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The [Monday] Papers

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office was more involved in a $20.5 million school contract with a now-indicted consultant than previously disclosed, public records indicate, but his administration has refused to release hundreds of e-mails that could provide a deeper understanding of how the deal came to be," the Tribune reports.

I think when all is said and done with this administration, we're going to find out that Rahm Emanuel's office was more involved with Rahm Emanuel's office than we've been led to believe.

Has there ever been an elected official around these parts so quick to take the credit for occurrences to which he only has the slightest tangential relationship and so quick to deflect the blame for that which lay directly upon his shoulders?

I think not!

Even when Emanuel does "own" something that's gone wrong, he does so with the false magnanimity of an insincere pol whose political calculation has determined that he'll be better perceived by taking responsibility, even if he's not to blame. "Quick, find me something to own!" I can hear him barking at his aides. "I need to look magnanimous today!"

He probably commissions polls to find out what he should own and what he should blame on Daley, Springfield, the old ways, gun laws, poor black people's values, teachers or you.

Rahm Emanuel is like the cunning political antithesis to the George Costanza who found great success when he did the opposite of everything he'd ever done in his life, which had only brought him failure. In Rahm's case, he succeeds by pretending the opposite of reality. He's a reality-fucker. He fucks with reality.

*

Back to the Trib:

"Emanuel and his aides have maintained that the mayor's office had nothing to do with the contract to provide leadership training for principals that is at the center of a federal bribery indictment against ex-schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the consulting firm where she once worked."

This is odd to me, because at least one Emanuel aide actually questioned the contract - in a way that no member of the school board we're aware of did. The Sun-Times reported on Friday that Barbara Byrd-Bennett was (faux) livid when the mayor's top education aide questioned the SUPES contract. Does this not reflect at least partially well on the Emanuel administration?

To wit:

Just before 6:30 p.m. on June 24, 2013, a CPS deputy press secretary asked the district's then-personnel director, Alicia Winckler, and an official in charge of hiring principals for more information about the proposal that was set to come to the Board of Ed. for approval less than 48 hours later.

"There is some concern that we're spending a large sum on some principals while laying off others, and teachers," deputy press secretary David Miranda wrote, saying the questions had come to CPS from the mayor's office.

Now, why the mayor's office would seek out the CPS press office for answers - just like us reporter mopes - instead of going directly to the source doesn't make sense to me. I'd joke that maybe they can't get answers out of CPS either, but let's face it, they are CPS.

Anyway:

According to Miranda, who referred to Byrd-Bennett as B3 - the nickname the mayor used for her - City Hall wanted to know the answers to these questions:

"Can you tell us how much money is spent on principal development in total? Where does SUPES fit into that - does it replace a previous training regimen, is it supplemental? Where does the money come from? Is this one of B3's pillars? Do we have any principals or third-party validators who could speak favorably about the program? Any additional info you can provide on the program, especially its benefits and value vs. cost?"

Though that e-mail wasn't addressed to her, Byrd-Bennett, told about it, instructed Winckler to tell the mayor's office that SUPES - which had been working for CPS on a more limited basis - was the "principal training vehicle for the district . . . previously disjointed and multiple strategies were used."

Byrd-Bennett told Winckler it "should be noted" that SUPES works for the American Association of School Administrators. That group cut ties to SUPES after federal agents served subpoenas to CPS in April and raided the offices of SUPES, which was based in Wilmette.

"Would they like for me to answer directly?" Byrd-Bennett asked.

Winckler told her she'd handle the response. That evening, Winckler sent a lengthy reply, telling City Hall, "SUPES is uniquely qualified for this work."

The top spokeswoman for CPS at the time, Becky Carroll, wrote that she was "calling Lisa to explain."

Again, it's hard to understand why CPS's media people are involved in this, except to say that Carroll, who would later leave CPS to run Rahm's mayoral Super PAC, was essentially his eyes and ears there.

Lisa Schrader, at that time Emanuel's chief of staff, said Friday the questions about SUPES had come from her after schools official presented the agenda for their next board meeting to the mayor's office.

So the agenda item raised eyebrows at City Hall (just as it did for Sarah Karp, the Catalyst reporter who broke the story) and they started asking tons of questions - they do understand reporters' jobs!

And then Byrd-Bennett did to City Hall what City Hall so often does to us: stonewalled. Now you know how it feels!

Angry at being questioned about the $20.5 million, no-bid contract she was about to hand to her former employers at the SUPES Academy, Byrd-Bennett wrote Emanuel aide Beth Swanson: "I cannot be second-guessed like this."

Now here's the really interesting part in terms of Rahm's media strategy, which will bring us back to today's Tribune story shortly:

CPS officials initially declined to release Byrd-Bennett's June 24, 2013, e-mail to Swanson, citing an exemption in the state's open-records law for correspondence involving "preliminary" deliberations. But in the wake of the indictments, officials said, "CPS believes that the public interest is best served by the release."

Of course, that's not how the state's open-records law works, but City Hall (no doubt Rahm himself, personally) figured out that it would make them look good politically to now release an e-mail chain that showed them pushing back against the SUPES contract.

Of course, that leaves unanswered the question of why Rahm's school board displayed no such curiosity that we're aware of.

In July, Swanson told the Sun-Times she was so concerned about a potential conflict that she raised questions to the school board about the relationship between Byrd-Bennett and Solomon in advance of the SUPES vote.

"But this was the board's decision, and they were comfortable moving forward," Swanson said.

David Vitale, then the board president, said he had "no recollection of talking to" Swanson about SUPES.

*

With all of that in mind, let's return to today's Trib:

When asked in April if his administration had any role at all in the SUPES contract, Emanuel told reporters, "No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And so the answer to that is no."

Yet the mayor's office and schools officials have been in an ongoing struggle with the Tribune over reporters' public records requests that could bear directly on the controversy, withholding many e-mails for months before releasing them, several so heavily redacted that little more than the subject line and addresses remain.

The Emanuel administration has declined to provide about half of the roughly 1,000 emails requested. As part of that fight, the Tribune in June sued the city under the state Freedom of Information Act after the mayor's office redacted or withheld about two dozen emails emanating from Emanuel's office.

What that says to me is that the e-mails released to the Sun-Times were the ones that made the Emanuel administration look as good as they're gonna look in this case - and the rest make them look really, really bad.

By early 2013, efforts to expand the program were growing, and e-mails obtained by the Tribune show SUPES' co-owners and CPS officials discussing how to secure more money to broaden the training. Some of those e-mails were exchanged on the same day in May that CPS officials were scheduled to meet with Emanuel. The e-mails often referenced the phrase "CELA," shorthand for the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy, an Emanuel-backed initiative to train school leaders.

In one e-mail, the CPS official shepherding the SUPES contract, Alicia Winckler, received an update from a procurement officer about how much money had already been spent on SUPES, expressing concern about a budget "gap/shortfall" in the near future unless a new contract is approved. At almost the exact same time, Winckler was e-mailing SUPES' co-owners, Solomon and firm President Tom Vranas, with the subject line "Budget." The Tribune has not received that e-mail.

Then just hours before the meeting with the mayor, Winckler sent an e-mail to Robert Boik, a top aide to Byrd-Bennett, with the subject line "Mayor's Report DRAFT for Talent." As the "talent officer" for the district, Winckler headed the department responsible for principal recruitment and training. The administration has withheld the e-mail containing that report.

Within hours, Boik was scheduled to attend the "Vision/Action plan" meeting in Emanuel's office with the mayor, Byrd-Bennett, Swanson, other top Emanuel aides and two members of the school board, David Vitale and Jesse Ruiz, according to the mayor's calendar.

About a month later there was another series of e-mails between key players prior to an education meeting with Emanuel.

The back-and-forth on one string in June was completely redacted by CPS except for the message Swanson wrote to Byrd-Bennett: "Getting my frustration out today via email!"

The subject line on that email was "Next wed." Because it is redacted it is hard to know what was discussed. But the following Wednesday, Emanuel was scheduled to meet with Swanson, Byrd-Bennett, school board members Ruiz and Vitale, the board chairman, according to the mayor's calendar.

Then the day of the meeting with the mayor - two weeks before the board vote - CPS officials forwarded around and discussed several SUPES-related emails, including one titled "SUPES Board report." School officials did not provide those e-mails to the Tribune, but that title is the same one used for the summary report to the school board outlining the no-bid contract.

In the final days leading up to the June 26 school board meeting, the mayor's office was involved in a flurry of communications with Byrd-Bennett and her top deputies about SUPES, according to e-mail logs and the e-mail records provided by the Emanuel administration. That included e-mails between SUPES co-owner Solomon and the contract's overseer at CPS, Winckler.

In an e-mail thread titled "City Hall questions on SUPES," a CPS aide states, "The Mayor's Office has asked us for additional information on the SUPES board report." The questions included where the money is coming from and if there are any principals or others outside CPS who could speak favorably about the SUPES program, according to the e-mail . . .

As those e-mails were shuttling back and forth, another email thread shows Solomon communicating regularly with Winckler, telling her Byrd-Bennett and Swanson were on the phone late into the night after the City Hall questions were raised.

"She was pissed," Solomon wrote of Byrd-Bennett.

Solomon followed up, asking if there had been any word back from City Hall. He said he understood Emanuel aide Swanson and Byrd-Bennett had spoken but added he wasn't sure where the school board chairman stood on the deal.

"Vitale is my concern," Solomon wrote.

At the board meeting the next day, Vitale and Ruiz were part of the school board's 6-0 vote to approve the SUPES contract without discussion.

And, of course:

"Neither Emanuel, his aides nor his communications office would answer detailed Tribune questions based on the e-mail and meeting records."

*

Finally:

"A log of e-mails from the mayor's office showed Swanson, the mayor's education point person, sending or receiving SUPES-related messages more than a dozen times during the days before the board vote.

"But Swanson's responses were not included in the documents turned over to the Tribune. The mayor's office has declined to release what emails it has in its possession from this chain, stating those emails are covered by an exemption in the state law for 'preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.'"

And now remember this response from the administration to the Sun-Times from earlier in this column:

CPS officials initially declined to release Byrd-Bennett's June 24, 2013, e-mail to Swanson, citing an exemption in the state's open-records law for correspondence involving "preliminary" deliberations. But in the wake of the indictments, officials said, "CPS believes that the public interest is best served by the release."

The truth is CPS is being directed by City Hall to best serve the interests of the mayor through a selective releasing of documents that are rightly the property of the public. To Rahm Emanuel, this scandal isn't anything to learn from but simply a political problem to solve.

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Posted on October 12, 2015


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