Mike Miles and the Bad Annual Review Issue: More Bullshit from The Dallas Morning News

Right away let me say: No one is more troubled than I am by my own knee-jerkism concerning Dallas superintendent of schools Mike Miles. How the hell did I ever find myself in the role of predictably apoplectic apologist for a public official? Please, somebody free me from my own alliteration!

But not yesterday. Yesterday I needed all my initial consonants. The Dallas Morning News had a big editorial lambasting Miles for giving a low performance rating to the head of an internal school district investigative unit who had investigated, among other people and things, Mike Miles.

So it looked bad, the News said. Here the guy gets investigated, and then he tries to get back at the person who investigated him by giving him a bad performance review. The News pointed out that the internal investigation spurred a further external investigation by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins.

"Eventually, Coggins cleared Miles of the initial allegations, but the episode left trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor," the editorial stated.

Yeah, well please allow me to present a very different take on that whole process. Coggins, who was paid 50 grand for his work, combed over the investigative report produced by Don Smith, head of the school district's Office or Professional Responsibility or OPR, and found it was a jumble of bullshit allegations, not one of which would stick, ginned up with heavy participation by school board members out to get Miles over school reform and teacher pay and tenure issues.

Nothing in Smith's investigative report or Coggins' first review of it gave Miles' enemies on the board the red meat they needed to take him down. They didn't even get a cold hot dog. So the board members most involved in persuading Smith to do the initial investigation, Carla Ranger, Bernadette Nutall and Elizabeth Jones, goaded Coggins to give it another try.

Coggins agreed to expand his probe to look into charges that Miles had wrongly allowed a top executive's resignation letter, legally a public document, to be made public. Try that on for size. But for this offense -- wrongfully allowing a public document to be made public -- Coggins came back and suggested to the board they could fire Miles. The charge? Not maintaining a good relationship with them.

What good relationship?

Miles was not fired. But that sequence of events is what the News apparently was referring to when it said yesterday, "the episode left trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor."

Yeah, well, "aloud" is about the only true word there.

All of this should take us back to a strongly parallel scenario last winter when Nutall, without any permission or proper vote from the rest of the board, whispered in the ear of a person serving as interim auditor of the district, who was eager to get the full-time job, asking her to do an audit of Miles. Before the audit was complete, before it had been shown to Miles for comment, before it had been presented to the board, a draft was leaked to the Morning News. It said, "As a result of our review, we determined rules were violated and undue influence prevailed throughout the business process prior to and subsequent to the transition phase of Superintendent Miles."

The term, undue influence, is about two pennies shy of an allegation of criminality. So, wow. An internal audit discovers that Miles is a damn crook or something? And maybe here is how I got so obsessed on this subject in the first place.

Miles called the draft audit "a witch hunt." I wrote a hasty piece saying any guy who can't take a bad audit and calls it a witch hunt ought to get a ride out of town on a rail. Then I got a copy of the draft audit. Oh, damn it! It was witch hunt. In fact, in the realm of witch hunts, this was a crap witch hunt.

For proof of what a piece of junk it was, you had to look at the eventual completed audit, from which all mention of "undue influence" was expunged. Expunged because Miles got it expunged? Oh, hell no, not with those board members riding close herd, hoping for any scrap they could use to get him. The whole undue influence thing went away because it was never remotely supportable by the evidence in the first place.

That's exactly what happened with the OPR report. This is what we need to remember: None of the wild allegations in the OPR report held up. It was all junk. It was a crap witch hunt all over again.

In order to keep his client happy and justify his fee, Coggins had to come up with the charge of wrongfully making a public document public. (Disclosure: The charge was more specifically that the document, a resignation letter in which a top district executive said he was quitting because board member Jones was driving him crazy, was "leaked" to me personally. I say the only opportunity here for a violation of law would have been any effort to withhold or hide a public document from me.)

The guy who did the bad internal investigation of Miles worked for Miles. He did then, anyway. Since then the same board members have re-engineered the deal so that the investigative guy works for them directly. But at the time of the bogus report, he worked for Miles. Miles was his boss. And Miles had to do an evaluation saying how good the guy was at investigating.

What would you have said? Sterling fellow, really gets those investigations right, wears a good suit, really like the cut of his jib, never a problem except for that one huge blow-up that almost stalled school reform in the city over bogus allegations and crap gossip all of which turned out to be false that he only put in his report in the first place to suck up to my enemies on the school board.

Maybe the dumbest thing in the News editorial is the line about the incident leaving "trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor." No, it left his enemies on the board wanting to kill him. It left them wanting to ride him out of town on a rail.

Listen, the opposition to Miles is about jobs and patronage, seniority pay versus merit pay for teachers and certain personality disorders on the school board. The fake audit and the fake internal investigation were ruses to deflect public attention from what's really going on and what's really at stake.

Dallas is not the Lone Ranger on any of this. These very same battles are being fought in major urban school districts all over the country. We must expect the defenders of patronage and seniority pay to fight tooth and nail against school reform here, because they are fighting it everywhere else as well.

They don't like the optics of publicly defending patronage and bad teachers, so they want to personalize the fight, make it ad hominem. They say it's all about American school superintendents suddenly becoming an entire race of crazy badass sons of bitches working for the damn 1 percenters. Nobody ever explains why in the hell the damn 1 percenters would give a crap about big urban public school systems. Aren't their kids all in med school in the Turks and Caicos Islands or something?

We will not get out of this easy, because nobody will get out of it easy. School reform is a national movement and a national fight. There is no sweet way home. On the path to meaningful reform, a whole lot of ugliness lies in wait. We would be cowards to turn aside.

Don't get conned.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze