Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Hopeless Task Force - Part 2

The Leadership Team

"[T]he leadership team is not making recommendations to the task force on substantive task force matters."  -- Gloria Roy, Marion County Counsel

Hopeless Task Force Part 1 asked whether the decision to spend $20,000 to hire Commissioner Janet Carlson's good friend Karen Ray was a good one.  Part 2 will look at how that decision was made, who made it, and its effect on "substantive task force matters."

Marion County records obtained through a public records request show, unsurprisingly, that it was Carlson who, on her own, contacted Ray late last summer, and asked her to submit a proposal for a personal services contract.  On September 9, 2016, Carlson wrote:
Hi Karen - Thanks so much for your proposal! I've edited [sic] to make sure we're in synch with the factual pieces (edits attached).  My plan is to send a revised draft, once I get it back from you, to the other three conveners for their review and feedback.  Then, assuming they like the concept, we can move forward.
One of the "edits" Carlson made was to take out "any references to me, or anywhere where I am separated from the other three conveners.  I think we will avoid sensitivity if we just talk about the conveners and staff generally."  (Emphasis added.)  In other words, even as she was aware that the other three conveners might not, in her words, "buy into this", she was trying to make it look like a team effort, so as to avoid "sensitivity." 

Carlson was also concerned about the $25,000 price tag.  That's right, the original proposal was for $25,000, but that amount exceeded the "sole source" cap, and would require a deliberative public process.  So Carlson asked her friend, "Any way you could scale the proposal down to [$20,000]...?"  As is now known, her friend obliged, thus allowing Carlson to avoid additional "sensitivity."

It was not enough.  Carlson was unable to persuade her co-chairs, particularly Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler, of the need to go out-of-state or pay $20,000 for services she, Wheeler, knew very well were available in the community and probably for free.  Wheeler especially did not like the idea of the co-chairs making the decision for the Task Force.  She thought the matter should be brought before, and decided by, the Task Force as a whole.  So, the proposal did not move forward.

Not until the next meeting, which Wheeler could not attend.  Then it moved forward.

On October 4, 2016, Carlson informed Ray,
The co-chairs agreed to move forward with your contract and are excited to work with you towards a strong implementation plan for the future...And since Jennifer could not attend yesterday's meeting, we appreciate your offer to set up a time to visit with her by phone to gain her perspective.
Of course, by "co-chairs agreed" Carlson meant a majority of co-chairs, because Wheeler never agreed to move forward. 

That is how the decision to hire Karen Ray came to be made, and by whom.  Now we will look at its effect on "substantive task force matters."  

Carlson's October 4 announcement that the co-chairs had agreed to move forward with Karen Ray's contract included notice of two leadership team meetings with Ray.  On October 6, 2016, Wheeler replied, 
Regarding the proposed upcoming conversations with Karen Ray, I feel that those conversations would be crucial to have before the entire task force as a whole, not just the leadership team.  I do not see the benefit of attending a leadership team meeting with Karen Ray and would rather utilize my time and her time before the entire task force. 
Wheeler's reply received no response.  She eventually decided she'd had enough.  She conferred with the Polk County team, and, on October 18, 2016, she submitted a letter of resignation on behalf of the Polk County appointees by email:
Lisa, Please forward the attached memorandum to all members of the task force.  I will be forwarding the minutes of the last Veterans Sub-committee with recommendations later this morning.    
"Lisa" forwarded Wheeler's email and letter, but only to Carlson and the Mayors, who would ultimately decide --in secret-- not to acknowledge the letter's receipt, forward it to the other members, or notify them that Polk County did not intend to participate in future Task Force proceedings.  As the other members of the Task Force did not know what had happened, they were prevented from taking any action in mitigation.  As a consequence, the Task Force lost four of its members (Irma Oliveros decided to continue participating, but only as a representative of the Salem-Kiezer School District), the Veterans committee (chaired by Wheeler and Steve Bobb) and the voice of Polk County on the Task Force.

Would any disinterested person believe that these are not "not substantive task force matters"?

We will never know whether Karen Ray would have been hired or Polk County have left the Task Force if the leadership team had opened up its meetings and deliberated in public, but we would at least know why the leadership team made the decisions it did.  As it is, we can only make educated guesses.

One thing we do know, however, is that the leadership team is not merely recommending strategy, they're deciding strategy, and yet they're still being allowed to conduct their meetings in secret.  They maintain they can do that because they're not a "governing body" or a subcommittee, thus proving to anyone with a brain that they're not as interested in "inclusivity" (or collaboration) as they pretend to be.  

From the MWHITF's "Public Meetings Summary"
This account illustrates, among other things, the role that deception has played in certain Task Force decisions.  That theme will be explored further in Hopeless Task Force Part 3. 

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