Friday, January 16, 2015

AFSCME And The Janesville School Board

When Scott Walker dropped his bomb - Act 10 - on the unsuspecting people of Wisconsin, many
people figured that the public sector unions, especially AFSCME, were busted and done for.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Oh, there is no denying that Act 10, which is nothing more than the misnamed "Right to Work" legislation for public sector workers, had hurt the unions. But the unions are using this opportunity to learn how to fight smarter and harder.  But AFSCME is a long way from being busted.

There are a few people in Janesville that can vouch to this, however unwillingly.

The Janesville School Board has nine members, five of which are conservative and supporters of the corporate agenda for education in our state.  The board was poised to implement a number of draconian acts on the employees of the school district - both the teachers and the support staff.

As part of his duties, Dennis Hughes, staff representative with AFSCME District Council 40, was making routine inquiries into signature counts for the spring elections. When he learned that two candidates for the Janesville School  Board - David DiStefano and Diane Eyers - had only two or three signatures over the minimum, he went to follow up to make sure that the the nomination papers were legally sufficient.

What happened next quickly escalated into a bizarre and troubling series of events.  With his expressed permission, I am repeating Hughes' own words to describe what happened when he went to examine the nomination papers:
Dennis Hughes
On Friday, January 8, I arrived at the Janesville Education Services Center to examine
signatures for the April 7th School Board election. The Asst. School Board Clerk, Debra Blazer, was not available on Wednesday, January 6, or Thursday, January 7, so I only had one day to examine signatures and file a complaint before the Friday deadline.

Debra Blazer immediately gave me all candidates’ nomination papers, a map of the district, and space to examine signatures in the School Board conference room. I immediately noticed that candidate Diane Eyers did not have both a signature and printed name for her electors. I notified Debra Blazer and she stated that she needed to tell Dr. Karen Schulte, the Superintendent of the School District of Janesville.

I moved on to examine David DiStefano’s signatures. After examining his signatures for nearly two hours, I told Debra Blazer that DiStefano had an incorrect heading on all but one of his nomination papers. In the heading’s office, district, and jurisdiction boxes; DiStefano had written “School Board”, checked the box for “Seat” and left the rest of the district box blank, and wrote only “Janesville” in the jurisdiction box. By not identifying the “School District of Janesville,” DiStefano created a likelihood of confusion for those that signed his sheets because there are two different school districts in Janesville.

After notifying her of the problem, Debra Blazer left to speak with Dr. Schulte. She came back into the School Board conference room fifteen minutes later and I told her there was another problem because both Eyers and DiStefano had failed to include page numbers, which were necessary for my challenge. Rather than add the numbers, she asked to take the papers and said she would need extra time because she was eating lunch. Thinking nothing of it, I said it was not a problem.

Twenty minutes later, Debra Blazer entered the School Board conference room and presented me with DiStefano’s nomination papers. She pointed to the district field in the header and said, “isn’t this number enough to identify the district?” After examining the forms for nearly two hours, I can say with certainty that there were no numbers previously written in the district field, yet the forms now included the number “2695,” which is the District’s official district number. I immediately asked who wrote that number and Debra Blazer did not answer. I followed her back to her office, and she finally admitted that she had witnessed DiStefano fill in the headings of his nomination papers before submitting his collected signatures. Though she did not resolve the situation of fraudulently falsifying the nomination papers, I was satisfied because the information she provided was enough to remove the candidate from the ballot. I immediately asked her to sign an affidavit stating what she witnessed and she agreed to do so.

I left Debra Blazer’s office to return to the School Board conference room to finish my complaints and, fifteen minutes later, Dr. Karen Schulte entered the conference room followed by Dr. Steve Sperry, the Human Resources Director. Dr. Schulte asked what I was doing there and why I was wasting the time of “her clerk.” I said I would have been there Wednesday or Thursday, but the election clerk was unavailable, so I was forced to monopolize her time due to the election time constraints. She asked what I needed. I stated I only needed to print out, sign, and notarize my complaints. She asked what else I needed and I stated that Debra Blazer had agreed to sign an affidavit explaining the improper conduct she witnessed when DiStefano was submitting his nomination papers. Dr. Schulte stated that Debra Blazer would not be signing the affidavit until Dr. Schulte was able to speak to legal counsel. I stated that it was none of the District’s business, that there were no legal issues, and that the deadline was quickly approaching.

Dr. Schulte forced me to leave the conference room and would not let me get my complaints notarized by Debra Blazer. Therefore, I left the Education Services Center to print my documents. For the DiStefano complaint, I printed a version that stated Debra Blazer’s affidavit was enclosed and another version explaining that Dr. Schulte had blocked Debra Blazer from signing an affidavit. I went back to the Education Services Center and asked Dr. Schulte which version I should have notarized to give her one more chance to allow Debra Blazer to testify to what she witnessed. She did not change her mind. At the time, Dr. Schulte was in a meeting with Debra Blazer.

I left to get the documents notarized and returned to the Education Services Center an hour later, around 4pm. I went to Debra Blazer’s office to drop off my complaints and she was not there. I went to the front desk and the receptionist went directly to Dr. Schulte’s office. Dr. Schulte walked out of the office and asked to take the complaints. I refused to give them to her and requested to deliver them to Debra Blazer. Dr. Schulte escorted me to her office, where she was still meeting with Blazer, and I handed her the complaints. Debra Blazer looked to be in extreme distress. Dr. Schulte then stated that Debra Blazer had decided on her own not to sign the affidavit and I stated that a reasonable person would find that someone coerced her because she agreed to sign the affidavit and then decided not to do so ten minutes later after speaking to her boss. Especially considering the news was delivered by her boss. Debra Blazer never told me herself that she would not sign the documents.
Unfortunately, events became more bizarre after this.

The following Tuesday, Hughes went back to follow up on his complaints.

Dr. Karen Schulte
School district Clerk Karl Dommershausen and assistant board clerk Debra Blazer determined that Hughes' complaint was invalid since he did not live in the school district. This finding is in error, since state law says that the papers in any race can be challenged by an elector. The elector can live anywhere in Wisconsin. They mistakenly believed that it had to be an elector from that district.

Despite their incorrect finding that Hughes' complaint was invalid, they also determined that the nomination papers for DiStefano and Eyers were legally insufficient and their names were struck from the ballot. Both candidates have the right to appeal this decision to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). Both candidates also have the right to run as write in candidates.

The complete findings and evidence can be seen here.

But as I said, it gets even more bizarre.

While Hughes was waiting for the results of  his complaints, he was in the lobby area, reading a book.  Apparently, someone reading in the school district's main office was enough to put Dr. Schulte in a panic. She called the police and had not only removed from the building but had him temporarily banned from the building.  The ban has since been lifted.

Complaints have been filed with GAB regarding Dr. Schulte's interference with the election process and the concern that some of the nomination papers have been falsified.

As mentioned above, the Janesville School Board had a 5-4 majority of conservative members.  Because AFSCME provided due and diligent service to make sure things were legal, there is a chance for the majority to be pro-education, helping to protect all the workers in the school district, whether they are members of AFSCME or not.

Is it any wonder why that the dark money special interests are pouring money into trying to destroy unions?  Without the unions, they would be able to run rampant in their attacks on workers and trying to profiteer off of public services, such as education.



  2. No wonder Vos wants to gut the GAB. Shame on them for standing up for correct election procedures!

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  4. intense story - sounds like some people are really into power - good job Dennis Hughes