1. Archive

Schools chief was short on scandal

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Even if his farewell tour has taken longer than the Judds', I'm going to miss Tommy Weightman who, along with being an excellent educator and administrator, has also been fair-to-middling column fodder on and off for the past 22 years.

Pasco actually has had several long-term officials in the 23 years I have been here. Ted Williams is the only Pasco property appraiser I have known, Kurt Browning is one of two elections supervisors that have served while I have been here and Mike Olson is one of two tax collectors.

That is fairly remarkable in a county where the voters change legislators, county commissioners and sheriffs almost as often as they do their underwear and where indictments sometimes replace the ballot box come removal time.

The real scoundrels are fun to write about, and the real goody-goodies aren't, unless they are like Weightman and occasionally get caught with their hands in a fairly harmless cookie jar.

Even Weightman's loudest detractors tend to break out in yawns during recountings of his sins. He is, after all, top management in a large school district that puts him, occasionally, at cross-purposes with organized labor, but labor disputes in Pasco schools usually don't even degenerate into any really good name-calling.

People in other districts get to rant and rave about allegations of misappropriated funds, bid rigging, insurance fraud and Satanic plots involving the use of cartoon dragons to turn kids into head-twisting pea-soup spitters who play their music backward.

In Pasco, not counting the recently surfaced group of folks who feel themselves pursued by black helicopters, the United Nations and serial water fluoridators, the big issues I have had to write about with Weightman are Hooters, sporks and his attendance at a Tom Paxton concert for which the Republican Party confiscated his pinstripes for 30 days.

There have been sporadic (right around contract talk time) complaints of top-heavy administration _ a boilerplate issue usually pre-printed right between class size and planning days on the list of highly negotiable demands presented along with salary considerations.

The Hooters flap came when Weightman balked at accepting funds from a restaurant chain known for its somewhat playful take on men, women, owls and the meaning of life. Weightman finally came up with a way to indirectly accept the restaurants' largess, which was kind of a shame since nobody could keep a straight face through the meetings on the subject anyway.

But my favorite flap, in a county where public officials have been accused of everything from murder and drug smuggling to talking too much to their girlfriends on the public's dime, was what we still refer to in hushed terms as the spork affair.

Sporks, for those of you who have been spared, are the dreaded half-spoon, half-fork utensils handed out by some fast-food places that have tines too short to spear anything but are strategically placed to make sure anything liquid winds up on your necktie, blouse, shirt or navel _ depending on your choice of attire.

An obviously pained academic type wrote to complain that teachers at one or more schools were being forced to deal with Post Spork Stress Syndrome while, he or she was sure, Weightman and his minions were all dining with silver service and linen tablecloths in the palatial Taj Mahal that is district headquarters.

Turned out that the administrators were eating most of their meals at a local McDonald's and, as far as anybody knew, most of them were eating with their fingers.

But Weightman did take the spork issue under consideration and, I'm told, got it fixed.

Weightman boosters would have me note that the schools here, especially by local standards, have fared well under his stewardship. I tend to judge public officials by the enemies they make, and Weightman has made all of the right ones, as far as I am concerned.

In a county where public officials have done hard time, spied on each other and on members of the public, accepted bribes and gotten the county involved in massive lawsuits, sporks, Hooters and being caught unawares in the company of liberals are fairly small sins.

I almost hope John Long, Weightman's replacement, can do better.