What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Manweller Report

It's no secret that Matt Manweller isn't one of my favorite people, or that he and I are generally on opposite sides of the political fence. But CWU's report on his behavior toward female students transcends politics.

A little background: I taught at CWU for six years, from 1999-2005. Dr. Manweller arrived at CWU in 2003, and we had little or no professional interaction during our two-year overlap. I was denied tenure and left academia in 2005 (a senior administrator told me, "I don't know what you did, but you really pissed off your department"), and Dr. Manweller was granted tenure in 2008.

CWU's report about Dr. Manweller's sexual harassment is all over the newspaper web sites, or you can read it here. I've only read it once, quickly, and I don't have much desire to read it again, but everyone should read it.

I didn't hear any rumors about Dr. Manweller's behavior while I was at CWU, but I did have a female student come into my office once and say, "I'd do anything to get an A in this class." I jumped up, opened my office door wide, and told the student she really didn't mean that.

I was a little upset by this experience. After she left, I wondered what she had meant, and, if she meant what she might have meant, where did she get the idea to say such a thing? Maybe from Dr. Manweller, who really did exchange grades for sexual favors. He really did threaten a student's career if she told anyone about this. More than one student did tell someone in a position of authority about Dr. Manweller's behavior, years before he was given tenure, but it was the CWU's policy at the time to ignore complaints if they weren't formally submitted in writing. CWU failed those students, and for all we know is still failing students.

I was raised as a professional educator to believe that you don't trade anything but excellent student academic performance for an A, and to believe that you should do everything you can to ensure your students' success. In other words, I believe that one has a duty to one's profession and to one's students.

That's why Dr. Manweller's behavior is so repugnant. If a proper investigation had been carried out at the time -- 2006 -- of the first documented allegations, he would have had zero chance at tenure. Instead, here's what he got away with:
  • Trading grades for sexual favors from students and having this behavior be widely known among students;
  • Directly threatening at least one student's career, and indirectly forcing an unknown number of students to remain silent to protect their careers;
  • Stalking at least one student by finding her mother's phone number (possibly from university records, to which he would have had access) and calling her mother in an effort to arrange an assignation after the student graduated;
  • Initiating physical contact with female students that some students found uncomfortable;
  • Lying to an investigator by saying he didn't know the accuser, who had been in several of his classes and for whom he had written a letter of recommendation.
Politics has nothing to do with this. I would feel the same way about a Democrat who was a close friend (by the way, I am disappointed by the way this was handled by the Chair of Manweller's department, who happens to be a Democrat). I would not publicly defend such a person, as some are doing. I would urge a such a political candidate to withdraw from an election, and that's what I'm doing here.1

An elected representative has citizens come into their office asking for all sorts of things. How could a Representative Manweller really serve his district if citizens don't know what they might be asked to do in exchange for help?

1I've just sent an e-mail to Dr. Manweller with a link to this post.2
2He replied within minutes, writing, "Nobody else reads it, why would I?"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Manweller v. CWU

This morning I took the opportunity to go to a hearing to determine the fate of public records requests by the Yakima Herald Republic and the Ellensburg Daily Record. The records -- or, record, singular -- relates to an investigation by CWU of Professor Manweller after a sexual harassment complaint by a female student in 2006.
Before I go on, it's worth noting that this subject is timely: just the other day the New York Times did a major article on how poorly colleges perform when asked to investigate sexual misconduct against female students.
I had only read about this local matter in the local newspapers, but as discussed in court here's apparently what happened: late in the summer someone suggested to one or both newspapers that they might be interested in something that happened to Professor Manweller at his institution in 2006. The papers contacted CWU, CWU looked at their records and discovered that they had not done a proper/formal investigation in 2006. So CWU carried out, six years later, an investigation and found that there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing.1

Neither of the attorneys at the hearing disputed the facts in the previous paragraph, but Professor Manweller has been working to see that the record of the belated investigation not be released -- hence his request for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which had been granted and was the subject of today's hearing.

As near as I could tell, Professor Manweller's attorney argued to continue the TRO on these grounds:
  1. The law (an RCW or WAC whose citation I didn't catch) clearly states that a request for public records has to be made using the form provided by the agency to which the request is directed. Because the newspapers didn't use the form, no public records request had been made, and there was nothing further to discuss.2
  2. The investigation was politically motivated.
  3. Although the investigation found no wrongdoing, it does contain details, hearsay, and [my word here:] sordidness, so it should not be released.
CWU's attorney, from the state Attorney General's office, noted that
  1. CWU doesn't particularly want to release the record, because it will not cast CWU in a good light.3 However, CWU has been asked for it, and has a responsibility to release it.
  2. The lack of use of the proper form isn't a serious problem, since in practice forms are routinely not required (Judge Sparks agreed, noting that citizens should be helped to get, not hindered from getting, public documents).
  3. The key argument was this: this court doesn't have jurisdiction over public records requests, but the plaintiff (Manweller) brought the case here because he'd knew he'd lose in the proper court.
  4. Further, while not proceeding as appropriate under the Public Records Act, the plaintiff is trying to invoke the Public Records Act.
After talking about how important public records -- and also privacy -- are, Judge Sparks said he understood Manweller's motivation of block release. He said that he trusts the newspapers to act with discretion, as they do every day in their work. Judge Sparks ordered that the TRO be dissolved, and said CWU could proceed to release the results of the investigation with the name of the student redacted.

1If memory serves, none of the administrators (Dean of the College of the Sciences, Provost, President) in the appropriate chain of command are still at CWU, so the present administrators inherited this one. 2You can't make this stuff up. As I listened I wondered whether Manweller really wanted to win on such a flimsy technicality. 3Again, see the NYT article on how poorly these things are handled, even at fancy schools like Amherst. The NYT article is mostly about student-on-student misconduct. Imagine how a lesser college might handle a complaint against a pugnacious, outspoken, politically problematic tenured faculty member.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vote Clerf for Commissioner -- Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

This year I have been spending my political volunteer1 energy on the race for Kittitas County Commissioner, District 1. I have been working with Catherine Clerf, who is running against incumbent Paul Jewell.

Both are Republicans, and Catherine is actually more conservative than Jewell. Why would I support her? There are reasons for almost everyone to support her.

All county residents will appreciate that Catherine knows more about how county government works than does any other private citizen. She has attended almost as many county meetings as the commissioners themselves, starting before Jewell was elected. In many areas, she knows more than the sitting county commissioners.

Here’s an important example: Catherine is right, and Paul Jewell is wrong, on the water and well moratorium issues.2 Jewell inherited this problem when he was elected, and could have been a voice of reason in a difficult situation. Instead, he forced the Department of Ecology to use the big stick of the upper county moratorium, a choice that laid the foundation for the proposed county-wide well moratorium.3 Jewell may say he opposes the expanded moratorium,4 but he himself made it inevitable, and his opinion makes no difference to the reality of the situation.

Continuing with reasons for almost everyone to support Ms. Clerf: for Democrats, there's the fact that Jewell is an Establishment Republican and Catherine is a traditional Republican.5 She may be conservative, but she's not partisan. A vote for Catherine Clerf is a vote against dysfunctional Establishment politics.

Another example: the prospect of everyone being able to generate and sell their own electricity via the grid is being called “the third industrial revolution.” Catherine Clerf has championed the idea locally for years and has testified in favor of it in Olympia. Paul Jewell cast the deciding vote6 against allowing this opportunity into Kittitas County and he testified against it in Olympia. Jewell is not a leader or a visionary when it comes to energy policy, but Catherine is.

Independent voters will recognize Catherine’s independence. This year in both races for county commissioner, the good old boys7 are, well, boys.8 The groupthink that comes with good old boy politics has not served the county well. It is past time for a fresh approach, and electing Catherine Clerf is a big step in that direction.

For an annotated version of this letter, see my blog at whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com.

Steve Verhey


1Full disclosure: I first got involved with Catherine's campaign when she asked me to make her website. There was talk of this being paying work, but I haven't accepted any money yet. I didn't know her very well when we first started working together, but since then I have chosen to spend considerable time advising, writing and editing, and generally helping Catherine on her campaign on a volunteer basis.

2I started this blog when I was considering running for County Commissioner in 2010, and I spent a lot of time researching and writing about the issues (I eventually did decide to run, and lost in the general election to Obie O'Brien). I wrote an extensive post about the well moratorium in July 2010. At that time Catherine was arguing that surface water was indeed connected to ground water, and that surface water rights holders were having their rights taken by excessive groundwater uses -- the opposite of what Paul Jewell, development speculators, and the rest of the Board of County Commissioners were saying. Science and the State Supreme Court have since agreed with Catherine.

3Paul Jewell was kind enough to meet with me in June of 2010, when my campaign was just starting and I was learning about various issues. At that meeting he emphatically declared that the Department of Ecology's proposal to meter wells was "illegal! illegal!" This exactly mirrored what I heard when I met with a builder's association (the organization ended up endorsing my opponent) that included Steve Senger (who was  defeated in this year's primary for Commissioner, District 2). Like Jewell, Senger expressed genuine anger as he talked about the moratorium, calling both the moratorium and the earlier proposal to meter wells illegal. (The Department of Ecology had offered metering of wellwater usage as a perfectly reasonable alternative to the moratorium. When the county refused in a huff, the state had no choice but to act. In my well moratorium post I wrote about how it was clearly the case that the state was trying to help.)

4Late in the classic movie Casablanca, Captain Renault exclaims, "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on in here," an instant before he is handed his winnings, and it's meant as comic relief. The Commissioners' response to the recommendation that the well moratorium be extended county-wide was the same kind of comedy. The recommendation was made by the county Proscuting Attorney's Office, which acts as the county's attorney, based on a white paper that was drafted last fall. The recommendation was not a surprise.

5The local Establishment Republican Party has in fact publicly disowned Catherine at least once. For one thing, they don't approve of Republicans running against Republicans in primaries. Some of us thought primaries were part of the democratic process, but the local Republican party doesn't.

6I was actually present for this vote, and I was a bit stunned by it. I wrote about it at the time, initially saying that I felt Jewell had acted in bad faith by seeming supportive before voting against it. Jewell complained, and I removed my comments about bad faith negotiating. Nevertheless, the Board of County Commissioners' action had what pundits call poor optics -- it looked bad.

7 This is of course not a slam against good old boys. If it weren't for the groupthink problem, there would be nothing to worry about.

8 I had to use the word "boys" for parallel construction with "good old boys;" it is naturally not meant as any kind of insult.