13 thoughts on “Cohen Barnes for School Board PAC”

  1. I can’t get this link to work for me.

    I also heard that Cohen Barnes company did the optic fiber installation at the new high school for a total of $50,500.00. Now this is just for material and installation. Please also note that this was installed in new construction which for the most part is open already for installation and covered/closed by others and also does not include servers and other hardware.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Lynn. I went to the A-1 report and found a $4000 in-kind contribution to Cohen’s campaign fund. I would not be so concerned about this, except for Cohen’s election yesterday and what happened at the school board meetings on December 7th and 16th, 2010.

    At the first meeting, Direct Response Web Solutions (Cohen’s contributor) presented to the board at Superintendent Briscoe’s request, a proposal to create a new website for the district. It was claimed that extensive work would be required. It was a fairly lengthy presentation, but NO COSTS WERE MENTIONED. There was much on the agenda and this item was (I) informational. It seemed to me this came out of the blue, it was certainly not clear to me (and others, I think) how this item got on the agenda. The website had been discussed many, many meetings past, but I thought it was a dead issue considering the severe money problems at hand.

    Next meeting, December 16, 2010, this new website contract with Cohen’s recent contributor shows up on the agenda as an (A) action item. Becky Mascal and I point out there are better times to be working on a new website and spending money on such. One of the board members starts to discuss the previously undisclosed price (I presume it was in their pre-meeting packet for the 16th) and the public hears the high cost of this service for the first time, just minutes before a vote.

    At the point of the cost being divulged, I immediately spoke against this agenda item as an action item, on the basis that the cost was significant, and such contract should not be sole sourced. It needed much more discussion. Becky Mascal, as I recall, additionally pointed out there were certainly more important things to use $200,000+ on at the moment, most notably, students.

    After further discussion, a motion was put forward and unanimously carried, to table the item. Fortunately, the board did the right thing when challenged from the audience. However, had Becky and myself not spoken up and instigated discussion among the board, I had the distinct feeling Dr. Briscoe/the board would have pushed this expensive item through without discussion. It seemed very fishy to me at the time.

    Today. My concerns noted then are heightened now as I realize this would-be sole source $200,000+ website contractor is the sole major contributor to Cohen’s successful campaign for school board. Again, I find this very disturbing. These sorts of “connections” are the very reason I was concerned about Cohen running for school board at this time. Now it looks like there is more to investigate and understand. For instance, who owns Direct Response Web Solutions? DeKalb Fiber Optic? TBCnet? These are questions I would not have asked if Cohen did not win the board seat. Now they (and perhaps others) must be asked so we can all know Cohen is going to avoid conflicts of interest as a board member.

    Again, thanks Lynn for posting this piece of the puzzle.

  3. Kerry, thank you so much for bringing these facts out. I will look for the meeting minutes online or, failing that, will request them.

    You can look up any corp/llc in Illinois online by doing the following:

    1) go to the Secretary of State’s website, http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/.

    2) click on Business Services

    3) click on Corporate/LLC Search / Cert of Good Standing

    Ralph and Allison DeStefano own Direct Response Web Solutions, Inc. Their website is at: http://www.drwebsolutions.com/. They worked on the ReNew Our Schools campaign website: http://www.drwebsolutions.com/clients/renew-our-schools-campaign/projects/education-referendum-campaign-website and they were contributors to the campaign.

    DeKalb Fiber Optic lists 4 LLC managers, among them Cohen Barnes. As Ivan noted, DFO made $50,500 running fiber optic cable to the new high school, which figure Cohen e-mailed to me himself. DFO has also gotten business from the City of DeKalb.

    TBC Net, Inc. lists Robert C. Barnes as secretary. This firm does a little business with the school district and has done a lot of business with the City of DeKalb.

  4. The link works fine for me, but if anyone is having trouble with it just go to the Board of Elections website (the link is at right under Good Government), click on Committee Search and go from there.

  5. Thanks for the links on corporate look-up, Lynn. I sure hope all this does not turn up any wrongdoing, but it sure looks sleazy to me. Just like certain contributions to ReNew our Schools from people who later worked on the High School project to the tune of millions of dollars. I certainly hope Cohen will fully disclose all his holdings so we can know-be absolutely certain-he is exercising his vote on the school board in an ethical and responsible way. I also hope when large amounts of money are involved at 428, our board and admin never again seeks to sole source a contract without all due diligence and transparency. Hopefully this new school board will see to it that business happens efficiently, in the light of day, and with open opportunity for all to participate.

  6. Interesting points here Kerry. The fact that business like this just pops up at school board meetings is nothing new and should be considered very scary at that.

    Most if not close to all school spending business is done in closed meetings. All discussions, agreements and disagreements and presentations by administration to school board members is done this way. One board member (now headed to the exit) told me that what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. This board member also said that most of time all votes in public will show unity and support of the boards final decision whether a yes or no.

    When most citizens come to a meeting to discuss a proposed plan, their efforts are really for naught as the vote has already been made but not formalized. Being able to stop or slow down the redo of the web site is an example of how the board tried to push something through and good citizens being there to question the act. The school board really should follow city council policy and allow for different readings on different meeting dates to allow for citizen input and discussion. This would also allow citizens to research the matter with more reasonable time afforded. This part of being more transparent with its business should be an important priority of the newly elected school board.

    If there was more transparency by the school board and the current administration, I seriously doubt Mr. Barnes would have even made it to the 4th leading vote getter this election. People are asking more questions, too bad our local newspapers are not.

  7. Whether it be a school board or a city council (or other board spending public funds) the Open Meetings Act applies. If Ivan’s source was telling the truth then OMA is being trampled by the District 428 Board and doing so is a great disservice to the community. A current or former school board member would do the community a great and valuable service if they would cite specific examples of discussions of topics in closed session that are not of the 24 allowed exemptions under OMA. We could hope for corrective action to include training by the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselors (and not a vested attorney as was done by another public agency).

    There are a lot of local website design and development companies in DeKalb. Heck, that’s how I make my living. That’s how Lisa Wilcox makes her living. Mike Vetillo, ditto. Many more. It would be ethical, I think, for all local companies to have a legitimate chance at such a project but for it to be an Action Item as a proposed $200,000 expenditure there had to have been at length discussion that no other contractor was privy to.

    Frankly, I am glad that Kerry Mellot and Becky McCabe were at the meetings and spoke up. There is no way the school district should spend what amounts to at least 2-3 full time teaching positions for a website in these times or in better times. Any elected official who would vote for such a thing should be voted out in their next available election.

  8. I would say that it is fair enough to say that we have all been to a school board meeting where we wondered how a certain item on the agenda got voted on so quick with no major discussion. You get that gut feeling that it was all fixed and a said and done deal way before it even came to meeting night.

    Something is being discussed somewhere. Look at the action Kerry referred to to spend $200,000.00 for a new web site. Yeah, big thanks to Kerry and Becky for raising the question. What’s $200,000.00 equivalent to? Three teachers for a year? How does any responsible group of people even go and try to pass a ridiculous action as spending $200,000.00 for a web site with out first; questioning the price, 2nd; what it would look like spending $200,000.0 for a new web site especially when you already have a web site that has cost some serious dollars to date.

    It is definitely refreshing to see 4 new faces joining the school board. To me, the community has spoken. The community has told the outgoing group that they have failed the community. They did not protect the community when they could have especially when the truths came out into the open and the local economy crashed, that they refused to take corrective measures and hid behind a falsely attained “mandate”. There are several other incumbents that should have been ousted during the last election but their time is coming. History will never forget how these 7 bankrupted school district #428.

  9. Mac, it was Becky Mascal, not Becky McCabe. Check out the links above to the minutes from the meetings. I know, these names are sometimes hard to keep straight.

    As you point out, there are many web developers in town and the nearby area. I hope this new board sets and follows (with public participation) policy which will allow 428 to get the best deal, hopefully keep the money in the district, but most of all, include the public in all discussion and even when there are no members of the public in the audience, publish everything. I like Cohen’s idea of providing the pre-meeting packets online to anyone interested. Except for certain exclusions allowed by the OMA, there’s no reason to hide anything. Its all publicly funded.

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