Urgent Right to Know Requests Made – UPDATED

The Timberlane Budget Committee has two meetings left before they are expected to approve the budget – three if you count Dec. 23, which is invariably cancelled – yet THEY HAVE NOT BEEN GIVEN THE FULL BUDGET.  There is somewhere in excess of $67 million dollars on the line.  This is an insult to conscientious members of the budget committee and an outrageous disservice to taxpayers. Very simply, your elected officials do not have enough time to fully digest and understand a budget of this scope.  Last year the full budget was presented to the budget committee on Nov. 4 and even that was too late given the small number of meetings the budget committee schedules.

I believe these delays are ploys to hobble the budget committee whose ineffectiveness is guaranteed by late information.  This year, late information serves the administration’s purposes even more than usual.  Arthur Green, Cathy Gorman and I will be hosting a Town Hall meeting on Dec. 7 about the proposed budget.  The less information we have about the budget, the less we can share with taxpayers and families. What is needed and should have been provided long before now are the full expenditures and the full revenues for the proposed budget. The revenues are important in order to understand the future tax impact which is never a subject of budget committee deliberations.

If you happen to watch the budget committee meetings on TV, you might think the committee is working, but what they have discussed to date is extremely fragmentary and decontextualized departmental budgets without salary information. This is a good start but it is only a start. Departmental budgets are a small fraction of the overall budget.

Especially disturbing is the administration’s failure to provide full financials for the 2013-2014 year that ended June 30, 2014 – more than FOUR months ago!  Information about the last completed fiscal year is needed to analyze the proposed budget in light of previous history. Without this information, the last year we have is 2012/2013 which is three full years from the budget being worked on now.

As a result, Arthur Green, Budget Committee member from Sandown, has been forced to make repeated Right to Know demands of the district concerning budgetary information,  Once this information is provided, we will have to pay for it at 50 cents a page out of our own pocket.  Unfortunately, we are getting used to paying for public information we need to do our job. Below are Mr. Green’s time sensitive emails asking for information.  Not one of these emails has been answered or even acknowledged to date.

NOVEMBER 2, 2014

Dr. Metzler,
This query is intended for Mr. Stokinger, and I have .cc’d him for everyone’s convenience.
At the last budget committee meeting, we briefly discussed the posting of financials.  I see that the September report has been posted, and thanks for that.
We also discussed the final report for the 2013/14 year end, with complete revenues and accurate encumberances.  I do not see that report posted, my apologies if I have not found the correct folder.
Not mentioned at the meeting, I would also like to request the comparable August and September monthly reports for 2013… so far only July is posted.
Finally, since the towns are now reviewing the tax figures for the November tax bills, I would like to request the tax allocation calculation (3 pages) as would appear in the 2014 annual report, similar to what was shared with Budcom last fall.
Thanks very much for your attention to this request.
Regards,
Arthur Green
___________________
NOVEMBER 9, 2014
Dr. Metzler
Please consider this a formal Right to Know request under NH law for the following documents:
Tax allocation details for 2014/15, covering the details typically provided in the Tax Assessment section (3 pages) of the district’s annual report:
  • Proration factors based upon equalized valuation
  • Proration factors based upon ADM
  • Apportionment of appropriations
  • Summary of town-by town Operating Assessment, Capital Assessment, Education Grant, Impact Fees, and Total Assessment Required from tax sources
I am extremely disappointed that I am obliged to resume Right to Know requests for information that I need to execute my duties on Budget Committee.
My attached request, as well as several other information requests over the past few weeks, have not even been acknowledged, although in some cases they have been actioned:
  • The monthly and year-end financials requested in the attached note were posted to the district web site on Nov. 6.
  • Mr. Stokinger responded to a question by Mrs. Green at the Nov 6 School Board meeting, acknowledging that the district’s budget analysis of free full-time Kindergarten should not have included additional adequacy aid of $234,000.  The administration did not acknowledge (or reply to) my note of Nov 2 pointing out that the adequacy aid formula for Kindergarten is capped at half day participation.  This materially changes the budgetary impact of offering free full-time kindergarten.
  • On October 26 I asked for clarification on whether the A12 staffing filings do or do not include vacant positions.  I also asked for information on district-aligned positions which are not included on the school-by-school staffing reports.  No response, no acknowledgement.
  • On October 26 I responded to a note from Mr. Stokinger, in which he provided some public web links about some of the special ed providers used for out-of-district placements.  Mr. Stokinger indicated in this note that he believed it responded to my request at budget committee for itemized information about those placements.  No response, no acknowledgement.
  • On October 22, I asked about the source and methodology of the enrollment forecast for 2015/16, since the district is forecasting enrollment substantially higher than the NESDEC forecast.  No response, no acknowledgement.
Some of these latter items may not be subject to Right to Know, as I am not in a position to demand an existing public document.  However, all are material to our current activity in defining a fiscally responsible budget to support a quality education.
Please comment on how I can expect these and similar requests to be dealt with.
Regards,
Arthur Green                                        
NOVEMBER 15, 2014
Dr. Metzler,
Please consider this a formal Right to Know request under NH law for the following documents:
  1. Year-end expenditures and revenues for the 2013/14 year, documenting the budgeted and actual expenditures for all items which are covered on the 2014 Annual Report, including (but not limited to) the following items not included on previously-provided financial reports:
    • Transfer from unassigned fund balance
    • Fund transfers: Food Service Fund – 5221
    • Fund transfers: Federal Projects – 5222
    • Fund transfers: Performing Arts Ctr Programs – 5223
    • Grand total Expenditures
    • Grand total Revenues
  2. A complete list of encumbrances as of June 30, itemized by Function code/object code
I would note that this information had been promised during the Oct. 23 budget committee meeting, and had ostensibly been fulfilled with files posted by the district on the budget committee sharepoint on Nov. 6.  I noticed that the posted file showed incomplete expenditures, and brought it to Mr. Stokinger’s attention at the Nov. 13 budget committee meeting, at which Mr. Stokinger exhibited surprise that I would have expected the financial reports to show the complete year-end revenue and expenditure position.
As a budget committee member, I consider it outrageous that we are expected to deliberate the 2015/16 budget without having complete facts of the 2013/14 year which ended over four months ago.  I also consider it an affront to the taxpayers who expect this work to be dealt with seriously.
Arthur Green
————————————–
UPDATE 11/22/14:  Arthur picked up the first Right to Know demand (RTK) on Oct. 19th and paid $20 for 40 pages only one of which was needed to fulfill the demand. He picked up the other RTK demand on Oct 21, paid $7 and found it non-compliant in that it did not include full expenditures and full revenue as requested. The full draft budget for 2015-2016 has been released.
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9 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

9 responses to “Urgent Right to Know Requests Made – UPDATED

  1. “…Mr. Stokinger exhibited surprise that I would have expected the financial reports to show the complete year-end revenue and expenditure position.”

    Surprise. Your fiscal year ended in June and now it is November.

    Surprise: you’re fired.

    If only.

  2. Jorge Mesa-Tejada

    The particular requests highlighted here are not the issue: it is the totality of the Timberlane administrators’ refusal to provide the Timberlane Regional Budget Committee with the necessary, existing data that the BudCom needs to prepare the budget, in direct violation of RSA32:17 and 32:16,II.

    RSA32:16, Duties and Authority of the Budget Committee, states in par. II: “To confer with the governing body or bodies and with other officers, department heads and other officials, relative to estimated costs, revenues anticipated, and services performed to the extent deemed necessary by the budget committee. It shall be the duty of all such officers and other persons to furnish such pertinent information to the budget committee.”

    RSA32:17, Duties of Governing Body and Other Officials, states:. “The governing bodies of municipalities adopting this subdivision, or of districts which are wholly within towns adopting this subdivision, shall review the statements submitted to them under RSA 32:4 and shall submit their own recommendations to the budget committee, together with all information necessary for the preparation of the annual budget, including each purpose for which an appropriation is sought and each item of anticipated revenue, at such time as the budget committee shall fix.”

    Notice the last phrase: “…at such a time as the [Budget] committee shall fix.”

    It doesn’t say “when the school district’s administration wants.”

    With such clear, unequivocal mandates in the statutes, why does the Timberlane administration refuse to provide legally mandated information and, worse yet, force the elected BudCom members to resort to Right-to-Know Requests and pay the Metzler’s tax in order to get what is lawfully theirs?

    Having been born in a country where dictators and despots were commonplace, I’m very familiar with the ploy. Their biggest weapon against the citizens was not the army or the police but ignorance: they controlled all information which, in turn, begat fear and intimidation.

    While Dr. Metzler’s administration may not intimidate BudCom members with arrests–although a precedent has been set in TRSB –it can make the task of the BudCom unnecessarily burdensome by constantly delaying the release of information until such a time that the BudCom doesn’t have enough time to perform its duties before budgets come up for approval.

    Maybe that’s the way that it was in Quincy but it is not the New Hampshire way.

    The sad part is that the information that Arthur Green is requesting was available July 1st, 2014 and has been audited.

    Dr. Metzler should immediately release and and provide the information that the Timberlane BudCom needs to perform its duties free of any RTK taxes.

  3. http://doj.nh.gov/criminal/index.htm

    Public Integrity and Economic Crime Unit

    The investigators and prosecutors of the Public Integrity and Economic Crime Unit prosecute complex theft cases and criminal wrongdoing by public officials. The theft cases typically involve the theft of more than $100,000 or span multiple counties. The unit also prosecutes cases of crimes committed by state, county, and local government officials, including law enforcement officers. The cases involve a variety of criminal conduct, including misuse of one’s official position, sexual assault by a law enforcement officer, and theft of taxpayer funds. Both the public integrity and economic crime cases involve extensive investigations, including the preparation of search warrants, and the review of financial documents such as bank records and town ledgers. The investigators interview numerous witnesses, and the attorneys present a large amount of documentary and testimonial evidence to grand juries across the state.

    Investigations and Financial Analysis

    Department of Justice Investigators and Financial Analysts, and police officers provide specialized services that include investigations of reported criminal activity; criminal consumer, environmental, charitable and election law violations; public corruption and integrity cases involving criminal activity by public servants as defined in RSA 640:2, II(a); drug trafficking and drug asset forfeiture; theft cases exceeding $100,000 or cases that cross county lines; Medicaid fraud and patient abuse violations; and other investigative functions specifically assigned to the Unit.

    Investigative staff may be contacted at:

    Criminal Justice Bureau
    Office of the Attorney General
    33 Capitol Street
    Concord, NH 03301
    Telephone: (603) 271-3658
    E-mail: investinfo@doj.nh.gov

  4. Rob Collins

    Jorge, one problem with what you have written. The Administration HAS provided all the budget committee has requested. Mr. Green has asked for far more than the committee wants. His attempts to access this information through the budget committee failed. Given that, his only path to the information is through right to know requests. The Administration has done nothing wrong.

    • This is priceless. If the majority of the committee wants to sleep, then every wakeful person has to take sleeping pills.

      • Rob Collins

        …or, as is the case with Timberlane, if one person wants more information (and when I say more I mean a significant amount more) than what the committee feels is needed or necessary then the committee can say no.

        The last request for information by Arthur was turned away by the committee simply because he wouldn’t make a motion to request it. You can blame Arthur for that, you can blame the committee for voting down a motion but blaming the administration for not providing information the committee doesn’t want? That doesn’t make any sense to me and it certainly isn’t grounds to start throwing around RSA.

    • Jorge Mesa-Tejada

      Rob,

      So what’s the problem if Mr. Green asks for supplementary information that the BudCom did not request? It is his right–and duty–to be fully informed. The BudCom should be grateful that a member is willing to dig deeper to bring additional information that will help the BudCom in its deliberations/decisions for the benefit of the taxpayers.

      I also disagree with your claim that the administration did nothing wrong and that the only path to obtain information is through an RTK request. You forgot to mention “for a fee.”

      In the 48 years that I’ve been in and out of public life, no public official has ever refused to provide any documents/information that I requested–whether from the committee as a whole or as individual board member or private citizen–willingly, promptly and FREE OF CHARGE, especially the SAU, under the 4 superintendents and 2 business administrators I’ve dealt with.

      What I cannot believe is the impregnable wall that has been erected at the SAU since Dr. Metzler was hired 18 months ago.

      It is NOT his data. It belongs to the public.

      Dr. Meztler’s arrogance knows no bounds. There is absolutely no rationale to justify charging an elected official for public information related to his office. Maybe he thinks he still is a high school principal and has to keep the uppity seniors in line?

      It is clear to those watching that Dr. Metzler is not suited to his job because he is obsessed with control and detests being questioned or challenged.

      Too bad. He’d better get used to it: it goes with the job in NH.

      • Rob Collins

        Jorge,

        It is his right, no argument there.

        You said, “The BudCom should be grateful that a member is willing to dig deeper to bring additional information that will help the BudCom in its deliberations/decisions for the benefit of the taxpayers.” Two problems with this statement.

        1. The word help. Mr. Green is not helping the deliberation/decisions of the bud com.

        2. No mention of the students and their benefit. It’s not all about the taxpayers.

        It is your opinion this information should be provided for free, I disagree. Someone has to pay for it. The time involved, the paper it’s printed on, etc… Why should the taxpayer foot that bill? $29,000 in overtime paid last year at the SAU, a good portion of that dedicated to requests for information.

        Impregnable wall? The Greens have received everything they have asked for that was available, as the law requires. Not sure what you are talking about there.

        My guess is in your 48 years in and out of public life you’ve never seen anything like the breadth and scope of all the requests the Greens have submitted over the last two years and none of it has helped the deliberations and decisions of the bud com.

        Also, given your 48 years you must also understand that individual elected officials on the SAU Board, the School Board and the Bud Com have no authority. The authority is held by the board and/or committee, NOT the individual.

        Dr. Metzler is very well suited for his job. You obviously don’t know him well.

  5. Jorge Mesa-Tejada

    Rob,

    I could write a book to answer you. But I’ll try to keep it brief…

    1. “Mr. Green is not helping the deliberation/decisions of the bud com.” Because Arthur Green is getting the same treatment that the TRSB is giving to Donna Green: they ignore him. The old adage “you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink” applies in this case. The BudCom will not benefit unless it is willing to listen and understand. That’s not Arthur Green’s fault.

    2. “No mention of the students and their benefit.” This is another version of the old teachers’ union battle cry: “for the children!” Schools are service corporations that provide an intangible benefit: education. The majority of the budget is dedicated to staff’s salaries/benefits/retirement, maintenance of plant, and transportation. BOTTOM LINE: that’s what taxpayers see and evaluate. Money does not guarantee success or quality.

    3. “It is your opinion this information should be provided for free…” Yes, to any elected official. That’s the way it was until Dr. Metzler instituted his RTK tax to discourage taxpayers from nosing around the school establishment and make them pay a price, if they do.

    4. “$29,000 in overtime paid last year at the SAU, a good portion of that dedicated to requests for information. ” PROVE IT! That’s not what was said at the October SAU meeting when you guys illegally proposed and added another employee. I say “illegally” because the SAU board–or any school board–cannot nominate an employee, as Peter Bealo did. Only the Superintendent can make nominations. The Board can only approve or disapprove his nominations [ED302.01 (h)].

    5. “My guess is in your 48 years in and out of public life you’ve never seen anything like the breadth and scope of all the requests the Greens have submitted over the last two years…” Yes, I have. The Hampstead School Boards I served were very punctilious then and made sure that full justification/documentation was available before any decision was made. We just didn’t take the word of the Superintendent or Business Administrator.

    6. “…individual elected officials on the SAU Board, the School Board and the Bud Com have no authority. The authority is held by the board and/or committee, NOT the individual.” Absolutely! Nevertheless, this does not prevent any member from digging and getting more information between meetings in his own time for his own edification and to provide broader scope and visibility to his committee. My experience has been that the majority of members serve for the title, barely show up at meetings and limit their work to what they can do during the meetings. A few dig in and carry the load. In the end, it is the hard workers who save the day while the committee takes the glory.

    7. “Dr. Metzler is very well suited for his job. You obviously don’t know him well.” On the contrary, I worked with individuals very much like Dr. Metzler. They were a flash in the pan and we had to mop up after them when they were gone. Further, I’ve seen how he talks to his superiors, school board members, as if they were 2nd graders, forgetting that he’s a public employee and a subordinate. I have a prediction: when Dr. Metzler gets his National Superintendency Certificate next year and at least two years superintendent experience beyond his high school principalship, he’ll be gone.

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