The Real Story About Nicole Richardson’s GPS Job (or lack thereof)

We’re hearing lots of wailing and recriminations from the remnants of the Good Old Boys who ran Gilbert Public Schools like a fiefdom: “Rehire Nicole Richardson to be a ceramics teacher!” There must be a tremendous demand for high school ceramics classes in GPS <snark>.

Even Town of Gilbert Mayor John Lewis got into the act, telling the GPS Governing Board how wonderful Nicole is and how much his kids loved being in her classes.  “It’s not fair!” the GOBs cry. Actually, they’re trying to gain traction by comparing Nicole Richardson to the teachers who were reinstated after GPS settled lawsuits, essentially admitting to wrongdoing by those selfsame GOBs.

You know Westie has the goods on this situation. In this case, it appears Nicole Richardson was a wrongdoer. Plus, Nicole made serious allegations about other employees that cannot be ignored. If Nicole Richardson is directing the attack dogs who are making a public spectacle of her situation, maybe she could call them off. Maybe some of this true, but embarrassing information then would disappear from the Internet universe.

Let’s examine some facts together. Nicole Richardson was hired as an elementary art teacher by GPS in 1995. In 2008, she was hired to work in Community Relations to do video and web graphics. It’s apparent that Nicole was in great standing with the GOBs, because she was paid an awful lot of money to be an artist rather than a GPS teacher.

In a funny twist of fate, it was a bumbling move by the GOBs in Human Resources that drew attention to Nicole’s name on the consent agenda. Truly, the head dude of the Loose Zipper Brigade and his sidekick seem to have sold a bill of goods to the new HR boss dudette Chief Talent Officer: past procedure dictated not putting salaries on the consent agenda for rehired employees. Those GOBs were surprised when board members not only noticed that attempted slick trick, they demanded to know what rehired employees were being paid.

We all know that new hires make more money than the loyal employees with equivalent experience and education who stayed with GPS during the Great Recession. Wouldn’t it be a triumph to have GOBs and their posses *resign* and get themselves rehired at the new hire rate of pay? We’re probably on to something there. Dollars to donuts the GOBs are still hiding Good Old Nicole’s proposed new salary. Hey Dr. Zentner: You’d be wise to remember the Reagan policy, “Trust, but verify!”  These GOB remants and Loose Zipper folks probably will be up to nefarious doings any time your head is turned. They’re plotting a big comeback: “Take back our board!” is their rallying cry. You’re welcome, Dr. Z.

Now the GOBs are urging Nicole Richardson to sue the Governing Board for … something. Not long ago, those selfsame GOBs loudly expressed their disgust for people who sued GPS; the noise got louder each time GPS lost or settled in favor of the plaintiffs. Some of the GOBs have turned into attack dogs going against GPS parents, just because they can, which makes this post necessary. Facts are prickly things when they don’t support GOB theories. Westie to the rescue!

First off, Good Old Nicole got herself into trouble by publicly displaying her disdain for duly elected board members that she and her fellow GOBs don’t like. It was just silly junior-high-school kind of behavior; Nicole wasn’t the only GPS employee engaging in that silliness during board meetings. However, this attracted public attention to Nicole, and not in a good way. Good Old Nicole engaged in social media discussions about GPS matters, also not in a good way. We helpfully link to a post showing that Nicole leaked information to GEA about goings-on in the White Temple of Doom during a contentious time.

Good Old Nicole broke the law and district policy in her zeal to get an override passed during the 2013 election. We’ve written about that before. Good Old Jack Keegan, quitter and Kool-Aid drinker extraordinaire, gave Nicole a pass, as we figured back in October 2013.  Turns out we didn’t know the half of it back then. While Nicole openly bragged about what she had done, community leaders on the override committee were not amused and the president of the board called out Nicole’s wrongdoing to Interim Superintendent Jack Keegan:

Community leader email:


Report to Good Old Jack:


 Here’s how the GOBs *fixed it* for Nicole:


It appears that Good Old Nicole got a pass on using district resources to affect the outcome of an election because Good Old Jack was in more hot water than she was.  A board member filed a complaint against Jack Keegan for using district resources to affect the outcome of an election. The Maricopa County Attorney upheld the complaint and entered into a settlement agreement with Jack Keegan.  Good Old Jack paid a fine to settle the matter.  Here’s how the GOBs *fixed it* according to GPS policy for Kool-Aid Jack: he *paid* $10 for the use of the office.

Nicole seemed to become more brazen after she pulled off that shenanigan. Actually, she was doing plenty in the Community Relations office, and the HR minions knew all about it, courtesy of the employees who worked with Nicole. It started off with the former Director of Community Relations demanding that a staffer falsify documents … in “the Green case.” Turns out, another staffer heard that, and realized her career was over because the director knew she overheard it. Seriously. Within two weeks, Good Old Nicole inserted herself into the situation by assuming supervisory duties over the overhearing employee. How’s that for convoluted?

Good Old Nicole employed tactics and strategy that the GOBs had perfected during the Allison Ascendancy: Progressive Documentation. First off, Good Old Nicole claimed she had complaints from parents about the overhearing employee’s work. Then, Nicole informed that employee’s supervisor (who was Nicole’s supervisor as well) about the complaints.  As you can guess, problems abounded. The overhearing employee had been doing just fine until Nicole inserted herself into the situation.

Channeling Henry II setting up Thomas Beckett’s murder (“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”), Good Old Nicole decided to rid her boss of the overhearing employee. Problems arose immediately, because Nicole wanted to fire the employee, believing that since the employee was fairly new, a quick and dirty failure of probation would dispose of the problem. Wrong. The real supervisor failed to give the probationary employee an evaluation, in spite of three warnings from HR. So then Nicole tried to intimidate the overhearing employee into extending probation. The conversation went like this, according to an affidavit we obtained:

Nicole Richardson called me in her office and attempted to force me to sign documents that would have put me on extended probation for 30 days. The action was for one alleged performance issue, which was never discussed with me prior to this date. I asked Ms. Richardson what would happen at the end of the 30 days and she stated that I would be let go from the District. Ms. Richardson cried and told me that she was sorry, that she really liked me and she knew that she had not brought any issues to my attention. However, my probationary period with Gilbert Public Schools was limited to 60 days from my hire date and this extension of my probation was clearly long after that time frame had expired and against District policy.

The overhearing employee had written to HR previously (we obtained the documentation through FOIA requests):

In her own words, Ms. Richardson admits that she failed to employ any of the non-disciplinary actions including consultations, counseling, letters of direction or memorandums containing instructions or directives for future conduct, or even a letter of reprimand, but moved directly to an attempt to extend an unwarranted probation in an attempt to terminate my employment. All this without speaking to me at all.

This is the same “zero to sixty in three seconds flat” procedure that two rogue principals cooked up to force an employee to resign as an English Language Learner teacher. Nicole took those lessons to heart, it seems, and then went for the checkered flag. First, she imitated the “annual evaluation in the middle of the year” gambit that had been used by HR in the past.  Good Old Nicole and her GOB pals would not give the employee any proof of complaints, even though they *justified* the adverse employment actions on those so-called complaints.  From the overhearing employee:

When talking with Ms. Richardson about the measurement of the objectives in her office on August 19, 2013, she stated that she did not know how to do my job and therefore she could not make these goals with me. She was crying in her office and said that she never wanted to be my supervisor. She angrily yelled, “We were going to put you on probation and then fire you, but you went and did research!” I have this conversation recorded…

Wouldn’t you know it: the overhearing employee told the HR minions and her supervisors that she had recorded these conversations, but two different *investigators* did not interview the overhearing employee. Two investigations were conducted without listening to the recordings. The recordings still exist. Nicole admitted she told the overhearing employee that she would be fired in the end, but as GOBs are wont to do, Nicole claimed it was for the overhearing employee’s own good.

The overhearing employee was very explicit about why CR demons wanted to fire her: she overheard an incriminating directive to another CR employee to falsify public records. Karma came to call when that directive involved the Greens, who were embroiled in litigation at the very time all this happened. Karma’s hand is evident in the fact that apparently Good Old Nicole did not know that the employee who had been directed to falsify public records had been reporting, in writing, to HR. That documentation was very detailed, and it paralleled what the overhearing employee reported (the overhearing employee knew about those reports to HR, but apparently did not know not how extensive the reports were).

After the Governing Board was informed of the circus in CR,  GOBs went into their usual practice of circling the wagons to protect an administrator or two or three. They hired an *independent investigator* lawyer in an apparent effort to make it all go away. Funny thing, we received a “Service Request Listing” of prepaid legal services used by GPS from 7/1/2012 to 6/30, 2014, after we asked specifically for legal fees paid to Susan Segal, Georgia Staton and Elizabeth Gilbert. We see a lot of fees to Susan Segal on the list, but none for Georgia Staton or Elizabeth Gilbert. The significance of this will become apparent as Good Old Jack Keegan’s efforts to protect Nicole Richardson unfold.

Good Old Nicole vented on Facebook about a confidential attorney-client report into the matters in Community RelationsNicole became the subject of a formal complaint that she had revealed protected attorney-client information online. The complaint included screenshots of Nicole’s Facebook posts as well as the blog to which Nicole objected, plus the district policies and state laws involved.

Ms. Richardson posted to facebook (publicly) contents of an attorney-client privileged report which parents complained they do not have access to. Also threatened parents with civil lawsuit potential. Note disclosure of confidential info under ARS 38-504(B) carries specific statutory consequences.

In addition to telling the Facebook world about the confidential report, Good Old Nicole threatened GPS parents, telling them:

[The parent] should be familiar with the laws governing libel and how seriously one should investigate claims before printing them … I am certain the administrators of this page would not want any part of proliferating untruths and further placing the author in financial jeopardy.

Nicole added more:

Printing something that isn’t true is libel, just sayin’ … BTW, the external investigation says it isn’t true. Just wanting to clarify the rumors and gossip.

You know what happened: Westie saw those posts on Facebook and immediately filed a FOIA request for the investigation report and the investigator’s complete file. We received them on March 17, 2014; we received supplemental documents on March 25, 2014.

Kool-Aid Jack must have been in a quandary, because he knew HE had given that report to his minion Nicole.  “Why did he do that?” you ask. The answer: because he could do anything he wanted to do as superintendent. However, when he was cornered, he circled wagons around himself. Good Old Jack put Nicole on admin leave when he received the complaint. What else could he do? He had already resigned as Interim Superintendent and was serving out his 30-day notice. Kool-Aid Jack decided to do his own *investigation* of the complaint about Nicole’s Facebook posts and waiver of the report’s attorney-client privilege protection. Poor old guy, he was so full of Kool-Aid, he didn’t see the inherent conflict in what he decided to do to protect himself and Nicole!

Bottom line, Good Old Jack decided HE was the lawyer’s client for the confidential report, and HE could release it to anyone. Georgia Staton told him so, he claimed. Kool-Aid Jack wrote a memo to accompany the paper rescinding Nicole’s administrative leave. Here’s what he said:

I consulted with Ms. Georgia Staton, our attorney, through whose firm Don Conrad was hired to conduct an investigation of the allegations made by ****. Mr. Conrad reviewed and submitted a report detailing the results of his review of ****’s charges and allegations. After reviewing Mr. Conrad’s report, I submitted a copy of the full report, including attachments, to the Human Resources department for filing with the **** file. In addition, I permitted Ms. Richardson to review the report based upon her request and I consulted with Ms. Staton. I was advised that I, as superintendent, was the person who authorized the investigation and hired Ms. Staton’s firm. Because as superintendent I was the client, Ms. Staton advised me that I had the authority to release the report. The client was not the School Board because it was important that the investigation be separate from the board in case after the investigation the board needed to hold a due process hearing on one or more individuals identified in the report…

As to the compliant [sic] stating that Ms. Richardson threatened parents with a potential lawsuit, I do not find what she stated on the web as threatening a lawsuit. She did mention that there are laws governing liable [sic] and that people can be held accountable for liable [sic], when printing something that is not true. I do not find those statements as necessarily a threat of a suit.

Based on this review I am rescinding Ms. Richardson’s suspension. However, she is to receive a letter stating that she did not follow my order not to respond to this posting.

Kool-Aid Jack’s memo mentioned problems with Don Conrad’s investigation, and indicated that Don Conrad would continue the investigation when he returned from being out of the country. Keegan also wrote that the investigation report might be changed. Here’s a big problem with this whole story: the prepaid legal services do not include Georgia Staton, her law firm, or attorney Don Conrad. The Arizona Bar Association doesn’t have an address for Don Conrad; his phone number is listed, but no law firm is shown. Georgia Staton’s law firm, Jones, Skelton and Hochuli, doesn’t list Don Conrad as one of their lawyers. Who is that mysterious investigator?

Here’s a bigger question: why would Kool-Aid Jack hire the law firm of the very attorney who was smack-dab in the middle of litigation with the Greens to investigate allegations of a GPS employee that included an illegal directive to falsify public records that were at issue in the litigation? The Conrad investigation does not appear on the prepaid legal services list. The employee’s allegations were made on November 15, 2013. The Conrad report is dated February 4, 2014. Connect the dots: Georgia Staton and Jill Humpherys were mediating on February 5, 2014. The mediation ended with settlements in favor of the plaintiffs in both cases and ultimately led to reinstating the two teachers. Funny, there was no mention of falsified public records, which we assume were submitted to the court. Georgia Staton continued litigating the settlement agreement for weeks after the mediation. Now we know why Georgia Staton wanted settlement agreement clauses like:

Plaintiffs expressly waive and assume the risk of any and all claims for damages which exist as of this date, but of which the Plaintiffs do not know or suspect to exist, whether through ignorance, oversight, error, negligence, or otherwise, and which, if known, would materially affect Plaintiffs’ decision to enter into this Settlement Agreement. Plaintiffs further agree that they have accepted payment of the sum specified herein as a complete compromise of matters involving disputed issues of law and fact. Plaintiffs assume the risk that the facts or law may be other than they believe.

That stuff didn’t make it into the settlement agreements. Whew!

Kool-Aid Jack rescinded Nicole Richardson’s suspension on March 6, 2014. His last day of superintending was March 7, 2014.  Good Old Jeff Filloon closed out the investigation with a letter that conflated Don Conrad’s investigation with the complaint against Nicole Richardson.

The board was told that Nicole Richardson was resigning. Therefore, there was no reason to continue Don Conrad’s investigation. From the timing, it appears that Good Old Nicole resigned to avoid discipline, specifically, having the Keegan letter describing her insubordination placed in her file. Nicole’s resignation was accepted by the board on May 27, 2014. HR placed Nicole’s name as a rehire on the consent agenda on July 8, 2014. The board removed Nicole’s name from the consent agenda.

Proving that Karma has a sense of humor, the Greens received a letter from Interim Superintendent Jim Rice on March 24, 2014:

This letter is regarding your request for the following records:

     *   Investigation reports, memos, notes or other documents related to attorney Donald Conrad’s work for Gilbert Public Schools in 2013-2014

The information you have requested is still confidential and not available for pubic review at this time.

Note that we had already reviewed and scanned the “confidential and not available for pubic review” documents in GPS offices a full week earlier. The day after Rice sent this silly letter, we received supplemental FOIA documents.

There you have it: the GPS Clown Car is still careening down the road to ruin. Interim Superintendent Jim Rice, who followed Kool-Aid Jack Keegan, advised new GPS Superintendent Christina Kishimoto that all the allegations and investigations were done, and Nicole Richardson was eligible for rehire.  Considering the Rice dude has been working in GPS since March 8, 2014 (or thereabouts), he surely must have had all the corporate knowledge he needed about this fiasco <snark>.

GPS is still a comprehensively mismanaged district, complete with omnishambles. New Chief Talent Officer Zentner got a taste of what GOB minions can do when her lieutenants Shawn McIntosh and Missy Udall led Dr. Zentner down a garden path that ended in a dressing down for concealing information from the board. That was not nice.

Remember: you could have had Westie for Superintendent!

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