As a senior prank last year, the graduating class posted pictures around the high school of former Superintendent Rod Thompson as “The Rodfather.”
The pictures featured Thompson as Marlon Brando’s character crime boss Vito Corleone from the classic movie “The Godfather,” along with the iconic movie image of a hand pulling marionette strings. The prank was certainly good for a laugh. Turns out, it was also prophetic.
When I read the federal complaint against Thompson, it sounded like a script from a Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese movie. Having a company renovate his home for free in exchange for contracts. Shaking down the company to pay for his entertainment and personal travel. Corruptly soliciting bribes. And of course, just like in the movies, nobody supposedly saw a thing.
According to the feds, “The School District, in fact, awarded Company A with contracts with a value that substantially exceeded the amounts defendant Thompson caused Company A to spend on his behalf.”
Company A turned out to be ICS Consulting, which despite now claiming to be a victim, appears to have benefited handsomely by agreeing to Thompson’s demands. The company secured contracts, and apparently no one in our school district had the sense or inquisitiveness to question those contracts.
Like many people in our community, I’m glad to see the Thompson saga finally coming to a long-overdue conclusion. The flip side is that like many people, I think the proposed two-year prison sentence the prosecutors recommended is pretty lenient for a man who orchestrated a multi-year scheme in which he knowingly, purposefully, and repeatedly defrauded our district.
It’s hard to put a price on the damage he caused. Besides the money he stole and using district contracts for personal gain, there’s also the fact that honest companies lost out on work by refusing to engage in unethical business practices and the division Thompson’s actions created across our community.
Approximately eight years ago, a Shakopee High School administrative assistant was handed more than four years in prison for stealing about $168,000 from the school, including helping herself to donated money that students and parents had collected. She pled guilty to six counts of felony theft by swindle.
I know a person who makes his living as a professional fundraiser. He was working with a Shakopee High School sports team at that time for fundraising. After the money was turned in, the coach called to say they were short. The person, to avoid compromising his reputation and to continue doing business with Shakopee groups, wrote a several hundred dollar check out of his own pocket to cover the discrepancy, even though he knew the proper amount had been turned in. The same thing happened the following year, and he personally covered the difference again.
He told me he was sure someone on the Shakopee side was stealing, which turned out to be the case. It’s an example of how one person’s corruption gives our entire district a bad name, forces honest people to pay the price, and makes vendors not want to do business with us.
It’s worth noting that an investigation found no evidence that the principal at the time, Jim Murphy, did anything wrong. Nevertheless, because he was responsible for supervising his assistant and supposedly should have caught the theft, the school board at the time voted to fire him. He ultimately resigned.
I certainly can’t be the only person who finds it ironic that the board held Murphy accountable for the money an assistant stole, yet our board (which is comprised of different members than in Murphy’s time) has accepted no responsibility for Thompson’s actions that happened under its watch. Hmm. That’s certainly worth pondering.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think we can point to some upsides from the Thompson saga. We know that at least one company, Tim’s Landscaping, allegedly refused Thompson’s demand to plow his personal driveway and stick our district with the bill. The company presumably did this knowing that standing up to Thompson could negatively impact its reputation and bottom line. When I hear people claim Thompson was a bully and they didn’t have a choice except to do what he wanted, I think of Tim’s Landscaping.
Thompson’s guilty pleas also validate the efforts by a small group of people who recognized there was a problem with the school’s budget, did their own research, and set the process in motion that ended with Thompson finally ending up in court admitting he’s a thief.
The Thompson years should also provide lessons learned. For example, hopefully people have learned that fanatically defending a man without knowing or caring to know facts can damage their own reputations. Also, accusing people of finger pointing or being negative instead of addressing the core problem doesn’t solve anything. Attacking the messenger to eradicate the message is never effective.
Finally, on another positive note, hats off to new Superintendent Mike Redmond. He’s been on the job less than one month, and the district is now reviewing its interactions with ICS for any irregularities and has directed ICS employees, who are still managing the high school construction project, to not contact school employees without permission and to not be onsite at our schools. That’s what leadership looks like.