Wednesday, October 31, 2007

District needs a "Four-Way Test" of their own.

There is a civic-minded organization, known internationally, that developed a test to determine if their professional and personal conduct was acceptable. It was, and continues to be called, The Four-Way Test (of the things we think, say or do). What would happen if this Four-Way Test was applied to the real estate transaction involving Michael Raskin and the Edmonds School District? Let's see.

1. Is it the TRUTH?
We have already established that the District lied when they said stories of contamination are just rumors. The District's past decisions refute their current statements. Why buy insurance for contamination if the site is not contaminated? Why hire an environmental consultant to monitor for contamination if the site is not contaminated? Why reject the site twice before only to adjust your standards under pressure from a desperate seller and a revenue-driven City of Lynnwood?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
The transaction was certainly not fair to taxpayers, District employees and students. The taxpayers will have to pay for remediating contamination and repairing unanticipated settling. District employees will have to navigate around sinkholes, potholes and risk potential exposure to harmful elements. District students will have to do without whatever these funds could have been used to purchase, like better classrooms, better covered play shelters, better parking lots and better playfields. But if you see the District as its administrators see it - as an extension of their own wallets - the transaction was more than fair to the seller. A hefty scoop of fairness has likely been served to the buyer's agents behind closed doors. Why else would they agree to the terms?

No doubt the buyer and seller are much better friends now. Of course, it is probably the sort of friendship where the seller makes the buyer the butt of every joke. The sort of friendship where the buyer always gets stuck with the bar tab. The sort of friendship that has the buyer loaning his car to the seller only to see it returned with a few more dents and dings. I wouldn't call it a friendship.

4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
The answer to this one is blatantly obvious. No one comes out of this transaction smelling like roses, aside from the seller and his investors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wal-Mart products at Nordstrom prices.

Nothing drives the price of commodities higher than a buyer feeling desperate. Not unlike walking through Alderwood Mall with a wad of dollars in your pocket and clearance signs hanging in every window. Sadly, when your pocket holds millions in public money, some still give in to personal desires to part with cash. Most of us know that "clearance" is a just a subtle price shift in the direction of "reasonable", but why in the world are we so quick to believe the recipient of our money when they tell us everything is discounted?

I am frequently asked if the District could have paid for the Old Cedar Valley (Former Scriber Lake) site twice. Sure, some may laugh at the suggestion but I would never exclude the current District administration from making such a mistake. Here is the argument - in a nutshell.

The property sold to the District by MJR Development, LLC (Michael Raskin), does have a value. Without debating what that value might have been at the time of sale, let's explore an inflationary concept. How valuable would Raskin's site be without any real street frontage? Sure, it wouldn't normally be a site offering retail opportunities or depend upon customers driving by, but the site was buried behind the District's property with a piddly point of entrance off the end of 204th. Not a major arterial by any means. Would combining the Raskin site with the District's justify a higher price? One could see things that way, but why should Raskin get a windfall because his neighbor sought to expand? If anyone else bought the site, they would have paid a more realistic price for a lack of frontage. If there was an inflationary effect, why wouldn't the District sell their frontage to Raskin, reaping the benefits while continuing the search for uncontaminated land?

The District really should have sold their frontage to Raskin, using his appraiser's valuation of course, and looked for a better location. Better soil conditions, better soil quality and, as will be discussed in future entries, better traffic conditions for their bus fleet.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The "Highest & Best Use" approach

Not to suggest that I retrieve all of my best information from Wikipedia, but in this case it does offer a shotgun blast of the concept of highest and best use. Click here for their website.

The reason behind a concept like Highest and Best Use is to prevent disorganized and erratic growth. If a city defines an area to become its future downtown core, they attach the necessary zoning that prevents junkyards from moving next to City Hall. The highest and best use for the property next to City Hall may be something akin to a strip mall or office complex - not a junkyard. So, when an appraiser looks at the five acre parcel next to a City Hall, they determine valuation based upon the optimal use of that parcel, like a strip mall or office complex. Any developer interested in building a junkyard must look elsewhere because the highest and best use would not include his business. The cost per square foot would remove him from the equation - as it should be.

Now imagine the situation at the Maintenance and Transportation site. The highest and best use for that piece of land does not include the storage of buses or stockpiling of dirt, wood or building materials. The City of Lynnwood has been trying for years to successfully rezone the site to drum up additional sales tax revenues and force the District to a new home. If the site were vacant today, the District wouldn't be considering its purchase because it would be too expensive. What is the difference with their new site?

If the District's appraiser went about determining a value for the New Administration site knowing what was to be constructed and determined that it was consistent with zoning, why would anyone fault the valuation? If the seller's appraiser claims that it is possible to build a thirty story high rise and generate untold billions in revenue, then the District should have kept looking for a new home. The Raskin site would not have been a reasonable fit given their programming needs.

To put this much more simply, the District was in the market for an automobile. The District only needs to drive between points without a lot of fanfare while remaining focused on their mission statement - educating our children. Why then would they purchase (by the seller's appraisal's own determination) an $85,000 Porsche when a $30,000 Nissan would be as effective? Both parties hired mechanics. The District's mechanic inspected the car and determined that it looks and performs like all of the other $30,000 Nissans in town. The owner of the car called in his brother-in-law, who sold cars part time, to offer an opinion as well. Of course, his figure was considerably higher. A figure that would normally cover the cost of an exotic German import.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

District employee and member of the Board.

As I sip what remains of my frothy latte, I cannot help but ponder the meaning of the District's questionable legal advice. Surely the English language couldn't be so difficult to comprehend for people that make a living in education. When Board policies are adopted that specifically prohibit spouses of employees from serving on the Board, how can educated people hire lawyers (at considerable cost) to redefine the Board's intent and the efficacy of our native tongue?

If there is no conflict with a Board member voting to rebuild a $100,000,000.00 high school for his wife, why can't District employees run for a seat on the Board? The lawyers will have you believe that as long as you were an employee BEFORE obtaining your seat on the Board - there shouldn't be a problem.

Imagine the fun you could have with your boss. Imagine the new policies you could put in place. Every workroom could have an espresso machine. Every meeting could be catered (again). Every Friday could end with happy hour in the Board Room. Every conceivable bell and whistle could be put in place and you still wouldn't come close to overtaking the foolhearty choices made by the current regime.

A suggestion to Bruce Williams' replacement and Ann McMurray: Don't get comfortable. I anticipate a lengthy list of "qualified" candidates will be filing with Snohomish County in 2009 - with a resounding endorsement from the District's legal team.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shoot first. Ask (silly) questions later.

Friday was a monumental day in District administration and the implementation of management strategies. I have received word that the hard drive I had used for a few years has been sent off to the forensic team (at considerable cost, no doubt) for a complete data dump and evaluation.

Since the District is unable to convincingly demonstrate a legitimate reason for constructively terminating me, they have resorted to digging through a hard drive in an attempt to justify an administrative move already made. The ubiquitous "Shoot first. Ask questions later" mantra. Hilarious. In this case, they are hopeful the silly questions will yield something to bolster their preposterous assertions.

What the District is actually doing is defining a threshold - across which no other District employee can pass. Once they establish a standard, anyone and everyone will be picked off at will. The District may claim that I wrote one too many emails to my friends and family. How many is too many? They may claim that ten visits to Criag's List in a year may be too many. How many is too many? They may claim that 30 minutes a year on the Herald's website is too long. How many minutes constitutes "too long"? I would be very interested to know.

Once this new standard is defined, we can then comfortably apply it to everyone. Any member of the public could make a public records request for this sort of information and then demand equitable treatment. So, for those of you that remain on the District's payroll - be advised. Anyone tagged by the District for termination will be shot on sight. They can start looking afterwards for a reason.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"They pour a whole lot of concrete here...for boondoggles and white elephants."

Who buys property in a seller's market - especially this one? Real estate is cyclical. The only reason for the District to purchase property is if they have no alternative.

But the District had alternatives. They could have waited for a down turn in the market, which has arrived, or they could have sold the Cedar Valley property to Raskin and taken advantage of inflated prices. He made an outrageous profit, why couldn't the District? After all, the District owned the street frontage.

Scriber Lake High could have been moved to Old Melody Hill. It is leased, but just how much money is the District making from their on-going investment the building's systems?

And what about the old administration site on Alderwood Mall Parkway? It’s been on the market for years and there still isn’t a ground-lease. Why not concentrate on marketing that parcel? Or build a high rise with retail on the bottom floor and District offices on the upper floors? The offices could be leased later when a more suitable property is found.

Why not wait until the Lynnwood High School property is ground-leased and real money starts coming in?

The District seems to have taken the same stance of many government agencies. Spend now and let future tax payers live with the consequences.

Claire Olsovsky, MA (Biology), MS (Environmental and Occupational Health)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reality is what's left when you stop believing.

The following is another snippet from the District's legal counsel. The entire letter will appear on the Public Records Repository in the near future.

The District believes that during the time you were employed with the Edmonds School District you violated the District's Internet Use Agreement by improperly using the District's resources to conduct personal business [Do you mean a real estate business, personal tasks and activities, or perhaps the infrequent email messages to friends and family?]. The District has recovered more than 6,000 personal documents [or files?] from the computer you used while employed [really?], and is working on obtaining countless more documents that were intentionally encrypted [You have a vivid imagination, Duncan] and then deleted from your [you mean the District's] hard drive shortly before your [yet-to-be-proven] resignation. The District is investigating [at considerable expense, no doubt] whether you destroyed public records necessary to conduct District business [competent employees are necessary to conduct District business], and whether you were using confidential or proprietary District information to benefit your personal business [Dear Mom, Student enrollment is falling]. Such conduct would have resulted in immediate termination from employment.

I find this paragraph to be especially amusing. Notice the use of language. The District "believes" is supposed to make the statement more intimidating. Well, the District also "believes" their new administration site is not contaminated. The District "believes" the Nobles are not violating District policy. The District "believes" Powerful Partners should not have to pay for their use of District resources. The District "believes" many things that everyone else has a hard time accepting.

This legal drivel is not an effective use of District resources. Suggesting that encryption of documents took place shows how seriously incapable District staff must be at retrieving documents. I suspect that when the District eliminated my account nearly a week before my last day, they inadvertently complicated their future detective work. Perhaps what the District stumbled upon was stray files related to all of the domain space I was providing at no charge - back when had another purpose.

The "such conduct would have resulted in immediate termination from employment" is also entertaining fiction. The District believes that you may have downloaded plans to build a dirty bomb. The District believes that you may have been planning to detonate this dirty bomb. The District believes that your actions would have harmed many people and would have constituted an illegal act and therefore would have resulted in immediate termination from employment. What the District chooses to believe says more about their tenuous grip on hope and less about the reality of their current circumstance.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Observations and Speculations, by Claire Olsovsky

Or My Mental Musings While Sitting in Lynnwood Traffic.

Development of a brownfield is not an impossible undertaking; it’s just a costly one. I have been contemplating what economic incentives would compel the current District leadership into purchasing a brownfield, especially since two previous Superintendents and School Boards considered the exact same property in 1991 and in 1998 and rejected the proposal. What has changed?

As I write, the District moves forward with its “early site grading package.” But does that include the installation of sewer line I observed? I have never heard of laying pipe referred to being part of site grading. Maybe it falls under the “other site preparation” activities Marla alluded to in her email.

But what if the District and the City of Lynnwood entered into an Interlocal Agreement to install the sewer? Not unheard of, and not a bad deal. The City’s budget is impacted, not the District’s, and they can recoup the costs from taxing tenants on the District’s ground-leased properties. But does the cost of the sewer line mitigate the increased costs of the purchase price of the property and its subsequent pricey development? Probably not. In the end, City of Lynnwood dollars are still tax dollars, so overall there are no savings for the public.

There is still the issue of the fill on the property. Even if it is within regulatory levels for chemical contamination, building on it will incur added costs. Pin piles can be driven into the ground to support the foundation of the building, but what about the parking lot? Digging out all the debris, testing each load to ensure proper disposal, then backfilling with substantial material to support the load of a 100+ buses rated over 10,000 pounds each is expensive. Maybe that is part of the “other site preparation” activities occurring right now. There is an awful lot of excavated soils stockpiled on the property and staged backfill material.

The District “protected” itself by purchasing additional insurance to pay to mitigate any soil contamination found on the site during construction. But what are their premiums over the next three years and what are the terms of the policy? No insurer would knowingly go into a contract with known contaminated land without a loop hole. After all, they must make money. For most pollution contracts they’ll pay out for one event. Will the insurance company only respond to one claim and restrict it to a specific encounter on the site?

The District has a new funding strategy. It plans to ground-lease the Maintenance and Transportation site along with LHS to fund the remaining phases of the New Administration site. But how many successful ground leases have they executed at this time? None. Not even their most valuable property right next to the mall.

Perhaps prospective tenants realize the ground water problem at LHS is not going to go away. Even if they build on the wooded area, they may not be able to optimally use the site. It is a given that an exceptional drainage system is needed to manage the ground and surface waters where the current buildings sit.

Then there is the cost for the clean up of the Transportation Site so they can vacate and ground-lease it. After all, the whole purpose of the new property is to consolidate District operations and move Transportation and Maintenance to the New Administration site. Who knows what it will cost and how many years it will take to get this old property ready for lease? Just when will all the rent money come rolling in to pay for the rest of the New Administration Site?

None of these observations and speculations bolsters the argument that the purchase of the New Administration site is a wise one. It makes me wonder about the capability of the current Board. Are they so different from the previous leadership? They seem just as bright and articulate as their predecessors.

I think the change may be a cavalier attitude in spending tax money. One has to ask, if the Board members and Marla were going to buy a property for their own business, would they have purchased the property?

I do not think so. I wouldn’t. Would you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When all else fails... Get it in writing.

When I bought my first house, I read the mortgage documents rather closely. I was fully aware of what I was getting into and have taken great comfort in knowing that my loan was committed to writing. I knew that if there was ever an issue to be debated, everyone would look closely at what was written down.

What would have happened if my mortgage broker told me that the loan documents were just suggestions and didn't actually mean anything? Of course, such a statement may have been made in conjunction with the purchase of my first home, but since it was not committed to writing, I would have zero expectation that such a statement would be honored.

One could draw the same conclusion with meetings involving District management. While they hand you a Letter of Direction preparing you to be terminated, they schedule another meeting where they tell you the Letter of Direction doesn't mean anything. What is an employee to do? I was severely cautioned - in writing - that any communication prepared on behalf of the District must be approved by management in advance. Failure to have done so would have resulted in the end of my career.

The current position of the District is that I attended meetings with Marla Miller and Brian Harding where they told me the letter was just constructive guidance and shouldn't be taken literally. Gee, was I supposed to believe them? Afterall, it felt a lot like I was being encouraged to get myself fired. I asked Marla many times to rescind or revise the Letter of Direction - if the original terms were unintended. Was I then supposed to sit in a meeting with her and do something other than smile and nod? How simple does she think District employees are? I mean, other than the ones she may have had a hand in hiring.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Post-Resignation Conduct"

The following is the last portion of a letter from the District's attorney. Of course, they started off on the wrong foot with their continual use of the term "resignation" but I appreciate the attempt at creativity.

Finally, since your resignation, the District believes you have engaged in a number of improper acts, some of which the District may choose to pursue through further investigation or legal action.

First, the District believes you have deceptively accessed District e-mail by assuming the names of other District employees and then sent harassing e-mails to people under the assumed names. [Have I accessed email by using names of District employees or actively hacked into their account? I don't quite understand but would love to find out what you discover.]

Second, the District believes you have sent harassing e-mails to District employees and to their families. [Whoa. I think someone is reaching on this one. Again, I look forward to your discoveries. I think you may be disappointed by what you uncover. More than likely, District staff and parents are reading the blog and seeking to share it with friends and family. I am sorry the District feels harassed by the content on the blog.]

Third, the District believes you have misused King County computer resources by generating harassing e-mails to District employees. [I think you are using the term "harassment" too frequently and perhaps are relying upon the emotional reaction it may evoke. The District would be well-advised to look after the conduct of their current employees and leave out-of-county staff alone. If you want to keep tabs on how the public sector works just watch television.]

Fourth, the District believes you have used confidential District information when taking on property-related "clients" with interests adverse to the District. [I think you might mean my request for a document you continue to claim does not exist. If it does not exist, then how could its contents be confidential. This sounds like an admission that the document you destroyed has a copy somewhere in Edmonds.]

Fifth, the District believes that after you resigned, you obtained certain records from a District consultant without informing him that you had left District employment. [The District should run an ad in the newspaper. Am I forbidden from asking questions? I asked and was provided an answer immediately. I didn't have to wait thirty days or be ignored by a public servant. Maybe the private sector is more efficient. Maybe they should have asked me why I was asking them.]

To my faithful readers and to all of you that have been writing letters of support. I sincerely thank you for your heartfelt communication.

Mark Zandberg

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What about Cedar Valley and Terrace Park?

For the few of you that still believe that Powerful Partners is an exception to an otherwise iron-clad rule about the use of district facilities by the community, I am compelled to make the following request for additional information.

Dear Mr. Fobes,

Please pass along my request to Marla Miller for the following information:

1) Copies of all B-129s related to the payment for use of the Educational Services Center by Powerful Partners.
By B-129, I mean the form that always accompanies the checks that are received by the District. The checks that are never photocopied.

2) Copies of all B-129s related to the payment for use of Cedar Valley Elementary's gym by the City of Lynnwood.
By this request, I seek any and all B-129s associated with the arrangement described in the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) with the City of Lynnwood. This would only include their annual contributions for the use of the expanded gymnasium. Please do not provide blank pages or material that is not related to this request. I seek the specific annual payment to cover the operating expenses outlined in the ILA. I am not asking for the ILA itself. I am also not asking for copies of all utility, maintenance and custodial charges for Cedar Valley Elementary since 2002. Also, please make sure that the copies being provided are legibly duplicated.

3) Copies of all B-129s related to the payment for use of Terrace Park Elementary's gym by the City of Mountlake Terrace.
By this request, I seek any and all B-129s associated with the arrangement described in the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) with the City of Mountlake Terrace. This would only include their annual contributions for the use of the expanded gymnasium. Please do not provide blank pages or material that is not related to this request. I seek the specific annual payment to cover the operating expenses outlined in the ILA. I am not asking for the ILA itself. I am also not asking for copies of all utility, maintenance and custodial charges for Terrace Park Elementary since 2002. Also, please make sure that the copies being provided are legibly duplicated.

Thank you for your continued service to the District.

Mark Zandberg

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"The District does not retain copies of checks paid."

My request to the District was for " copy of the most current, fully executed use agreement between Powerful Partners and the Edmonds School District and copies of checks paid since 2003."

On Saturday, October 20, 2007, I received a non-responsive package from the District. While Duncan Fobes (Attorney for the District) claims that a copy of a fully executed use agreement is contained in the package, it is an agreement that lacks a signature from the District - therefore not a "fully executed" use agreement. They should have covered fully executed agreements in law school.

Also mentioned in the cover letter was something of concern. "Please be advised that the District does not retain copies of checks paid." In more than six years of service to the District, I never once neglected to photocopy a check I received. All checks received from tenants were photocopied and kept on file - at the direction of District management. This statement now makes me think that all of my time making photocopies of checks was time wasted. Additionally, current District staff should cease making copies of checks they receive - lest they violate this newly expressed District policy.

The District was kind enough to include a document that I did not request. Perhaps they thought it strengthens their case. The document is an "Operating Agreement between the Edmonds School District and Powerful Partners and Communities Working Together". On page three of this document it clearly states that:

This Contract is independent of any other contract between the parties and is not intended to relieve Powerful Partners of financial obligations owed to the District for extraordinary labor charges (such as custodial services) and uses of materials, supplies, services and equipment (i.e., copying, printing, telephone) attributable to Powerful Partners. Full payment for those obligations shall be due from Powerful Partners upon submission of an appropriate billing for such by the District.

So, where then might be the evidence for anything resembling rent or payment for services?

The last page of the District "response" to my request includes a summary of reimbursements for goods and services outside of their use of space in the District's administration building. They include food services, printing, transportation, sub reimbursement, and grant reimbursements. Rent is not included on this list.

Since the District no longer keeps copies of checks received, and apparently hasn't done so since 2003, my next request will be for copies of the B-129s that accompany all processed Powerful Partners checks heading to Business Services. This should be a painless request as no such copies exist.

The entire response will join the others on the Public Records Repository.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A stomach full of maggot-laden cheese.

1. A piece of unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth.
2. Unverified information received from another; hearsay. actively seeks to verify facts and we are doing so very quickly. As we verify information, the District lawyers up to reinterpret board policies and offer a legal rendering of the English language. The District is not interested in truth. They seek to maintain control and protect their image. The District's lawyers were hired to promote the District's agenda - to keep everyone uninformed and utterly misguided - at the bargain rate of $300 an hour.

Bruce Williams didn't resign because of a rumor. Use the Navigational Labels and just click the name "Bruce Williams". In a few short minutes, you will see the reason for his departure and it had nothing to do with rumors. has been citing school board policy and proving how a majority of board members are ineligible to serve. This process has nothing to do with rumors.
The rumor: The board follows its own policies.

The new administration site is not as clean as the District would like you to believe. is engaging the issue and the documents support our assertions.
The rumor: The new administration site is not contaminated.

Other District rumors include; Powerful Partners is paying rent, Lower enrollment was unanticipated, Mark Zandberg has been sneaking around the ESC at night, The new administration site is worth $5,800,000.00, State law prevents the District from paying for accumulated vacation days, and District managers were hired through a competitive process.

The District isn't battling rumors - it's spewing them out like a stomach full of maggot-laden cheese.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Marla moonlighting as a DOE regulator.

I received the Provisional Phase I Environmental Assessment and Limited Phase II Assessment for the New Administration Site on October 5. I have reviewed it and have taken the time to do some independent records searches with the Department of Ecology (DOE), send correspondence, and talk with appropriate project officers. This is what I have found:

The New Administration Site is comprised of three parcels A, B and C. Parcels A, B and C total of 9.83 acres and are known to contain fill over 30 feet in depth. Parcel C is where Test Pit 15 was sampled and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found above regulated levels.

DOE databases do not indicate that the contamination on Parcel C had been reported to the department within 90 days of its discovery as required by law. I told the Superintendent and the Board in an email if the report had not been made as required by the WAC, I would report it myself. Ecology was notified and logged in the site on October 16. They will follow up with a formal investigation.

All of the parcels were owned by Michael J Raskin who owns the property directly north of the site, across 204th. This property, known as Center 5000, is listed on the Toxics Voluntary Clean Up List. This indicates Mr. Raskin is well aware of the requirements to report to the DOE. The District is also aware of this requirement since they made their own report in 1993 for the current Transportation Center on Alderwood Mall Parkway.

I did not receive any other documents for the New Administration site even though I asked for “any and all” reports for the property. So I am unable to make any comments on Marla’s email stating TP15 was remediated and that the site has been “monitored” during demolition and grading activities.

Determination whether a site requires “No Further Action” is under the purview of the DOE, not the owner. So Raskin and his consultants, nor Marla, despite her statement otherwise, is capable of making any statement as to the condition of the property since DOE was never notified or had the opportunity to examine any data for the site.

What I find interesting is even if the majority of the contamination on the property turns out to be below regulated levels, the fill is known to be over 30 feet in depth and contain wood. As it decays, voids will be left creating areas of subsidence. I am not a geotechnical expert, but anyone who has cut down a tree that had roots under their driveway knows what happens then.

Based on this report, all I see are increased costs associated with developing the land. I do not understand why the District would take on the added financial burden especially since it already has its own brownfield, the Transportation Center. Furthermore, why would they spend 2.5 million dollars over the original appraisal? If anything, the property should have been discounted instead of marked up in cost.

Do you have any idea what is going on?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This application should not have been shared.

There are some records that just shouldn't be provided to the public, particularly when a public agency has legitimate RCWs to support the protection of such documents.

RCW 42.56.250 exempts from public inspection all applications for public employment, including the names of applicants, resumes, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant, and typically those items would not be provided in response to a public records request.

I wasn't startled to discover Marla's Bachelor of Arts degree in Public School Music and English from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. I was more alarmed by the fact that her application contained just three periods of employment. First, from September 1977 until March 1978 she worked for a Chamber of Commerce in Moorhead, Minnesota. It seems like the sort of job one might take upon exiting college, lasting just seven months.

Marla's second job was with WSIPC, located in the building currently known as Alderwood Early Childhood Center. She started in June 1979 and left in March 1989, apparently due to the birth of twins. Her supervisor was a man named Al Huff, who I have recently come to discover is her husband.

The third and final job on her District application was as the owner/operator of Software Support and Training. She worked in this capacity from November 1990 until she applied for her first district job in 1993.

I am just curious how Jeff Sherwood, or anyone else in Human Resources would have checked references. Marla's application clearly states that her first reference in Moorhead is no longer available for comment, her second professional reference was her husband and her final professional reference would have been herself. Not a lot to go on.

The document will soon be posted in our Public Records Repository.

A nickel's worth of free advice for the District: Please do not provide names of candidates that were not hired by the District. When I requested information about the candidates for Planning and Property Management Specialist, you could have - and should have - redacted the name of the other applicant. I was seeking to review Scott Young's qualifications and did not need his name to do so.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Public Records Repository

I can see why so many blog contributors are reluctant to provide their names and addresses for public records requests. It seems the District is aggressively pursuing any and all people making requests. I am flattered the District thinks so many of the requests are coming from me.

In an effort to help public information flow freely, I am starting a repository of requested documents. This will prevent the duplication of requests, save District staff time and maintain security from disclosing names and addresses.
Now, all requests for information can be made to and we will forward them on, after ensuring that requests are not being duplicated. Also, will cover all of the costs of these requested documents (within reason), convert them to pdf and make them available free-of-charge to visitors to the blog site.

The repository will be located at Just one more way is trying to make the District a better place.

Mark Zandberg

Monday, October 15, 2007

Inter-jurisdictional Collaboration?

The Alderwood Mall generates a lot of sales tax for the City of Lynnwood.

The Edmonds School District does not pay property tax and does not generate a lot of retail business at their Maintenance and Transportation facility.

How important do you think it would be for the City of Lynnwood to ensure that the Edmonds School District left the Alderwood Mall commercial core?

As the local regulator, how aggressive would the City of Lynnwood be to hasten the departure of the District's Maintenance and Transportation facility?

Now, knowing how quickly the City would respond to the District's development applications and how enthusiastically the City would be in helping the District leave the Alderwood Mall area, what sort of administrative obstacles do you think would be thrown in the way?

Wouldn't it seem important to have the City rush the District off to a clean, uncontaminated site? The City has no concern for the cost of cleaning up the new District Support Center - they just want the District somewhere else. District leadership seems to interpret the City's involvement as collaboration and thinks this is what happens on the "high road".

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Having a lawyer say it does not make it true.

[Duncan Fobes]
Pat Shields is not currently, and has not been since September 3, 2002, a Director of Powerful Partners. Further, Pat Shields was not a member of the ESD School Board at the time the District executed its initial agreement with Powerful Partners. The School Board approved an "operating use agreement" with Powerful Partners at their July 9, 2002 meeting. Mr. Shields resigned from Powerful Partners two months later, and was not appointed to the School Board until November of 2002. He took the Oath of Office at the November 19, 2002 School Board meeting.

[Mark Zandberg]
The close affiliation with Powerful Partners is abundantly clear and certainly explains the preferential treatment. However, your manner of dismissal prompted a more comprehensive evaluation of their financial records and I see they have placed a value on their "rented" space and characterize it as a "donation". [Year 2002, Page 17] Can a public agency donate items of material value? I am also rather disappointed by all of the District employees that are up to their eyes in running this program - is this on their dime or the District's. See the last several I990s by clicking here.

[Duncan Fobes]
In the following years, Powerful Partners executed a Facility Use agreement which allowed it to use office space in the District's administration building. As you are aware from your previous position at ESD, and from your management of those Facility Use agreements, the agreements charged Powerful Partners for operating costs, such as utilities, telephones and network use, but did not charge for rent.

[Mark Zandberg]
Notice the crafty use of language; "the agreements charged Powerful Partners" does not mean they ever paid. Powerful Partners was not billed for network use, because there was never a reasonably accurate way of quantifying such a charge. Operating Costs are commonly referred to as "Additional Rent" as characterized in the District's use of Exhibit Y. What was not charged to Powerful Partners was "Base Rent".

The District is still looking for evidence that Powerful Partners paid rent. I will be interested to see if they will go as far as manufacturing evidence to save Mr. Shields from a clear violation of Board Policy. Stay tuned for a legal rendering of plain English.

Fun Factoid: In 2001, the District installed a brand new fence around a private residence near Alderwood Elementary. That resident, Gordon McPherson, did not pay for the construction of the fence and should not be confused with Glenn McPherson, member of Powerful Partners. The investigative team will check this one.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Letter to Rob McKenna, Attorney General

Dear Attorney General McKenna,

There is an utter disregard for the rule of law brewing in the Edmonds School District. Prior to September 11, 2007, a majority of the District's board members were in direct violation of their own policies and ineligible to hold the seats they were occupying. The following is a snapshot of these board members.

1. Bruce Williams relocated from his director district prior to an election that he subsequently won. The District's superintendent rallied to support his presence on the board by citing WASDA guidelines and recommendations but was ultimately unable to prevent Mr. Williams from doing the right thing and resigning. He resigned on September 11th.

2. Gary Noble serves on the board while his wife is an employee at Lynnwood High School. While the Superintendent has cited numerous RCWs describing how this might be permissible, District policy explicitly prevents such a conflict from arising by offering two specific policies, Board Policy 1260 and Board Policy 6810. The board, under Mr. Noble, is relocating and rebuilding Lynnwood High School without the support of demographic trends and student enrollment. While the outcome may be debatable, his conflict of interest is undeniable.

3. Pat Shields serves on the board while his "non-profit" program, "Powerful Partners" receives free rent in the District's administration building. This is happening despite a signed and notarized use agreement declaring their commitment to pay for their portion of the District's operating expenses. The agreement already discounts the rental rate because they are a non-profit program, and yet they have refused to pay for more than five years. This is a gift of public funds and a violation of board ethics, as described in Board Policy 1260, Board Policy 1270 and Board Policy 9200.

In light of these clear violations of Board Policy and this Board's inability or reluctance to enforce their own policies, I humbly request remediation by the Office of the Attorney General.


Taxpayer & Voter
Edmonds School District

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weakening standards is not a strategy for success.

I just received the District's response to my request for their interpretation of the English language. Wow, they really have no regard for anyone but themselves. Here is essentially what is happening, in the form of an analogy they might understand.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith insist that their child receive the best education possible and have relocated to the Edmonds School District because they were convinced of higher standards. Unfortunately, after the Smiths relocated, the teaching staff decided to degrade the curriculum and stop challenging students. All those pesky questions from academically-stimulated children were just creating stress among the teachers and state standards were far easier to achieve.

Essentially, voters decided to elevate the standard of district policies to a higher level than dictated by state law by electing thoughtful board members years ago. They found the wisdom in making sure the Edmonds School District continues to churn out the region's most academically-gifted students and thought they were accomplishing this by demanding the highest quality board members. Regrettably, it is clear that this particular board just wants to meet weaker, all-accommodating state standards and not the standard they agreed to uphold.

I thought the Edmonds School District was better than rock bottom. Apparently, this board is happy to wallow among the weakest in the state.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

No money down. No money a month.

Imagine for a moment, if you stopped paying rent. What do you think would happen? You would likely get a notice to pay the rent within three days or leave the premises. Imagine if you stopped paying your water bill. What do you think would happen? What about that power bill? I would guess you would soon be sitting in the dark. What would happen if that friendly custodian you hired to clean your home never received a paycheck? Your answers may have more to do with reality than District practices, but if you were a member of the school board, you would be held to a totally different standard.

You could occupy three cubicles, have three telephones, all the parking you could imagine, free use of meeting rooms and photocopiers, access at all hours, free custodial support, free maintenance, free reconfiguration services for your free cubicles, free access to District staff and resources and a captive audience to peddle your services.

There is the added perk of being insulated from increased demand for space by legitimate, District programming. In the private sector, a freeloader would be tossed to the curb to accommodate the needs of critical, operational imperatives. In the District, public space is handed over to support the pet projects of board members - like Pat Shields.

Would you believe that this sort of abuse has been going on and actively supported for more than five years? When will it stop? Ask Marla Miller.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Launching the investigative team

Here at, we will never knowingly post a lie (unless it comes from the District). We are only interested in making the District a better place and believe that positive change happens with the unrestrained flow of information and truth. That is why we have assembled an investigative team to confirm or refute the nagging rumors floating around the Edmonds School District. Rather than just post unsubstantiated stories and pass them off as factual, we have recruited the talents of an investigative team. This weekend marks the beginning of their services.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The day the District bought a brownfield.

"On May 10, 2005, two board members met with AMEC and Reid Middleton to talk directly with them regarding their analysis of the site. Following that meeting the board instructed me to proceed with the negotiations to purchase the site." Marla Miller

I have posed the question twice and I have not received a response from Marla Miller for this simple question: "Which two board members attended the May 10, 2005 meeting?" It is a very easy question and shouldn't require 30 days to find documentation that proves which board members made the decision to buy a brownfield.

May 10th was the day the District decided to start a limited evaluation of groundwater. It was the day the District decided to hire a licensed well driller to drill and install three wells. It was the day the District decided to start logging soil and groundwater conditions. It was the day the District decided to have the groundwater analysed for cPAHs and VOCs. It was the day the District decided to have petroleum screening analysis performed on the detention pond for HCID and PAHs. In a nutshell, it was the day the District decided to start the process toward determining the extent of contamination.

Who in their right mind would start the process of negotiations without knowing the extent of contamination? Who in their right mind would ask the Executive Director of Business and Operations to start working toward determining a price for the property when no one had any idea how expensive the clean-up would be? Who in their right mind would even momentarily think this was a good way to spend public money? Who were these unknown board members?

Since Marla Miller doesn't seem to know, I will provide her with some clues - and she won't even have to wait 30 days. Board member #1 has a medical practice in the City of Edmonds and recently resigned for violating Board policy. Board member #2 had been appointed just two months before making such a monumental and disastrous decision and currently lives in Brier.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Taking a ride on the Gravy Train.

Some people still believe that being the spouse of a Board member won't get you anything. In a cursory review of public records, it would appear that such a relationship can yield a tidy supplement to your salary. Maybe all of the "hard work" Gary expends for the District has motivated Kay to burn the candle at both ends.

Kay Noble at Lynnwood High School:
2004-2005, $40,354 + $2,446
2005-2006, $41,268 + $3,136
2006-2007, $43,050 + $4,274

Additional pay as percentage of base:
2004-2005, 6%
2005-2006, 8%
2006-2007, 10%

Fun Factoid:
New diamond ring: $15,000.00
New Lexus LS600h: $95,000.00
New Lynnwood High School: $100,000,000.00
Being married to a board member: Priceless

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Please explain ESD Policy 6810.

Well, I nearly spilled my Cheerios when I started reading ESD Policy 6810. Apparently, the Board thought to insert some redundancy in their policies - for the many lawyers and misguided public employees that can rebuke only one policy at a time. The meaningful portion of the policy reads:

No person shall be employed by the district who is the spouse or dependent child of any member of the Board of Directors or of the superintendent.

If you don't do your homework, you won't pass the test.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Capital Facilities Plan is not Pulp Fiction

The Edmonds School District distributes their Capital Facilities Plan free-of-charge, to all that request a copy. If you have concerns about where the District and their Board thought enrollment was heading, read the CFP. It is a short document that captures enrollment trends and shows that student numbers were plummeting since 2002. The Board adopted this document (as well as the Snohomish County Council) and yet district staff didn't think to use it while planning.

Email the Planning and Property Management Specialist at and request that a copy be mailed to you.

If you would rather view it online, you may do so by clicking here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Legend of Zandberg

Late at night, while the rest of Lynnwood sleeps, a masked man slips through the neighborhood under cover of darkness. He lurks in the shadows and slides undetected across rooftops, looking for any sign of misappropriated public funds. He slinks through vacant offices and rifles through file drawers in search of evidence. His endless search takes him to places that would be off limits to mortal men.

He has an established routine. He is a creature of habit and without exception, he leaves his tell-tale calling card after every mission. He always leaves the superintendent's office door open - just enough to make others aware of his vigilance.

Someone should tell the night custodian not to go on the roof after dark. If he falls, Sue Venable may not be around to raise an alarm.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shoveling smoke and talking by the hour.

The following is an excerpt from the District's legal counsel. They seem to be under the impression that I suggested Gary Noble was violating state law. Gary Noble is serving on the school board for the Edmonds School District and should be held to the standard of school board policies. Unfortunately, these lawyers didn't see a need to cite state law to save Bruce Williams.

Mr. Zandberg questions ESD Board member Gary Noble’s decision to vote in favor of constructing a new Lynnwood High School [That is not true, I question whether he actually deliberated.], and alleges that the vote was cast to “curry favor” [not my quote] with his wife, Kay Noble, a current Lynnwood High School teacher. He further demands that Mr. Noble “step down” from his position “at once” due to this alleged conflict of interest.

ESD’s position on the issue is that Mr. Noble does not sit on the Board in violation of any ESD policy. [Their position on Bruce Williams was also contrary to Board Policy.] Indeed, ESD Policy 1260 specifically exempts the alleged conflict of interest raised by Mr. Zandberg. That policy provides that no spouse of a Board Member shall have any interest in any contract to which the District is a party except to the limited extent authorized by law. [Why are you citing the second portion of the sentence? It is irrelevant. The first portion disqualifies him.] Under RCW 42.23.030, which lists exceptions to prohibited interests in municipal contracts, there is no conflict in the situation raised by Mr. Zandberg if the spouse of the school board member was employed by the District before the School Board member took office [" member of the Board, or any spouse or dependent relative of such member, shall receive or accept any compensation or reward for services rendered to the District..."], and the compensation received by the spouse is commensurate with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the EEA and the District. Mrs. Noble was hired by ESD on September 12, 1990, and Mr. Noble was elected to the School Board in November 2003. He took the Oath of Office on December 16, 2003. [Let's not revisit unfortunate events.] Further, Mrs. Noble is compensated pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement pertaining to teachers at Lynnwood High School. Because the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Noble falls squarely within an exception under Washington State law, ESD Policy 1260 also encompasses the exception [Please revise the policy, so next time you can be right.], and there is no impropriety with Mr. Noble’s continuation as a Board Member [That will be a decision for the voters].

Please feel free to contact me or my associate Sarah Mack with any questions.

Very truly yours,

Duncan Fobes

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Waiting for public records and responses.

September 30, 2007
In reviewing the notes taken by staff and handouts provided during the September 27th meeting, I am wondering why district staff did not utilize the Capital Facilities Plan in developing their student enrollment forecast. In discussing the 2004-2009 CFP with others, it shows clearly that enrollment was moving downward and was far more accurate in determining actual FTE for 2007 than anything provided by your budget analyst.

Why wouldn't a Board-adopted document be part of the planning process? If Board members were provided a copy of the CFP, read it entirely and then adopted it, wouldn't they have every expectation that district staff would follow the forecasting methodology described therein?

To the casual observer, it would appear that district staff was aware these reductions in FTE were coming and chose to adopt a more optimistic forecast model so that more aggressive cuts could be made at a later date - without any reasonable warning.

September 28, 2007
1. Please provide the total of all payments made to AMEC since and including P.O. #240076. This would include a subtotal for their work at the Maintenance and Transportation site and a subtotal for the new administration site.
2. Please provide the names of the two board members that based their decision to buy the new administration site upon the outcome of a meeting on May 10, 2005.

September 26, 2007
I seek one copy of the current use agreement between Powerful Partners and copies of all rent checks paid since 2003.

As I already know, Powerful Partners has a "use agreement" as opposed to a lease. I am aware that a use agreement does not pass along base rent to the end user but does require reimbursement for general fund expenditures, such as utilities, custodial care and maintenance.

I hereby request one copy of the most current, fully executed use agreement between Powerful Partners and the Edmonds School District and copies of checks paid to the District since 2003.

September 26, 2007
I had asked which two members of the board were at that meeting, assuming you were there. Was that the case? Who accompanied these board members? When might a response be provided?

September 17, 2007
1. A list of all applicants that applied for the position of Executive Director of Business and Operations that resulted in the hiring of Marla Miller.
2. A list of all District employees that reviewed applications for the above position.
3. A list of all District employees that conducted interviews for the above position.
4. The most recent application completed by Marla Miller for any position at the District - less protected information.
Not directly related but also important;
5. Copies of all purchase orders involving Seattle Piano Gallery (SPG).
6. Copies of all leases between SPG and the Edmonds School District.

September 16, 2007
Please include the rating sheets for Ms. Hall and the other applicant, as well as the names of District staff members that were involved in rating these candidates.

September 12, 2007
Please provide a copy of the application and related documents of the current Planning and Property Management Specialist. Of course, you should exclude her social security number, date of birth, home address, telephone number and email address. I am only interested in knowing what qualifications she claimed to possess prior to being hired by the District.

August 14, 2007
We are seeking a copy of the document that I found and showed to Brian Harding demonstrating that access will be granted for one single family residence. It was signed by the superintendent at the time.

Utterly transfixed and unengaged.

Some people might be under the impression that I seek to convince everyone that the District is a poorly managed public agency. This is not the case. I seek to provide insight into my personal observations and allow others to make their own determination. I would prefer that every reader harbors an overwhelming sense that all is right in the District and that my concerns are but a drop in a bucket. I merely seek acknowledgement of the drop and the bucket.

As Americans, we have reached a stage in our development where we commonly mistake ignorance for not taking a position. I advocate for the free discussion of information and the elective adoption of views and opinions based upon that information. I believe that opinions are only formed when information is available and understood. As a visitor to this blog site, you are free to read, understand and disregard all that is written. As long as the information had a moment of consideration, that is all that I seek. You are free to cast it aside and get back to other matters as quickly as you like.

I recently had a conversation with a man in Lynnwood. He was unwilling to read a single entry in the blog because it would be biased. Quite honestly, I doubt I could find a less intellectually-receptive individual on this planet. As a population, we gobble up drivel and slop like our existence as a species relied upon it. We seem so utterly transfixed on superficial hype and unengaged in local, meaningful issues that directly impact the health and well-being of our families. We spend hours each day following the lives of celebrities and spend precious moments reading to our children.

In my humble opinion, there is no greater cause in our community than how we educate our children. They will be making choices for us when we release our grasp on governance. How a school district chooses to spend our property tax dollars on the provision of public education for our children should be of critical importance to all of us.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Freeloading and government cheese

Recent newspaper reports indicate that Bruce Williams moved just 10 blocks from his director district and yet, he felt compelled to honor board policies. Board policy 1245 did not leave any room for interpretation and so Bruce resigned. It was an honorable move and preserved the integrity of board policies - if only for a moment.

Then there is Pat Shields. There is no debating the fact that he is the director of Powerful Partners. There is no debating the fact that Powerful Partners uses space in the ESC. There is no debating the fact that they have never paid rent when they signed a use agreement with the District agreeing to do so. So why the special treatment?

Okay, it was a rhetorical question. Pat Shields is a board member and believes he is entitled to take greater liberties with tax dollars than the rest of us. A vote cast for Pat Shields apparently was interpreted as permission to freeload. Will members of his family start moving in to the ESC? Will the ESC's custodian have to start washing the Shields family car? Will Pat Shields start having his personal mail delivered to the ESC? Maybe the Board will bring back laundry service so Pat Shields can have his shirts cleaned, pressed and delivered through inter-departmental mail.

Do we really need these kinds of people guiding the District? Do we need this sort of influence on the Board? Are we educating children or preparing them for a life on welfare and public assistance? If they follow the Board's leadership, they will no doubt be developing a taste for government cheese.