Schools Auditor Goes Rogue

By Rick Boettger


Roger McVeigh, member and former chair of the Monroe County School Board’s Audit and Finance Committee (AFC) has attacked newly elected AFC Chair Stuart Kessler. He wants the School Board to fire Stuart. Roger is profoundly incorrect.


In a strongly worded letter to the Board he maintains that Stuart is guilty of various wrongs, and


that under the AFC’s  recently revised charter, the Board can fire him by simple majority vote.


But Stuart is “guilty” only of considering running for the Board, and of privately and publicly performing exactly the duties the members of this committee are charged with. The AFC’s carefully worded charter allows the Board to dismiss members for clear reasons, like excessive absences, or for conflicts of interest. Say a member owned a business whose contract was being financially evaluated by the AFC. Or a member represented such a firm.


Stuart has no such conflict. It is utter nonsense to consider running for office to be such a conflict, and likely to be ethically illegal to so presume, as a chill on a qualified individual’s political activities. The school board desperately NEEDS members with financial competence. What better credential for financial competence and knowledge of school district issues than serving an apprenticeship on the AFC?


Roger’s real beef with Stuart is that, in Roger’s accusations, Stuart is a publicity hound hungry for ink. Again, this is nonsense. Stuart has been interviewed on active district financial issues, and his only crime is that, unlike Roger, Stuart has been consistently on the right side of these issues.


Stuart has led the way in auditing the extravagant HOB contractual payouts, and advised against using the Governor’s teacher raise fund to buy back furlough days. But, as board member Captain Ed Davidson writes in an email to the board, “Roger has strongly argued against Stuart’s investigations …. and [said the] AFC should not probe deeply into areas that later turned up multiple serious problems.”


Actually, Roger is, sadly, too much in tune with a general District ethos that tries constantly to sweep problems under the rug without confronting and solving them. “Consensus” is prized and “conflict” abhorred. Even my undergraduate Organizational Behavior course taught that in fact the right kind of conflict is necessary in organizations, to avoid groupthink and the kind of airplane crashes I discussed earlier this year, where the Asian pilots were so conflict-adverse they refused to tell the Captain they were on a crash landing course.


Optimal conflict is over ideas and facts, as Stuart has done. Corrosive conflict is over personal animosity. Roger has foresworn idea and factual conflict. Note that he fails to criticize a single factual charge Stuart has leveled about district finances. Roger goes only to personal attacks on Stuart. Board members, such as Captain Ed, have often witnessed Roger’s “starkly stated dislike” of Stuart.


I charged long ago that the AFC would be a straw committee, set up not to audit district finances but rather to make it seem that the board really, honestly was trying to oversee the district’s millions. To wit, they selected members who would not rock the boat, who would provide the illusion of vigilant oversight while actually NOT investigating, and definitely not saying anything at all critical of procedures that needed criticism.


Two of the original members took their jobs seriously: Lawrence Murray and Stuart. Shamefully, Larry was kicked off. Roger would further eviscerate the AFC by removing the only member who takes its mission seriously. The board, thankfully, is not authorized by charter to remove members who say things that irritate or embarrass the AFC, board or district. Otherwise, as Captain Ed writes, “Roger himself brings discredit to the AFC….AND IT IS ROGER MCVEIGH HIMSELF, AND NOT STUART, WHO THE BOARD SHOULD REMOVE


FROM THE AFC!”All caps in the original. Unfortunately, the charter does not allow for removing AFC members who show up but simply do not audit the finances. On that charge, Roger would surely be gone.  But so would most of the others. They’d be forced to bring me on and ask Citizen Larry back.  I’m pretty sure the board will be pleased to, with embarrassment, ignore Roger’s charges and let Stuart stay as the lawfully elected Chair of the AFC. And that is the most we can hope for.

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