6/5/2013 – The whole country saw it in the Duke Lacrosse case, and Broken Arrow has lived a painful episode of its own. This entire ugly five-year ordeal could have been cut short if people had had the decency to listen to the statement read at the board meeting when Sisney was suspended. But the mob who descended on that meeting had their own ideas about what should happen. They thought the rules of board meetings and the laws of Oklahoma should be overridden by the misguided emotions of an ignorant mob, and they had a tantrum when they didn’t get their way.
Just as Sisney used the board members’ very ethics and adherence to law to shut them out of school business and silence them, the mob tried to hijack the meeting with their own agenda, while depending on the board members’ legal requirements and ethics to keep the public in the dark about the true situation. Updike and Stover fanned the flames ahead of time with their disingenuous objection to the ban on public comments regarding Sisney’s suspension. Their objection was hypocritical because they knew, as board members, that there were compelling legal reasons why public comment could not be heard. Sisney’s supporters recruited a mob made up of uninformed citizens who knew nothing about Sisney’s power grab, all stirred up with lies and misrepresentations. The mob thought its wishes should have overridden the board’s decision not to allow public comment, without any consideration of the board’s reasons. They thought the board should have capitulated to the opinion of clueless citizens in their decision on Sisney’s suspension, presumably based on who shouted the loudest. The mob thought they knew best – even though they knew nothing. They expected to be heard and obeyed, while refusing to listen.
Thanks to the two Bobs at the Ledger, the reports on the suspension made no mention of the statement read at the beginning of the meeting explaining why public comment could not be allowed. The silence of the three was promoted as evidence of their guilt in covering up their kickback scheme and getting rid of the whistleblower, and a gullible public nodded knowingly. None of the news outlets reported that the three board members had already been silenced by the lawsuit and by board confidentiality laws. Video of them leaving the meetings without comment was interpreted by the media as proof of their vendetta against Sisney. Clearly Updike and Stover were not constrained by ethics; they continued to feed misinformation to the public for years. On her last day as a board member, Updike was still emailing confidential board information to members of the mob. Whatever their motivation – whether they were genuinely duped or whether they were coerced with threats – they had the power to end this before the public ugliness started.
As the propaganda rolled out in the media, the mob continued to try to exert its influence. On top of the unbelievably incomplete reporting that made implausible assumptions and drew questionable conclusions, the mob continued its attacks in the comments. Anyone who tried to bring up facts or question the accusations was ridiculed. Comments that pointed out inconsistencies in Sisney’s story were censored. The mob put up its own website, posting innocuous documents and making them out to prove a sinister plot to bilk the District. If you didn’t see how an unexceptional air conditioning invoice showed corruption, it was because you were stupid. And Air Assurance’s competitors were right there online as expert witnesses to enlighten you (yes, I know who you are). The mob got its way on the Tulsa World. Because of their incessant complaints (Rick), the online editor, Jason Collington, censored comments and then inactivated accounts of those who brought up real information and questioned the railroaded-superintendent story. Well Jason, we were right and you were wrong. And we know how to change our IP addresses.
The mob didn’t stop with the bullying at board meetings and the online crusade. Some of the exceptionally gullible citizens and politically-motivated state representatives joined with Sisney’s team to provide false and misleading information and testimony to the state auditor. They harassed the District with FOI requests (after Updike was banned from viewing documents without a chaperone so could no longer provide them illegally). They used confidential employee compensation information that was illegally taken from the District, invoices that they charged were doctored, false testimony regarding HVAC work, unsupported insinuations about board members’ conflicts of interest, illogical claims about Dr. Gerber (along with clumsy attempts to substantiate them with emails that actually contradicted them), and bidding documents intentionally misrepresented as attempts to bypass bidding laws to favor a particular vendor. Their plan seems to have gone too far; they scared her so much that she lost the ability to investigate and report objectively. Her audit was a jumble of gossip and contradictions between the evidence included in the audit (provided by Sisney) and the conclusions (also provided by Sisney). Sisney’s plan to have his story vindicated by the audit unraveled as the audit was discredited and thrown out. The howling from his supporters was impressive – they actually tried to sell us the idea that this was all part of the conspiracy against Sisney. The board ladies’ goons had frightened Auditor Burrage into withdrawing anything that might shed light on their corruption. (Seriously, frightened him with what?)
After the Jones audit definitively stated that Sisney’s claims were all baloney, the mob tried to tell us that the few unintentional instances of failing to follow bidding laws found were proof of the board ladies’ conspiracy and coverup. Never mind that the board members weren’t involved, Air Assurance wasn’t involved, and that following bidding laws was the responsibility of the purchasing director – not anybody Sisney had ever implicated. But if we thought the audit proved no wrongdoing by the board ladies and Air Assurance, we were stupid. And they were sure the remaining two items which were being reviewed by the AG were going to put the board ladies in jail.
The AG didn’t take any action on the item regarding the Open Meetings violation; probably because the board members had no other recourse under the circumstances. The AG did take action on the other item, which resulted in Sisney’s indictment for bribery and conspiracy. When that news broke, the mob quietly put out their torches, put down their pitchforks, and went home.
To those who participated in the mob: I don’t think it was your fault that you were fooled. I imagine Sisney can come across as pretty sincere, with his patented hang-dog look and expertise at playing the victim. After all, he seems to have fooled himself all this time. But when you refuse to consider facts and reason when others point them out, that is your fault. When you justify libel, slander, false testimony, and all-around nastiness in blind defense of your cherished but wrong point of view, that is your fault. We tried to tell you. After you were so vocal when Sisney was still controlling the storyline, your silence now speaks volumes.