News

Can't we all just get along?

The answer seems to be 'no' for school district, trustee

It seems that Steve Nelson may never get along with the administration of the Mountain View Whisman School District and his fellow trustees.

At the most recent meeting of the district's board, a number of heated discussions were had -- all of them between Nelson and another board member, or between Nelson and Superintendent Craig Goldman -- and apparently that's just par for the course.

It's become expected that conflict will arise during district meetings, according to Goldman and Bill Lambert, president of the board of trustees. If that wasn't made clear in the run up to Nelson's October 2013 censure for unprofessional behavior, it is now.

In the months following his official reprimand, Nelson has continued to clash with board members and district administrators -- frequently engaging his colleagues in public arguments and making the task of running local schools much harder than it needs to be, Goldman and Lambert told the Voice.

Reached by phone, Nelson said he would not comment for this story.

While Lambert acknowledged that the trustee has been better when it comes to interjecting himself into the affairs of district staff, he said that Nelson has not really changed the way he behaves with the board and district administrators -- especially Goldman.

"He continues to be rude and insulting to the board," Lambert said. "He continues to be really the same way -- rude and insulting -- to Craig (Goldman) via email, and during the board meetings."

According to Lambert, Nelson's actions and behavior are making it difficult to get things done. "There are a lot of things going on in the district," Lambert said, pointing to the continued unrolling of the $198 million Measure G bond, the introduction of Common Core State Standards, and new educational technologies being tried out in district classrooms. "Steve's behavior detracts from our focus and our ability to run the business of the district."

Goldman agreed, explaining that his office is constantly bombarded by emails from Nelson -- who frequently requests information that is extremely time-consuming to compile, often for reasons that are never made clear.

"He demands information that isn't readily available, and therefore we have to divert staff time to respond to his request," Goldman said "It's particularly frustrating because he never seems to use the information for any productive purpose."

Further complicating matters, Goldman noted, is the style of Nelson's correspondences.

Nelson has copied the Voice on many of these missives since he took office. The emails often begin abruptly, with Nelson offering little preamble -- let alone an explanation as to why he decided to copy the Voice. He regularly uses emoticons, inserts jokes into the middle of sentences parenthetically, and bounces around among a variety of fonts and type styles.

"With a lot of his emails it's difficult to tell whether they are just musings or if he is making a specific request for information," Goldman said "He frequently doesn't say clearly what he wants."

To top it off, Nelson has also been known to request documents that do not exist -- only to become angry when he is told that the district cannot deliver the phantom reports, Goldman said.

"Every month he sends dozens of requests for information," Goldman said. "We respond to those requests on a regular basis. Periodically he will request documents that simply don't exist. When we respond to him that no such document exists, then he accuses us of stonewalling him. He makes threats of public humiliation" -- regularly telling Goldman that if he does not comply with his requests he will call him out at a board meeting or go to the press.

At the Jan. 23 board meeting, Goldman confronted Nelson. The superintendent asked Nelson why he had been filing public records requests with the City of Mountain View, asking for correspondences between city officials and the district administration -- which the superintendent identified as being consistent with Nelson's "pattern of harassment and an interference of the operations of the district."

Nelson said he had filed the requests because Goldman had been "stonewalling" him -- accusing the superintendent of being "unresponsive" to a recent request for the very information he was seeking through his filings with the city.

"I am really offended by the allegations that I'm not responsive to you," Goldman fired back, bringing up the volume of email he regularly receives from Nelson. "You have an insatiable desire for reports and information. We respond to the overwhelming majority of requests for information."

Trustee Chris Chiang eventually chimed in saying he was concerned with the tone of the conversation and the impact such exchanges would ultimately have on the district and its students. "There are very few organizations out there that can operate if the board and the executive leadership are hostile," Chiang said. "It is a recipe for disaster."

Both Goldman and Lambert are also concerned about wider repercussions rippling out from the board meetings through the district.

"When you see the board of the school district not being able to take a leadership role, it has to effect the morale of the entire district," Lambert said.

Goldman said he is worried that Nelson's constant challenges to the district administration might have a chilling effect on communications with the city and other organizations, and ultimately limit the potential of the district. "It's ironic that Mr. Nelson claims that his goal is to have transparent and open communication but his actions have the impact of limiting communications in the future."

Comments

Posted by GSB, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 31, 2014 at 9:51 am

This whole situation makes me sad. Be cautious of who you vote for.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Castro City
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:02 am

It's good to not fill the board with "yes men" but it's possible to not be a yes man and still be civil. The district should not be upset that a board member or any member of the public wants information, though the requester needs to be clear.


Posted by James, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:33 pm


Web Link


Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Nick, the request was to the City, and it was a Public Records Request (PRR) not a Federal FOIA. It involved no MVWSD resources.
Public Records Request, to City of Mountain View, Jan 21
"Time period: October 7, 2013 - Jan 20, 2014
email originator: domain name = "mvwd.org" or any domain name with "mvwsd"
Subject: "Slatter" or "park lease" or Google preschool
MVWSD personel: Goldman or McNamee or Lilga"
The City is used to fulfilling hundreds of these types of requests a year (according to the phone call I got to clarify my request the next day). The City was able to search and send the 5 email correspondences in less than a day and a half. No MVWSD time was spent on this search. They also were perceptive and helpful enough to catch my spelling error (Slater) and process the request rapidly with no fuss. I consider the handing of this PRR yet another example of great local government. In 2011 the City also processed a PRR from "Share Shoreline" that resulted in 'a boxful' of records and correspondence going back to 1969! This information enabled these citizens - to help secure additional Shoreline dollars by having informed public debating positions.
You may ask City (PRR) for my full PRR and the results (5 email files)!


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I think it is very questionable for a district employee to question a board member during a meeting about his actions as a private citizen.


Posted by Nick V, Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Jan 31, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Nick V is a registered user.

Sorry for the error, Steve. I've fixed it in this version of the story.


Posted by Rich, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jan 31, 2014 at 3:05 pm

If I recall correctly, part of the complaint against Nelson was him commenting to the Voice about Goldman or other Board members. Why is it OK for Goldman to publicly bitch about Nelson, then? Does Goldman need to be censured?

I can certainly understand Nelson not responding to Veronin's request for comment. The Voice has uniformly presented this matter in about as anti-Nelson a manner as is possible, including cherry-picking quotes from Nelson to make him appear nuts while giving no coverage at all to the issues he is bringing up.

Nelson may be nuts, or the district may be in incompetent hands, but you'll never know by reading the one-sided Voice.


Posted by Nick V, Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Jan 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Nick V is a registered user.

Rich,

After the censure, I reached out to a First Amendment lawyer and another local -- both of whom defended Nelson and said chastising him for talking to the press was not fair.

That article is here: Web Link


Posted by There it is, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 31, 2014 at 3:35 pm

BOOYAH! Nicky V. coming strong with the "Oh yah?" link.
Nicely played Sir!


Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 5:31 pm

BTW, Nick and I are on very good terms. He is human, like me. He will stand out in the cold November air, as he did when I met him a few years ago after a MVLA Board meeting - and let you talk to him till you're cold about the community and schools. I hear he is leaving for another post - at the Palo Alto Weekly (another Embarcadero Publishing local). Nick has been known, throughout our education community - for trying to write more "positive articles" than negative. He does a great job IMO. I have heard many say they will also miss his coverage of our community.


Posted by Jerry, a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 31, 2014 at 9:47 pm

The Superintendent should take orders from the Board as a body, not from any individual on the board. That's a standard tenet of good board governance. Mr. Nelson has no rights as an individual over the Superintendent, unless he can convince the full Board to make a request of the Superintendent. That means the Superintendent should deny any request for information that is so time consuming that it detracts from the operations of the agency. Responding to requests from an individual board member is a matter of courtesy, and not a requirement of the position.


Posted by yamanoor, a resident of Bailey Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 10:40 pm

We really need to see the other side of the story, and maybe the actual emails. The paper siding with the district comes off as nepotism to the untrained eye...


Posted by Observer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 1, 2014 at 7:46 am

@yamanoor. In a previous article, the Voice referenced emails that they had requested under the public records act so they have seen the whole story.

For those who have attended or watched videos of the meetings, there is no doubt that Nelson is nuts.


Posted by Observer Also, a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Board members need data so they can take positions and make decisions. It's their duty to get data, and the superintendent has to provide it to any one of them. Just asking for data doesn't take a board vote.

What I'd like to know as an Observer is just how much rent the district receives from providing the 10 acres of Cooper Park that they own? Also, how much rent do they get from that tiny preschool that occupies what few buildings are on that site? It's set up like most city schools, where there is a city park next to it. In this case that is 5 acres, but the school district owns about 10 acres, which is the bulk of the park. Since there is no school active there, that's quite a large park that the city gets.

Couldn't the district for example, rent that out to the German International School and then reopen Whisman school for that neighborhood, since there are more kids there now? That way both areas would have 1 school rented and 1 school open.


Posted by Castro Mom, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 2, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Goldman makes well north of $200,000 a year. I'm tired of his and the board's whining. And I doubt they are the angels they pretend to be. The more I read about it the more I want to side with Mr. Nelson. They should just quit if they're not willing to solve or endure this. There are many ways to manage and lead through this situation and at the same time provide Mr. Nelson with answers and documents. Come up with a solution. He has every right to request information and not be smeared for doing so. Approach the problem differently. That's what you are paid or elected to do. This is starting to stink as bad as the US Congress.


Posted by Old Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 3, 2014 at 9:19 am

The City is a much larger, and in some ways more sophisticated organization than MVWSD. Mr. Nelson certainly has access to every piece of public informtation the district generates. Ever since we had two elementary school districts in Mtn Vw, some board member(s) wants data that is not readily available. Since the board approves the budget and staffing, it is fair for Mr. Goldman to point out those requests that require extraordinary effort. The decision to authorize that extraordinary effort belongs rightly to the entire board, not to either Mr. Goldman or Mr. Nelson as individuals. Mr. Nelson sometimes seems unable to make up his mind as to whether he wants to be a gadfly/activist or a highly involved board member. Having watched school boards in this town since 1992, I do not believe it is possible for him to be effective in both his chosen roles.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

USA is a registered user.

A message and the how a message is communicated are two different things. No one is say that Mr. Nelson cannot speak his mind to deliver his message. The issue is how he is communicating his message. Mr. Nelson has substantial problems working with other people.

Mr. Nelson is not just a gadfly that shows up to public hearings. He is an official on the board who is disrupting the board's work.

In his mind, he is fighting the good fight, matching to the tune of a different drummer. His problems go well bey


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

USA is a registered user.

In his mind he is fighting the good fight, marching to the tune of a different drummer. His problems go well beyond that, though.

I won't attempt to be an armchair-psychiatrist, but it is clear that he has some demon that he needs to deal with privately, not by thrashing out at others on the Board.


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