Why Sara Voted ‘NO’ on the Recreation Center Expansion Plan
Why did Trustee Schmitz vote NO on the plan for the Rec Center expansion, and then vote YES for the unanimous letter of support for the plan? Sara and her supporters have been very busy trying to explain away these contradictory votes, and the resulting loss of a $25.6M grant from the Duffield Foundation to pay for this expansion. The products of this spin machine include:
• she wasn’t told she needed to vote YES for both motions to secure the grant
• the Duffields had not legally committed to the grant
• she didn’t want to be rushed into approving the plan
• the plan didn’t really benefit the community
• the plan didn’t include a needed half-court multi-use gym;
• the Boys and Girls Club isn’t really a recreational program so it should not be supported by an IVGID facility; and so on.
How do we decide what is true and what is political spin, the old politician’s two-step designed to avoid responsibility for an unpopular decision?
A series of emails between Trustee Schmitz and GM Winquest provides an additional perspective about why Sara voted ‘NO’ on Plan D for the Recreation Center Expansion project. These emails were obtained through a Public Records Request to IVGID. The vote regarding the Rec Center took place on September 14, 2022. These eight emails were all sent on September 1. After receiving an update on the proposal for option D from Indra, Sara indicated that “I am not in favor of what I am understanding to be proposed”, and “This (Option D) specifically fits the donor’s desire for gymnastics and the B & G club while it does not add what the community has identified as a need, more gymnasium space”. She concluded that: “in the long term (this plan) doesn’t provide benefit to the general community at large.” Sara also added: “Perhaps the B & G club could make use of the gym at the middle school”, and “If this project doesn’t provide long-term benefit to the general community, since they will be paying for the maintenance and long-term building upkeep, I can’t support it.”
Indra responded with a series of emails in an attempt to help Sara recognize the multiple benefits and uses of the expansion. “We need to discuss as I believe we are still able to achieve almost everything we were aiming for and I think you are over estimating the scope of the partnership with the boys and girls club.” He added: “Please also consider the tenant improvements that will be a huge benefit as we move the recreation counter and offices up. I believe the Recreation Center Campus once completed would essentially have everything needed to accommodate future generations. We will be able to use the new (gymnastics) gym facility for multi-use.”
In the 6th email, Sara responded: “Perhaps the District needs to contribute funds to get the components that the community will benefit from. We need additional gym space for personal training, etc. If this had been brought forward, perhaps a different option would have been chosen. I can’t support the option moving forward.” Indra’s response: “We will be able to use the gymnastics area for personal training and other activities.” This idea of contributing IVGID funds to build a larger expansion project had never before been explored or budgeted by the Board, and would require several additional months and Board meetings to set in motion. The donors were not willing to delay the project for this possibility, and in any case further expansion could be done, if needed, in a later project phase.
As noted in the timeline submitted to the Board by the GM on October 24, 2022, on September 7 and 8, “the GM has discussions with the five Trustees providing a project status update. The expectations of the Foundation for (1) unanimous support of the modified project scope (Option D), and for (2) a letter of support and commitment from the five Board Members for the project. The discussion with Trustee Schmitz lasted 92 minutes.” This memo makes it clear that, despite protestations from Trustee Schmitz, she was indeed informed prior to September 14 that the donors were expecting a unanimous vote for Option D and for the letter of support.
Thus, the stage was set for Sara to vote ‘NO’ on Option D, despite the support of the rest of the Trustees. It appears she did not accept that the gymnastics facility could accommodate other uses, that the other tenant additions would provide needed improvements to the center, and that having a youth and teen center would provide a long-term benefit to the general community.
At the Board meeting on September 14, Indra went into great detail to explain all of the ways that Option D would help to address many of the needs and expectations of the community. When the question of accommodating any addition of a gym in a future second phase of the project, Project Manager Waters stated that “the architect and team have looked at the design and created a repetitive design and the design easily allows for the addition of a gymnasium at a future date.”
When on September 14 Trustee Tonking made a motion to approve Option D and sign a letter of unanimous support for and commitment to timely completion of the project; Sara asked to split the motion into two separate motions. She did this so that she could vote NO on Option D, and YES for the unanimous letter of support for the project. Her approval of the letter was intended to provide political cover for her in case her NO vote on Option D led the Duffields to withdraw their pledge. “But I signed the letter of unanimous support” is just one of Sara’s attempts to deflect blame for this $25.6M loss to the community. When Mr. Duffield said: “Indra Winquest is the reason why we offered the $25M donation for the upgrade of the Recreation Center, and Sara Schmitz is the reason we withdrew that pledge”, Sara’s cover fell flat.
This is not the only example of Sara’s use of the political two-step, the spin machine designed to cover an elected official in Teflon to deflect responsibility for an unpopular decision. Here is just a few examples of this spin:
• Indra decided to use his separation agreement option so that his poor performance review wouldn’t be exposed;
• the beach deed didn’t give us a choice about restricting IVGID staff’s access to the beaches – we saved the beaches;
• the decision by so many of IVGID’s management and staff to resign or leave was because we uncovered all sorts of malfeasance and fraud and mismanagement;
• it’s not micromanagement, it’s oversight necessitated by incompetence;
• we had to eliminate the Rec Fees, IVGID wasn’t allowed to collect it if we didn’t use it.
All of these excuses are products of the spin machine, and of course, it is a lot easier to promote these spun up rationales when your supporters can crank up the machine for you. The lesson from this is: don’t slip on the Teflon, we could all get hurt.