Update on Excel Bridgeport Inc. – still violating the law?

42 Comments

Hundreds, even thousands of groups successfully follow Connecticut’s ethics and lobbing laws, so why do Excel Bridgeport, Inc. and some of the biggest corporate leaders in Fairfield County have such a hard time complying with the rules the rest of us have to live by?

Since it was incorporated, much of what Excel Bridgeport has been doing could be considered lobbying.

Beginning in January 2011, Meghan Lowney actively worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to attempt its illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System.  In fact, over the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney engaged in numerous communications with state officials and yet neither Lowney, Nate Snow (Chair, CT Teach for America) or Excel Bridgeport ever registered to lobby Connecticut state government, as required.

During the recent 2012 legislative session, Excel Bridgeport, as well as its leadership and staff worked hard to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill, as well as more targeted efforts to help the Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education.  Despite that, Excel Bridgeport, its directors and its staff failed to register in January, February, March, April and most of May.

More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist.  The initial paperwork  said that the group’s executive director, Maria Zambrano, was also going to file the necessary paperwork, but so far she has failed to and her application is listed as “still pending.”

Although the group registered, it has still failed to fill out the required reporting documents.

Furthermore, neither Meghan Lowney nor Nate Snow has registered, although they were the two who had the most significant contact with state officials.

For the record, the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc. was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.

According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation (the personal foundation of a Fairfield County billionaire) was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president.  Lowney’s work and home addresses, in Fairfield, were used as the organization’s legal address.

Although they apparently didn’t take the time to properly amend their legal documents, at some point over the last couple of years, Nathan Snow became Excel’s president, Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions) became treasurer and Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC) became secretary of Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

Meanwhile, the company’s directors became Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).

Even after repeated columns about this issue, Excel Bridgeport Inc. continues to engage in activities that a reasonable person would consider lobbying.

Earlier this summer, Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the Bridgeport Public Library announced the “Great Bus Tour for Better Bridgeport Schools.”  The effort, which included at least five sessions around the City, included one and a half hour “education” programs and refreshments.

According to Jorge Cabrera, Excel’s community organizer, Excel Bridgeport co-sponsored the event with the Bridgeport Library saying “We are very excited about this tour as we engage Bridgeport parents regarding improving the public schools. We firmly believe that change can happen and that our schools can be a model of success. We anticipate a vigorous discussion around the issues of education change but know that if parents have an honest facilitator who can help them carve out a “space” in which they can grow as leaders, learn to advocate for their children and city and are supported that they can achieve significant, systemic, long-term change in their schools that can transform a generation. Our bus tour is a piece of that larger vision we are working toward every day!”

The publicity material failed to note that Bridgeport’s City Librarian is also a Director of Excel Bridgeport or where the money for the effort was coming from.  Under Connecticut law, if the bus tour included any discussions about persuading the state, then Excel Bridgeport could have violated the law by not properly reporting those expenses.  In addition, if lobbying did take place, it raises significant ethical and legal issues if the City Librarian, the City Library or any public resources were used during the “bus tour.”

Since the Office of State Ethics cannot comment on ongoing investigations, it is not clear if Excel Bridgeport is or is not under investigation for lobbying violations leading up to the State Department of Education’s illegal takeover, whether they engaged in illegal lobbying during the recent legislative session or whether Excel Bridgeport Inc., its board of directors or its staff continue to violate the spirit and the letter of Connecticut law.

And violations do not come cheap.  Failing to follow Connecticut’s lobbying law can result in fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

And perhaps the biggest question of all remains the mystery.

Why do these people appear to believe that they are above the law?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-White/100000066062155 Rich White

    Are they driving with their temporary plates? Is it illegal or are they still within what the state usually calls compliance? My information says this is not abnormal for new firms and permits to fill in the blanks later and its only after they are established and flip their finger at the regulations do they get fined.

  • guest

    Not cheap?  A $10,000.00 fine is a drop in the bucket compared to what Lowney, Snow, and the rest of Excel Bridgeport stand to gain.
    And, while there may be a period of time allotted for “compliance,” it can hardly be over one year, during most of which this group was pretending not to lobby.
    I’m sure it’s all just fine with Stefan Pryor, though.  He’s got quite a history “migrating” public monies and crisis funding over into private and corporate hands.

  • Linda174

    And they are not looking for community input. They have their game plan set way ahead of time and they will control the community sessions. They want to create an illusion that they are here to listen and they care about your chidlren, It is all a ploy to manipulate families. The end game is public money in their pockets.

    This is happening all over the country. Beware of The Boston Consulting Group and Stand For (should be ON) Children.

    I will post a few links, read if interested. Stay informed…be alert.

    Jon, what happened to the Tom Swan complaint against Pryor for using SERC $$?

    • Linda174
      • Linda174

        The Delphi Technique — How to Disrupt It

        Ground rules for disrupting the consensus process (Delphi Technique) — when facilitators want to steer a group in a specific direction.

        1)    Always Be Charming.  Smile, be pleasant, be courteous, moderate your voice so as not to come across as belligerent or aggressive.

        2)    Stay Focused.  If at all possible, write your question down to help you stay focused.  Facilitators, when asked questions they don’t want to answer, often digress from the issue raised and try to work the conversation around to where they can make the individual asking the question look foolish, feel foolish, appear belligerent or aggressive.  The goal is to put the one asking the question on the defensive.  Do not fall for this tactic.  Always be charming, thus deflecting any insinuation, innuendo, etc, that may be thrown at you in their attempt to put you on the defensive, but bring them back to the question you asked.  If they rephrase your question into an accusatory statement (a favorite tactic) simply state, “that is not what I stated, what I asked was… (repeat your question).”  Stay focused on your question.

        3)    Be Persistent.  If putting you on the defensive doesn’t work, facilitators often resort to long drawn out dissertations on some off-the-wall and usually unrelated, or vaguely related, subject that drags on for several minutes – during which time the crowd or group usually loses focus on the question asked (which is the intent).  Let them finish with their dissertation/expose, then nicely, with focus and persistence, state, “but you didn’t answer my question.  My question was… (repeat your question).”

        Remember…

        always be charming,
        stay focused, and
        be persistent.

        • guest

          Sorry, I hate to be a wet blanket, but I don’t think this actually works.  Charming people who make sense and promote public schools and respect for teachers and parents are just ignored.
          But I will say that Stefan Pryor is a past master at the Delphi Technique.  Just think of all the “town meetings” held by our fearless leader, Malloy, and Pryor’s “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth or on my bald pate in the hot sun” demeanor. 
          Read his comments in today’s Hartford Courant on Mary Loftus Levine’s retirement (how sad to see her go!)–you would think that this guy was not the advance guard of privatizing public schools and firing teachers.  He actually sounds reasonable, as always. 
          I’ll find the Courant link.

          • Linda174

            Pryor is not to be trusted..he is a snake waiting to circumvent the system to his advantage. He is trying to get what he couldn’t get in SB24 via other methods.

            They usually “sound” reasonable. They are masters of deception.

            Loved this quote…maybe this should be the approach.

            “We should be willing to tell the truth with the same audacity that they are willing to tell their lies.”. – Van Jones

          • guest
          • Linda174

            See comment at the top…meant to post here. Supreme bullshitter for sure.

      • guest

        A.  This is how the Special Master runs meetings–check out his powerpoints as Superintendent in Hartford, and the Windham BoE meeting minutes more recently.  Lengthy, lengthy meetings.  What are the goals for the district?  Is anyone really going to say, For the students to fail?  To increase the achievement gap?  Even though any idiot can make the correct answer–to promote–no, guarantee–student achievement, it takes 6 or 7 3-hour “workshop” meetings to elaborate this, and then several more meetings to add in the 169 steps that will be taken to get there.
        This won mucho praise for the Special Master when he went over it at the State Board of Ed–whose meetings, incidentally, seem to run to 6 or 7 hours.
        The Special Master of two districts also follows Ravitch’s “meaningless” meeting format in curtailing severely public participation.  You have to sign in.  And give your address.  And be fingerprinted.  And hand over your first born child to a charter school management firm.  Then, and only then, you will have your three minutes to comment.
        B.  This is how Leadership Greater Hartford is “coaching” School Governance Councils in Hartford, Windham and elsewhere to have truly meaningless meetings to go with the SGC window-dressing function.  Did we really think parental participation in governing schools would be honored?  The Special Master is too busy breaking up schools, rearranging grades, closing this and opening that, keeping children in leaky classrooms, etc.  That’s why he sits on the board of Leadership Greater Hartford, as detailed in an earlier blog of Jonathan’s, and directs districts that he controls to hire them (you’re next New London!  and a big raise to all of you at Leadership Greater Hartford!  They are Connecticut’s own Boston Consulting Group!).

        • Linda174

          Go down to about the 7th post and watch the Occupy DOE video. Maybe this can be organized prior to the next meaningless meeting.

          http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/02/democracy-in-chicago/#comments

          • guest

            I have watched that.  It’s worth a try!  But you need a lot of brave, loud (not charming!) people, not those who have been downtrodden and disrespected.

          • Linda174

            Maybe you can bribe college students with subway sandwiches and tshirts or a keg of beer. They can get quite rowdy!

        • guest

          I can’t neglect this–all the things the new Superintendent in New Britain is “un-doing” were done by Adamowski in Hartford–breaking up/down schools, having K-2 schools; specialized academies all over the place, etc, etc.
          The new Super is saying, no!  too confusing.  Back to neighborhood schools.
          Adamowski, of course, says back to neighborhood schools in Windham, but this is code for “overcrowd” the urban schools, and relieve the more suburban or village schools.  There aren’t many schools to work with in a small place like Windham, but he is just messing up whatever he can.  And the Board of Ed says yes to everything he wants.
          http://www.courant.com/community/new-britain/hc-new-britain-schools-0710-20120709,0,1240415.story

  • CONconn

    They also send their worker bees in nice suits to the Bridgeport BOE meetings to speak about how wonderful Paul Vallas and the illegal board is.

    • Linda174

      He needs paid cronies to be his friends….how pathetic.

      Everyplace he has been is now a disaster…Philly, Chicago, NOLA…..when is the public going to catch on?

  • Linda174

    He still manages to use his words wisely to weave in an slight insult:

    And, Pryor said, when Levine “enters a ‘solutions mindset,’ there’s no problem that’s too complex to solve.”

    In other words when she disagreed or was not budging, she wasn’t in a “solutions mindset”.

    Quite frankly, he is a supreme bullshitter with a Yale degree, and that folks makes him smarter than the rest of us. Our only hope is that this is just a stepping stone on his meteoric rise to reformer infamy….word is he eventually wants to get in on the charter chain cash cow.

    • guest

      Don’t you think he is already in on the charter chain cash cow?  He co-founded Achievement First with Dacia Toll–and that chain is expanding. 
      Maybe Pryor wants Arne Duncan’s gig.  His meteoric rise is not quite right, but then, a lot of the school reform nonsense is being bulldozed through by TFAers and fairly recent grads.
      Let’s not forget that there are some strange points of intersection between Vallas and Pryor… and probably other nasty reformers.
      Pryor’s “Lower Manhattan Development Corporation” was a post-9/11 disaster program worthy of Paul Vallas’s interventions.  Lots of regulations were waived in both the 9/11 and Katrina situations, so that public monies could flow more easily into private corporate coffers.  There’s a lot of money, and a lot of tax breaks around when disaster strikes.  People like Pryor and Vallas rush in to make sure that money doesn’t go to anyone who actually suffered.
      So, school reform is a lot like their disaster training.  Just make sure that money doesn’t go to children or their teachers. 

      • Linda174

        Yes, yes, all true….I am usually speaking sarcastically.

        Vallas was quoted, in reference to Haiti, it was disaster as opportunity.

        “There’s a real opportunity here, I can taste it. That is why I’ve flown [to Haiti] so many times.” Meet Paul Vallas. The 58-year-old Vallas is the former CEO of the Chicago and Philadelphia public school systems and was hired in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana that oversaw the transformation of the New Orleans school system.

        • Linda174
        • guest

          I want to be able to sleep tonight, not toss and turn thinking about this vampire Vallas who sucks the life out of the poor and suffering–and then gets praised and rewarded for it!
          I’ll watch tomorrow, in the light of day.  I’ll also post what I can about Pryor helping the rich take over the neighborhoods of workers and other poor schmoes displaced by 9/11.  I mean, Bank of America really needed incentives to stay in New York–even though, right after 9/11–from their not-impacted locality elsewhere in Manhattan–they never said they were leaving.  But Pryor made sure they got hefty tax incentives and plenty of disaster relief.  I mean, who can even find all those waiters and waitresses who lost their $11.00 an hour jobs?  So what if the money was supposed to help people who actually lost something?  

    • Guest

      I think he still has unexpired stock options in Achievement First (Ticker: “AF” traded on the NASDAQ or some other exchange).  If it turns out he does, can’t he be charged with frad?didn’t disclose them

      • Brutus2011

        I don’t believe AF is a publicly traded company. I think it is a 501(c) or non-profit in its incorporation. Now what entity controls it or whatever is unclear…

        • Guest

          Non-profit??  How can they be non-profit when the owners are making MILLIONS? Follow the money!

  • Pingback: CT Essential Politics – Wednesday 07.11.12 - CT Devil's Advocate()

  • Msavage51

    Guest–Re the New Britain thing. That caught my eye as well. I did a bit of reading trying to figure out what this guy is up to–another chubby white guy with a beard, by the way. And another weird name–Kelt Cooper. Kelt? Anyway, trying to figure out what his MO is. On the surface, going back to neighborhood schools sounds like a great idea. But does he have some “hidden” motive? Coming from Texas, with a name like Kelt and mug like his–sorry, I don’t trust him. Wow, I’ve always tried not to be prejudiced against people for superficial reasons, but–I don’t trust middle-aged white guys with weird names.

    • guest

      The big national searches for Superintendents and school administrators is a troubling sign of the corporatization of education.  Life-long educators, those with local ties and local roots (for the most part) would seem a more viable option.
      As for this back-and-forth between “neighborhood schools” (which could be a code for re-segregating, as in Windham) versus grouping all K-2 over here; and 3-5 over there–it’s all a shell game to make it look like reformers are doing something.
      I don’t see a fundamental problem with the elementary, middle, high school model.  Adamowski claims fifth graders all do better on test scores in elementary school.  I really doubt that.  There are issues with middle school that don’t crop up in elementary school–puberty!–but the biggest obstacle to middle school success, from a “reformer’s” point of view, is that every grade in middle school is tested on the CMTs.  So, if you can break it up you might be able to play the system.  It is not really reform.
      Connecticut, and the rest of the nation, need to face up to integration in a serious manner–in housing as well as in schooling, with regard to class as well as race.
      Reformers stay in business by shaking things up, and then, after they leave, their clone from another district comes in and shakes things up again, back to the original model.

  • guest

    An important study, not on education reform per se, but on the entire restructuring of public money and civic institutions, is here
    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/sof/summary/v087/87.2.gotham.html

    This is Pryor’s background, and Vallas’s training ground.  This is why education reform groups are spending so much money, “astroturfing,” and getting involved in BoE elections and mayoral takeovers.  I think that the link will go to an abstract, and that you should be able to download an academic (peer-reviewed!) study.

  • guest

    Let’s look at Pryor’s past while at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation:

    “The removal
    of “public benefit” standards from federal grants and tax exemptions not only fails
    to address the needs of low-income people but exacerbates inequalities by
    allowing corporations to use public resources and policy to aid private profit
    making.”  Regarding 9/11 disaster aid, Republican
    Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg got “two optimal funding mechanisms:  Community Development Block Grants(CDBG)  and tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds (“Liberty
    Bonds”).”  Pataki and Bloomberg “were
    given complete jurisdiction over $8 billion in bonds.  And (Stefan Pryor’s) Lower Manhattan
    Development Corporation was created to oversee $3.7 billion worth of block
    grants.” Gotham and Greenberg’s “analysis of the leadership, board composition
    and mission statements of the leading partnerships in redevelopment showed them
    to be overwhelmingly tied to business interests.”

    “Upon its
    creation, (Stefan Pryor’s) Lower Manhattan Development Corporation sought and received
    a waiver on all income requirements and “public benefit standards” attached to
    CDBGs, including a complete waiver of the stipulation that 70 percent of funds
    go to low income people – a first in the history of the program.   Restrictions on how the grants should be monitored and evaluated
    were also waived, including waivers on public hearings, “consultation [with] affected
    units of local government,” and the preparation of performance report.  It now was left to the press and the public,
    rather than due process, to report what ultimately occurred.  (It looks like it’s up to you, Jonathan
    Pelto, to report on this!)  From the
    report by Kevin Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, http://www.tulane.edu/~kgotham/Papers/Gotham&GreenbergSocialForces2008.pdf.

  • guest

    More on Pryor, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the banks and real estate developers:

    Who were the
    major beneficiaries [of disaster aid]? More than 40 percent of all bonds, or
    $2.4 billion, went to a single developer:  Larry Silverstein, owner of the World Trade
    Center.  The second largest beneficiary was
    Goldman Sachs, which received $1.65 billion to finance a new 43-story, $2 billion
    headquarters. $650 million of tax- exempt financing went to Bank of America,
    despite the fact that the company admitted publicly that it never intended to
    leave New York. As for residential development, the bonds helped finance the
    largest luxury-housing boom in recent New York City history. From 2001-2006,
    the residential population of Lower Manhattan increased 60 percent, and the
    average resident income shot up from average to among the highest in the New
    York City. With the assistance of LB subsidies, co-op prices in the financial district
    have climbed 50 percent since 2001, faster than any other part of the city over
    this period.

    One might
    well question the need for massive subsidized investment in New York City’s
    high-end commercial real estate as a solution to the post-9/11 economic crisis.
    60 percent of those who suffered most in this period made $11/hour and were not
    eligible for these bonds. If nothing else, the post 9/11 aid package to New
    York City programs appears to have created a unique opportunity to prop up the
    Manhattan real estate market, and to do so without public oversight. Officials
    were empowered to structure multi-billion-dollar compensation programs without
    regard to need, without establishing whether compensated firms intended to
    leave in the first place, and without any significant public scrutiny.
    Ultimately, as a result of the emergency deregulations of the CDBG and Liberty
    Bond programs, New York City and State were able to use federal disaster aid in
    ways that abandoned the original intent of such funding: to serve the “public
    good” and to address the needs of low- to moderate-income people. This created
    precedents that were to be followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    From the
    report by Kevin Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, http://www.tulane.edu/~kgotham/Papers/Gotham&GreenbergSocialForces2008.pdf.

    • Magister

      A similar thing happened in Rome after the fire of 64 AD.

      • guest

        Rapacious ruling classes never change.

    • guest

      Is it a coincidence that earlier in this century, Jeff Klaus was working for Bank of America, while Dacia Toll was invested in Achievement First?  When did Achievement First become Achievement First?  Kind of interesting that Pryor, as the corporate head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp helped Bank of America so much, and he also helped Achievement First…  But nowadays banking, development, and school reform are all equally LUCRATIVE investment opportunities.

      • Guest

        You’re right.  Klaus was on assignment for BofA in NYC in 2002-2003 – right at the time that Pryor was at LMDC.  This is getting ugly.

  • Msavage51

    Speaking of the rapacious ruling classes, check out this excellent article by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-winning foreign correspondent who has witnessed revolutions first-hand. Could this ed. reform fiasco be a symptom of a dying corporate empire getting more and more reckless and making desperate grabs at power and money with less and less regard for obscuring the immorality of their actions?http://www.truthdig.com/report/page3/colonized_by_corporations_20120514/

    • guest

      wow, sounds absolutely convincing!

  • Sue

    OK, this is bizarro. If you click on Exel’s webpage
     http://www.excelbridgeport.org/
    and then go to the “Join Us” link on their front page, you get this:

    “Mayday! Mayday!
    Page not found! Try clicking somewhere else.”

    Guess they don’t want any members.

    • Linda174

      What do they actually do? Who funds them? There are so many of the organization now…the list is endless. They all have warm fuzzy names to try and hide their true agenda.

      Mayday Mayday….that’s very funny. Maybe they were hacked.

      Students First shoud be Rheefirst

      Stand for Children shoud be Stand on Children

      Democrats for Education Reform another fraud, none of them are democrats

      They are all stumbling over each other to suck from the public trough.

  • jschmidt2

    god research jon- but this is a one party state where anyone connected to or lobbying that party can do no wrong.

  • Jamiraquai

    Another black hole. Where did the city librarian actually get the money to have a BS tour and how much did it cost? I know. My tax dollars. Did it come out of the money that didn’t go to buy the books the students didn’t get? Or to pay the FAT salary of the city librarian? It just makes me so angry to see the wasted BS dollars. Probably from some stupid base and pointless grant and subsidised out of my property tax dollars.