This is an ancient saying that has taken on new meaning in the light of the multiple sexual harassment accusations we are witnessing.

I have been self-employed for a good chunk of my adult life. When I was employed, I worked for four different companies, including a stint as the VP of Marketing for a national advertising firm.

Each of those businesses was led by a strong leader and I had the great fortune to work in my first adult job for the person who was the smartest businessman I’ve ever known. I learned more in the five years on that job than in all the years since and when it came to starting my import business in 1993, I used the approaches I learned through that job to help make it successful.

What I was taught there was that employees take their cues from the head person. If you create a culture of negativity and fear, you will get cowardice and complacency in return.

If, however, you nurture creativity and service, you will get an organization that thrives on innovation and success. Think here of Disney, for which I worked for about three months many years ago.

My guess would be that the harassment accusations within companies – not individual charges – are enterprises led by someone who long ago lost touch with the concepts of respect and civility. Even if those people were not the harassers, so to speak, their poor leadership led to an organization where it was tolerated and where people were discouraged from speaking up.

This does not absolve the harassers, it is only an explanation as to why some have gotten away with it for so long.

Not once in all the years I was employed in any of the companies was there even a hint of sexual harassment or any other improper behavior by anyone in the organization. There is a lone exception – a guy in the agency who committed a crime and went to prison for a few years as a result. But he was not a supervisor and the crime occurred outside of the office and did not involve other employees.

The N-MUSD administration is not special. It has highs and lows and operates like a lot of other corporations or government bodies. Lately, however, it has begun to show the wear and tear that comes with bad management.

In the last post, I listed some of the poor decisions and incidents that have plagued the tenure of Supt. Frederick Navarro, but for whatever reason, I forgot to mention the lalapalooza; the singular even that would tell any outsider all they need to know about the culture of the N-MUSD.

I forgot to mention the Gold Ribbon scandal at Mariners Elementary School.

In that scandal – and it was indeed a true scandal – the teacher union wrote to the district complaining of “untruths” and “inaccuracies” in the school’s application for Gold Ribbon status.

Despite that fact that the supt. signed off on the Gold Ribbon application, and despite a lengthy investigation into the mess which included work done by an outside agency, plus fake community meetings, only one person – the school’s principal – was found negligent and forced to resign.

The superintendent never acknowledged his complicity, nor did he accept any responsibility for the mess, even if only to admit that he approved the principal’s relocation to the school.

This is also an administration that was recently sued by two respected long-term employees for accusations of a toxic work environment.

Where there is smoke, there is fire.

The Gold Ribbon scandal revealed to the public that the district leadership is unwilling to take any responsibility for anything that goes wrong, but is more than happy to pat itself on the back when something works. This approach to avoiding responsibility was also evident in a superintendent memo to the district staff when he tried to blame the poor academic performances of a segment of Costa Mesa’s economically disadvantaged students on a theory that their brains are altered because they live in poor – or poorer – neighborhoods.

As a child, my family was poor, so poor that at times that my mother did not have enough money for food. If my brain has been altered as a result, perhaps it is now better able to determine truth from lies and hypocrisy from credibility.

The superintendent wrote that memo almost two years ago and stated that he has “much more to learn about this theory” and that the theory is “one that we need to explore more deeply.” Nothing has been done since.

Those Costa Mesa schools have outstanding teachers and fine facilities. The more likely scenario for the academic performance is failed leadership.

When all was said and done, the school board just rated the superintendent “exceptional” and gave him $34,450 more dollars of your money.

The fish rots from the head.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD