Friday, January 24, 2014

Documents: Huff, Tina Smith bury allegations of lawbreaking, insurance fraud against Mike Johnson

Documents filed with the Missouri Division of Employment Security paint a portrait of an R-8 Administration that purposely chose to ignore allegations of lawbreaking, insurance fraud, verbal harassment, and disregard of federal, state, and local safety regulations against one of their own.

Not only did Superintendent C. J. Huff and R-8 Human Resources Director Tina Smith sweep the accusations against Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation Director Mike Johnson (now in charge of the building project) under the table, but after the whistleblower, environmental control worker Luther Hunt resigned because of the corrosive atmosphere, Ms. Smith took steps to deny Hunt unemployment benefits, according to the documents.

Hunt had documented his allegations in a 10-page letter to Huff, dated August 23, 2011, and sent to the superintendent by certified mail.

In the documentation, he presented to the Division of Employment Security, Hunt provided a timeline for what happened after he sent the letter to Huff. That documentation is provided below:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I was employed by the Joplin R-8 School District from March of 2007 through November 2011. Although I greatly enjoyed my job, the actions of the Director of Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation, and the subsequent inaction of the District Administration created an intolerable atmosphere. The bulk of my complaint can be found in the attached letter. The events subsequent to this letter led me to feel that I had little choice but to terminate my employment. The following is a timeline of these events.

August 23, 2011 (Tuesday)

8:52 a.m.

I sent a ten-page letter, by certified mail, to Dr. C. J. Huff outlining concerns about Mike Johnson and requesting an investigation into Mr. Johnson's activities.

September 2, 2011 (Friday)

3:15 p.m.

After waiting more than two weeks, I called Dr. Huff's office. As he was not available, I left a message with his secretary, Tiny Bridges.

4:28 p.m.

I received a telephone call from Tina Smith (HR director). She said that she had spoken with Dr. Huff about the letter and that he directed her to request a copy of the asbestos documents referenced in the letters. Since Monday was Labor Day I asked her if I could deliver the documents on Tuesday the sixth. She said that would be fine.

4:38 p.m.

I received a telephone call from Dr. Huff. I told him of the conversation I had just had with Tina Smith and I asked him if he or she would be handling this matter. He said that they both would. He also said that he would speak with Mr. Johnson about the letter, and then he would meet with me. He said, "We will get this matter resolved." I told him that several other people were concerned about Mr. Johnson's behavior, including principals. His tone changed from cordial to irritated and he then abruptly said we would deal with the matter later.

September 6, 2011 (Tuesday)

8:54 a.m.

My wife, Ashley Hunt, hand delivered the asbestos documents letters to Tina Smith.

4:00 p.m.

I called Tina Smith and confirmed that she had received the asbestos documents that morning. SHe said that she did and asked if I would meet with her in her office at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

September 8, 2011 (Thursday)

I met with Tina Smith at the Administration Building. She said that she had read my letter and asked me several questions concerning points of clarification. She referred to the letter as a "complaint." She asked me if the basis of my "complaint" was a "hostile work environment." I agreed that that was at the heart of my personal issues with the situation. I reiterated that given the nature of the testimony that I had given in the letter, there there should be some investigation. I told her that from my standpoint there were two main issues: One if the allegations in my letter were true, and two, given the validity of the statements, either the current Administration condoned Mr. Johnson's behavior or it did not. I knew the statements in my letter to be true, and that I would have to wait and see the Administration's response to know if his behavior was with the consent of management.

I conveyed to Ms. Smith that part of my concern was the well known close relationship between Dr. Huff and Mr. Johnson. The two had reportedly attended professional athletic events in St. Louis, Seattle, and other cities while "looking at other schools as models." Although I was not personally a witness to this relationship, it would explain the "blind eye" toward Mr. Johnson's behavior and the bravado Mr. Johnson displayed in his questionable actions. I expressed these concerns to Ms. Smith. I told her of several instances where Mr. Johnson had used his power to get even with his detractors and that I believed that he would exact revenge on me and/or those around me.

She assured me that everything that I had reported would be confidential. I told her that seemed unlikely for two reasons. First, Dr. Huff had already told me that he would discuss the matter with Mr. Johnson and that given the issues in the letter, I was the only employee that could have written the letter. Second, I told Ms. Smith that Mr. Johnson was currently right outside of her window and that he could see me sitting there talking to her after hours and behind closed doors. She told me that he would probably think I was there for some other reason.

She told me to take a "wait and see" approach and that she and Dr. Huff would look into the matter.

September 21, 2011 (Wednesday)

Tina Smith called me at home and asked if  "everything was going okay.' I told her that nothing had changed. She again told me to be patient and take a "wait and see" approach.

September 26, 2011 (Monday)

Mike Johnson called a meeting for al of skill craft and announced that he would be leaving his position at Buildings, Grounds and Transportation. He said that he would have an office at the new Administrative Building, and would be taking a position funded by FEMA for three years where he would be overseeing the demolition and replacement of district buildings damaged by the May 22, 2011 tornado.

November 7, 2011 (Monday)

Kent Larson assumed the position of Director of Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation.

Note: Although it appeared that Mr. Johnson had been removed from Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation, there were a few situations that would lead one to believe that this was not truly the case. Earlier in the year, Mr. Johnson had a large office built for himself (Director of BGT at the time). Rather than being housed in the office of the director, the new director, Kent Larson, was being housed in the old smaller office that used to be the director's office. Mr. Johnson retained his office at BGT. Mr. Johnson also kept the company truck that was designated for the director and Mr. Larson was given an older company truck.

In addition to this, Pete Coleman told me and others that Mr. Johnson was telling him that he was "still runing the show." Officially (according to the R-8 website) the new director would no longer report directly to Dr. Huff (as Mike Johnson did) but would report to Jason Cravens (director of instructional services).

November 9, 2011 (Wednesday)

During working hours, I was riding with my lead-man Pete Coleman. He received a call from Tina Smith on his cell phone. He was discussing paint supplies and colors with her. After the call, he explained to me that she had hired him "under the table" to paint her house. It seemed inappropriate for her to conduct personal business with an an employee over the phone and it appeared to be an obvious conflict of interest.

November 5, 2011 (Friday)

Pete Coleman handed me a letter, signed by Kent Larson, requiring that the other asbestos worker and I each work four ten-hour days and one weekend starting November 29, 2011. Pete Coleman told me that he knew that this letter had come from Mr. Johnson. This made sense in that the reason for the hours was related to the demolition of R-8 buildings. (This work was previously covered by temporary employees from Manpower.) One of the main reasons that I worked at this job was the hours: Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This change in hours was unilateral with no input from those affected. I was and am convinced that this was the first in a series of punitive actions originating with Mr. Johnson.

Later this day, Dave Pettit called the other asbestos worker and me into his office. He gave us a request from Mike Johnson asking us to go into the destroyed Joplin High School. The purpose was to ascertain the accessbility to the band room for asbestos testing. The building was structuraly unsound and possibly contaminated with asbestos, mold, and other hazards. My partner and I decided against going in.

Note: A few days later, my partner and I escorted an outside contractor to the building. He donned a protective Tyvek suit and respirator. He tested band instruments and sheet music. Subsequently, my partner told me that 16 of the 20 samples that were taken came back contaminated with asbestos; this is just the dust that had settled on the items.

November 16, 2011 (Wednesday)

I tendered my resignation letter to Kent Larson. When I handed ti to him first thing in the morning, he smiled and said, "Great!" This response seemed odd to me.

Later that day, Mr. Pettit asked me to come into his office. I was standing by the reception desk approximately five feet from his open door. He had Mr. Larson in his office. I overheard Mr. Larson telling him that "we should be prepared for the whistleblower...we will have most of the buildings demolished by the time he can do anything." After Mr. Larson left, Mr. Pettit invited me into his office and wished me well in my future endeavors.

Note: It was not my intention to eavesdrop. However, hearing my name naturally caused me to focus on the words following my name.

It should also be noted that in the interim between my resignation and termination date my partner told me that management was trying to cover its tracks. The aforementioned asbestos letters were requested yet again. He also told me that Mr. :Pettit had asked him to change the original date from September 2009 to September 2011. My partner told him that he did not know how to do this.

Also, since I announced my departure, several other meetings were held regarding the demolition of the buildings. Although I was excluded from these meetings, I was informed that the schedule that I was being asked to work was no longer the case.

November 30, 2011

Last day of employment

The preceding account is to the best of my knowledge. It is not all inclusive as remembrances of events do not all simultaneously surface with regard to the last five years. It is important to note that there are many others who have suffered through this regime. While employed with the district, I never received any reprimands or official disciplinary actions. I endured an ever increasingly hostile situation. I tried to address these issues through the proper channels only to find out that they were squarely and inextricably tied to Mr. Johnson.

Perhaps one reason for this cohesiveness is a pending lawsuit by former custodial supervisor George Morris. I recently discovered this wrongful termination suit while researching pending suits against Mr. Johnson. The school district is named as a co-defendant in this open case. This might explain why they will not conduct an open investigation into his activities. Such an investigation might also implicate others.

Another wrongful termination case involving Mr. Johnson involves former lead carpenter Brian Long. While I cannot find an official record of this case, is is widely believed that Mr. Long won a settlement out of court for back pay and punitive damages in the amount of $98,000. Again, I have no proof of this. But if it did happen and they are covering it up, it would be relevant in the Morris case, my situation, and the plight of those still under the current management. When I mentioned this case to Tina Smith, she simply smiled.

In summation, I would very much like to have my job back. There are some really wonderful people that worked and work there. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is so toxic and Mike Johnson, with the aid and support of management, has targeted me and those around me. I am still reeling from this experience, and I do not know what I should do next. I wish the appropriate agencies would step in and address this situation.

(More to come)

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Anonymous said...

Good for Brian! Nice guy who worked hard and did a good job. R8 got rid of the paint crew and others who worked to support buildings. Cutting those and contracting out services was supposed to be cheaper. Doesn't seem like those jobs would cost as much as all those administrators.

Anonymous said...

Do you notice how liars tend to exaggerate their emotional responses in order to persuade, while truth-tellers are more matter-of-fact?

Luther Hunt comes across as factual and straightforward. Between this and the previous ten-page letter, I am inclined to believe Hunt. The comments of so many stressed and sad employees as well as the existence of multiple lawsuits (and settlements) circumstantially support his descriptions.

Look at it this way: instead of trying to address and fix these purported problems, administration chooses to form political action committees to convince us that they've been right all along. They shift Johnson to a nominally different position without actually taking care of the problem. Image over substance --- that is the theme, over and over, from the fancy-looking schools to the ipads to the aw shucking in front of the camera, to the PAC, to moving numbers and people around on paper. To make things look better, not to actually be better. It's a house of cards, supported by illusion.

The best liars believe in their own lies. The emperor that believes he is dressed even when prancing nude, and the sycophants who so desperately seek association that they collaborate in the charade. Which group do you want to belong to? What kind of person do you want your child or grandchildren to see when they look up at you? One who was willing to do anything for the appearance of success (which will always be seen through by those closest to you), or one who tried to do the right thing, even if it meant losing your livelihood? I am not a perfect man, and I struggle to grow, but I cannot support these administrators.

Anonymous said...

Having an employee paint your house is a conflict of interest. But using paid time to arrange that matter is even worse--the taxpayers have better uses for their hard earned money than to see it used arranging for her paint job. I'm sure, as much as these horrendous examples of management are paid, that she can afford a contractor. Or, here's a thought, she could do it herself like her poorly paid employees would have to do.

Hypothetically speaking only, that would be something like a board member contracting to build a house for the superintendent he's supposed to be supervising. It would, hypothetically speaking, I'm sure, seem to make it difficult for objectivity to prevail. And let's continue that hypothetical situation and say something crazy happens, like that board member/contractor screws up the job. Wouldn't that put the superintendent in the driver's seat then? That's just one hypothetical example of why personal business and professional business should be kept separate. And tax dollars should NEVER be wasted. Some of us work really hard for our money instead of spending our time traveling around touring schools, drinking excessively, and going to ball games on tax money and resent seeing our efforts being wasted so frivolously. We won't be generous the next time.

Anonymous said...

They're experienced in the evidence burying business.

Anonymous said...

Fraud is commonplace in Joplin. Too much money and not enough accountability. Millions wasted and nothing to show for it but some questionably built schools with not much learning in them.

Jerks. Go somewhere else. You've done more damage than the storm ever did. That was just nature. You all did this on purpose to promote yourselves.