There is a word for what they did

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

A year ago, the County Commissioners made a whipping boy of the public school system, blaming its excesses for the financial woes of the county and accusing the administration of spending money like “drunken sailors.”

That was political rhetoric.

In the intervening year, commissioners have continued the drumbeat of accusation adding even more fantastical ones along the way, like saying that the system employs more than 500 administrators. The Department of Public Instruction says the number is 27.

That was probably statistics. Everyone knows what Mark Twain said about them.

Earlier this year, according to testimony in Superior Court, county officials apparently told school board members one thing and then did another in their budget preparation, putting the school board members in a financial hole they felt they needed to resolve by asking for mediation.

That was probably just a negotiating strategy.

When the county would not budge during mediation and an impasse was declared, the county issued a press release to influence public opinion about who was to blame for the breakdown in talks: They said the school board “failed to resolve budget dispute.”

That was public relations, or more appropriately spin. It was designed to build disdain for the schools. County Commission Chairman Jerry Simpson even implored the schools not to “sue the residents of Union County” when the dispute is between schools and county government with residents divided about whom they support.

The press release details all the money the schools get from the state, the number of teachers, and compensation packages but does not mention that the state pays for and controls all of those costs. The county is only responsible for bricks and mortar, capital costs like debt service that the voters in Union County accepted when they voted to build news schools as the county grew.

Call that misdirection, a bit of smoke and mirrors to help make the county’s case, even if it is strictly irrelevant to whether or not the county provides money to fix leaking school roofs.

And, in the press release, there is another, more troubling number: $5.64 million. That is the number that County Finance Director Jeff Yates came up with when he analyzed Department of Public Instruction figures. The county said it is good news that the schools will get more than expected. In fact, they said, the schools will get $2.9 million more than they need! It was the coup de grace of the county’s argument. Well, it would have been, if it were true. But it is not.

Turns out it was a miscalculation, a misunderstanding. The county learned the number was wrong just days after issuing the press release … and never bothered to correct it, even to this day.

Simpson testified last week that he saw no point in correcting the error because the case was destined for court anyway. So the county let the error stand and let county residents believe something that was not true.

Some would call that prevarication, the creation of an incorrect or misleading impression.

Bad enough, but then in full knowledge of the error, Simpson testified that county officials discussed the press release and the error and still decided to post it — uncorrected — on the county website for wider distribution to a larger audience.

There is another word for that. We will let you decide what it is.