support of the district’s appeal. Would they have done that if they did not concur generally in the legal theory and believe that the district’s legal position had merit? Would they have filed a brief as “friend of the court” to support fraud?

Show Me the Money: These people have asked 15 different ways for the administration to disclose “how much are we offering” or “what our final offer is.” A 10-year-old would know not to show your hand during negotiations. To do so in the midst of negotiations with a public sector union would be beyond belief. Again, the board is ridiculed for repeatedly giving the same answer to the same stupid request.

Order in the Court: The Group speaks with hushed reverence for the “Court” that struck down the evil Manhasset School District as if it were the U.S. Supreme Court. Again, for people who are spending their lives on this issue, I would think they would understand that the decision was not made by true court but by a hearing officer and administrative panel that is subject to political will. Unfortunately for the district, by the time the decision was made, the Public Employee Review Board or PERB had been reconstituted (with less than a full complement) with Spitzer appointees, and both of the two members had a long pro-public employee track record. The determination of the facts is a critical factor in this process and the fact record as finalized was, as noted in the District’s Appeal Brief, not accurate or appropriate. Perhaps our attorneys didn’t hit a home run on this day and definitely the hearing officer and P.E.R.B. closed their eyes and ears. I would have thought that the Group would have read this Appeal Brief and the Amicus Brief filed by the New York State School Boards Association which, after one reads them, leaves you scratching your head how this didn’t end entirely back in 2005 with a 100 percent victory for the district. You need only realize that the PERB remedy ordered the district to do something that is not permitted under New York State Law without district voter approval (e.g. purchases buses) to know that this was a result, and not a fact or law based, decision.

You Lie: Like the delightful Representative Joe Wilson, the Group continues to use words like lie, impropriety, fraud, and misconduct in the context of five hard working dedicated neighbors who made a complicated decision in very difficult financial circumstances and who had no financial interest or benefit in the decision or the outcome except as a taxpayer like the rest of us. For one thing the Group suggests the board didn’t tell anyone of the risk of litigation. Again, I have to point to the reasonably intelligent person defense in that anyone who has ever read The New York Times or even the New York Post would be fully aware that unions never accept a decision lying down and often if not always resort to litigation. If the Group lived in Manhasset in 2005 (and was paying attention), they must have seen the fliers on car windows, letters to and ads posted in the Manhasset Press and emails warning of not just litigation but also that the outsourced transportation company would bring in pedophile drivers that would make off with our children.

Provide for a Rainy Day: The Group chastises the board for failing to provide for the “loss. “ I have been engaged in scores of legal disputes as an attorney and business owner and I have never provided for damages in a situation where I felt I would win. This is particularly true in a case where the situation in effect established an internal reserve; that is the annual savings from the outsourcing of transportation. In any event, the board, in accordance with law did establish the appropriate litigation accruals. I am confident that when the dust settles, the financial impact on the district will save us millions of dollars over the next decade and thereafter.

It’s the Buses Stupid: If there was ever a one issue candidacy, this is it. The Group ridiculed the district for presenting, in successive weeks, reports on our English and math curriculum. “How dare these people talk about education when we can ask about the lawyer letter again?” It’s bad enough to have a single issue but it’s much worse when you are so wrong on the issue.

History, Unlike Emailers, Doesn’t Lie: What the Group never mentions is the condition of the district at the time that the board reached this decision, a history that is well-known to all. As noted in the state audit the district at that time lacked proper internal financial supervision and control and had little, if any, citizen participation.

Labor relations with the teachers were appalling and the district faced austerity budgets every year with enormous “no votes” even from current parents.

As for the transportation department, overtime and other costs were out of control. Our bus fleet was not suitable for farm animals let alone our children.

Faced with these conditions Mr. Maimone and the board had to make hard choices to either cut teachers, programs, services or other costs. Every interest group, whether athletics, arts, or retirees using the tennis courts, was battling to maintain their own priorities.

The board made the difficult choice to recommend outsourcing after extensive negotiations with the designated representative of the bargaining unit. The voters agreed with this recommendation and rejected the proposal to replace the disgusting bus fleet, which was not an option but a mandatory step to continuing in-house transportation. After the initial chaos and hysteria (during which time Dr. Shine and board members spent many hours riding the buses to work out the kinks) we were left with an efficient transportation system operating at far lower cost and with modern, safe, energy and cost-efficient buses.

One of the more annoying comments raised by some has been how heartless the board has been to these employees, given the tough economy. Well, putting aside how silly it is to reference today’s unemployment rate when the decision was made in 2005, I know for a fact that the board members all were distressed about the impact on these employees but felt negotiations, a package and/or employment with the bid winner would ameliorate this issue. In any event, the board was elected to make tough decisions and they did what they felt they had to do to maintain programs and faculty.

This board has accomplished labor peace with the teachers while bringing in one of the lowest percent cost tax increases in Nassau County in 2009. We have added to athletics, theater and music programs and AP courses. Our students and faculty continue to excel and amaze.

We are now led by a superintendent and assistant superintendent who work long hours every day and weekend, through rain and snow. They are at every football, basketball and lax game. They attend crew regattas and run from concert, to play, to award presentation. At many of those events they run into some, most or even all of the members of the board.

Rather than focusing on these amazing accomplishments, a few conspiracy theorists have chosen personal attacks and accusations against their neighbors who volunteer many, many hundreds (and at least in the case of “Cindy,” over a thousand) hours per year. Our board members make mistakes and should be prepared to be criticized. However the unfounded and personal accusations made by this Group disqualify them from any serious debate.

Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann: Now it seems that one member of the Group intends to run for the board in May. Having accused the current and past members of impropriety and ridiculed Mr. Cardillo and Dr. Shine, I am sure this person would be a wonderful boost to the spirit of cooperation, bipartisanship and decency that are the hallmarks of our district.

Daniel S. Tamkin

(Editors Note: Mr. Tamkin is the husband of Cindy Cardinal, which is mentioned in the text.)