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Commentary: Bullying needs to stop

May 27, 2017  by John Diers

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you argue the facts, and if the facts and the law are against you give opposing counsel hell.” It’s called an ad hominem attack. It’s also called bullying, and if it goes unchallenged, it sometimes works.

Writer Nick Cauley had a column in last Saturday’s Prior Lake American about the importance of early childhood education — at least that was the heading, but it quickly devolved into an attack on school board member Melissa Enger, who, along with others in the community and Citizens for Accountable Government (CAG), have questioned the school board’s and the administration’s relationship with consultant Nexus. The questions focus on a series of no bid contracts the school board has with Nexus that have already paid millions to the firm and could pay millions more if the relationship continues and the upcoming referendum passes. None of that money to Nexus has gone, or will go, to education, or kids, or teachers, but it will come out of the pockets of residents, many of them seniors, whose Scott County property taxes are among the highest in the metro area.

School board member, Melissa Enger, has raised issues about the Nexus relationship and whether taxpayers are getting what they paid for. She’s been unafraid to ask questions, express her opinion, and challenge the board and the administration, but in return has had more than her share of bullying that doesn’t seem to stop. Recall, it was about a year ago, after Enger cast a vote against the referendum that an unsubstantiated complaint was made against her. Even after the board majority hired an investigator who found absolutely no wrongdoing by Enger, some board members couldn’t let it go. Ms. Enger had to hire a lawyer to protect herself, but the bullying continues.

It seems pointless to remind the board and administration that Ms. Enger was the number one vote getter in the last board election, even after she was smeared not only by the board’s action against her, but by a front page story in the American that wouldn’t have been there without school district collaboration. Each personal attack of this sort represents another hurdle to a successful referendum.

But Cauley, who is a member of the “select” School Task Force of 50, wasn’t finished. Citizens For Accountable Government (CAG) was the next target for what he called their “continuing to question the relationship with Nexus.” Cauley goes on to state “I was at the CAG meeting at Prior Lake City Hall held recently and found out first-hand nothing new.” Yet, In an email from Cauley to a CAG representative one day after the CAG meeting he said he got to the CAG meeting at “the tail end” and that he was “just there for a bit of the Q & A.” Perhaps the reason Cauley “found out first-hand nothing new” at the CAG meeting was that the presentation was over when he got there, if he got there at all. Mr. Cauley states that “there were no facts” at the meeting, but if he had been there for the presentation he would have seen 40 individual slides, each containing factual data taken from school district records and would have learned “first-hand” where $40 million has gone, and what Nexus’s share of it was.

All members of the committee of 50 were selected by the school administration. One wonders whether some, like Mr. Cauley, weren’t selected for their talents as enforcers rather than for what they could contribute toward bringing the district together to solve critical problems such as the need for classroom space. If the next referendum fails, and it could, the administration, the board and its supporters will have no one to blame but themselves for awarding consultant contracts worth millions to a firm without a public, competitive selection process and, then, justifying the action by stonewalling the issues and bullying those who have the temerity to criticize what was done. They still have time to change course and redeem themselves, but, failing that, the remedy is a new school board and a new administration with the 2018 elections.

Please read more from the Prior Lake American:

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com. (Editor’s note: Diers is a community columnist and not employed by, or paid by, the newspaper.)