Here’s a bizarre tale for you. Dale Wetzel, a Public Information Officer for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction [DPI] and a former Associated Press reporter, is a proponent of Common Core. He verbally attacked Kathy (Kathleen) O’Brien, a conservative activist against Common Core, by saying on television “I’m gonna rough this woman up a bit.,” and “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and I told her that.” Worse, he accused O’Brien of writing “insulting and vituperative” emails to his boss, Kirsten Baesler, the Superintendent of North Dakota Public Instruction. You’ll see some evidence below. North Dakotan, Rob Port, the editor and publisher of the Say Anything Blog, and a writer for NorthDakotaWatchdog.org, filed a Freedom of Information request for the Wetzel emails sent to reporters, talk show hosts and legislators. He received a few, but not all. Jay Thomas of the Jay Thomas talk radio show, provided Port with others. In a blog post, Port “mentioned that” Baesler “has been sending out talking points criticizing Common Core opponent, Dr. Duke Pesta.” Baesler contacted Port and according to Port, said her office would “never” send out something like that. He took her at her word until he discovered he should not have. Read that story here, but first, I hope you will read about Wetzel and Kathy O’Brien below, and see email exchanges between O’Brien and Baesler.
Kathy O’Brien happens to be a longtime Facebook friend of mine, and a contributor to Grumpy Opinions blog. She is a serious-minded watchdog with a great sense of humor, and when she takes up a cause she understands her position and is committed to it — in this case, committed to stopping Common Core in North Dakota.
Wetzel, the Public Information Officer for North Dakota schools, created an anonymous email account — got real original with it: email@example.com, and according to Wetzel, he used it to inform “reporters and talk show hosts,” about an unscrupulous Common Core opponent, Dr. Duke Pesta, who had been invited to speak to Stop Common Core North Dakota. As a former AP reporter, I imagine Wetzel has a few contacts that parents and others against Common Core do not have — let’s just call it a bully pulpit. Lots of websites are talking about Pesta and Wetzel. I’ll link those stories for you, but I want to talk about Wetzel and Kathy.
Wetzel accused Kathy O’Brien of sending inappropriate emails to his boss, Kirsten Baesler; see that specific quotation directly below, then a snippet of emails I have between O’Brien and Baesler:
WETZEL: She [O’Brien] has sent a number of insulting and vituperative emails to my boss,
saying that she’s stupid, that she’s corrupt, that she’s a liar, and so when she came on [called in to the Jay Thomas Radio show], I thought, I’m going to uh, I’m gonna to rough this woman up a bit, and plus, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, which I also said to her.
The email thread provided by Kathy, covers October through December 2012 with Kirsten Baesler. Baesler interacts with her in a friendly manner, seems to appreciate her diligent input, and all is well until O’Brien finds Baesler’s name on the NEA-ND (union) website, indicating that Baesler was/is a member. Apparently, some folks in North Dakota believe the union supports Common Core, believed Baesler was not an NEA member, and as Superintendent of Schools, if Baesler is/was a member, it might be a problem for Common Core opponents. Kathy posted the union membership on her Facebook page. That’s when the problems began.
Baesler told Kathleen she was “offended,” and accused Kathleen of slander and misinformation.
BAESLER (9-7-12): Kathleen, I am offended that you posted such a claim without verifying your facts or at least talking to me first. I was a member of my professional organization for many years. Since the merger of the two organizations I have not joined. Please remove your post that contains misinformation and slanderous claims.
Kathleen provided her source to Baesler:
O’BRIEN (9-8-12): From the new union site…Year-round representation: NDU’s leaders and staff work year-round to give you a voice in issues that affect you. Working with North Dakota’s members of Congress, state, county, and school elected officials and boards, NDU’s influence is felt across the state. NDU members serve on the local school boards, and as legislators. Kirsten Baesler, State Superintendent of Public Instruction is an NDU member.
In the aftermath of that exchange, Kathy told Baesler that many against Common Core felt they had been “fooled.” Baesler asked that she find the Facebook posting and delete it, which O’Brien did, believing the information might be incorrect (kinda the same way Rob Port believed Baesler, until, in his judgement, he believed he was wrong).
O’BRIEN (9/8/12): I hope you will demand the union retract their statement and make it public, MANY of us thought you had joined from their statement.
BAESLER (9/8/12): Thank you very much! [for removing the posting]
O’BRIEN (9/8/12): you are welcome, I’m glad I found it, I would never say something I wasn’t lead to believe is true.
BAESLER (9/8/12): I appreciate that. I’ll be contacting them this week.
O’BRIEN (9/8/12): Great.
Two days later:
O’BRIEN (9/10/12): did you hear back from the union on their mistake on the website about you?
BAESLER (9/1//12): Not yet [gives Kathy an alternate email address]
O’BRIEN (9/1/12): You bet [re the alternate email], please let me know if you a retraction and an apology for the slander!
BAESLER (9/11/12): Will do!:)
O’BRIEN (10/14/12): never heard back from you, sent the union a note asking about it today. Please check out Stop Common Core ND.
O’BRIEN (10/14/12): I am now contacting Legislators who have been equally surprised about you belonging to the union as the site says. I am guessing you DO belong since you have done nothing in 6 weeks. Sorry it is turning out so badly…just asked for an honest action…we the people will continue.
According to Kathy O’Brien last night, Baesler has not provided a retraction of her membership in NEA-ND — an association that Baesler seemingly did not want, and that ‘offended’ her.
Here are a few miscellaneous quotes of appreciation from Baesler in the emails to Kathy:
“Thanks Kathy! Keep them coming,” “Thank you so very much for contacting me,” “Thanks, Kathleen,” “Very interesting,” “Kathleen, I appreciate the information you share with me – so please don’t ever consider it a pain and don’t stop sharing!,” “I agree,” “Thanks, Kathleen,”
I can imagine that Kathy would be very direct and professional, and I can see that in the emails I have, but calling Ms. Baesler “stupid,” “corrupt,” a “liar,” I don’t believe it, and I see nothing “insulting and vituperative,” or “rude,” or even aggressive, but I do see a taxpayer interacting with an elected state public servant.
Since Wetzel’s comments, Kathleen has asked Baesler to produce the “insulting and vituperative” emails that Wetzel referred to (crickets chirping, chirping…).
There are two videos and two partial transcripts below.
The first is Dale Wetzel’s interview with Chris Berg after Wetzel appeared on the Jay Thomas radio show, when Kathy O’Brien called-in to ask Wetzel a question. We don’t hear what Wetzel has said before she comes on the line (but it is all in the second video). Kathleen gets just a few words out before Wetzel interrupts her and responds with incredible arrogance.
Several times Berg asked Wetzel if he wanted to apologize to the people of North Dakota. Wetzel didn’t want to apologize.
The second video is Wetzel’s and O’Brien’s full conversation (with the transcript). Oh, and by the way, Wetzel has also said that Common Core opponents are a “tiny tribe.”
Begin transcript of first video at 6:53-in:
BERG: Last week you were on the Jay Thomas Radio Show. I want to play for you, a clip from that show of you speaking — someone calling in to the show, this is you obviously visiting with this woman, and get your chance to comment on it.
O’BRIEN: Although you tried to insult all of us, we have had weeks — [Wetzler interrupts, but you can hear Kathleen try to finish her sentence…] where we’ve had 22,000 views on our Common Core site, so we are not a small [inaudible]
WETZEL: Ma’am [speaking over O’Brien] if I tried to insult you, I would have succeeded. I did not try to insult you.
THOMAS: Oh, oh, oh, we have to have one person talking. Go ahead Dale.
WETZEL: I said, if I had tried to insult you, I would have succeeded. I did not try to insult you.
BERG: Is that the appropriate communication coming from a Public Information Officer from North Dakota’s Public Instruction, Dale?
WETZEL: It is not, but I’ll give you some context. The person who is talking is, her name is Kathy O’Brien. She has sent a number of insulting and vituperative emails to my boss, saying that she’s stupid, that she’s corrupt, that she’s a liar, and so when she came on, I thought, I’m going to uh, I’m gonna to rough this woman up a bit, and plus, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, which I also said to her.
BERG: You are paid by public tax dollars — my money, your money, everybody’s tax money and you just said, ‘hey, I want to rough her up a little bit.’ What are you going to accomplish in that?
WETZEL: It was a dumb idea. I shouldn’t have done it.
BERG: You just said to me, you want to rough her up…
WETZEL: I’m telling you that my thought about roughing her up was not appropriate. It was wrong, and I’m sorry for that. I’m just trying to give you some context as to why I did it in the first place, because this woman has sent a number of communications to my boss that were rude and insulting, and I thought it would be interesting to give her some of her own medicine.
BERG: Is there anything you want to say to the people of North Dakota after that radio interview?
WETZEL: I shouldn’t have done it — done parts of it the way it was done. I mean, I was rude on some occasions and I shouldn’t have been rude, and I’m not going to be rude in the future. Hopefully.
BERG: So be more specific. Do you want to apologize to the people of North Dakota for that conversation, the way you communicated?
WETZEL: I don’t want to — I, I’m saying that the way I acted toward this woman, in particular, even though I thought it was justified at the time, was not.
In the video above, Wetzel explains that he thought everyone would know that he was the originator of the anonymous email address, and:
WETZEL: I meant to put a signature on it with my name, but I did not…
Begin second video with Jay Thomas, Wetzel and O’Brien at 21:40-in
THOMAS: Kathy, you’re up on the Jay Thomas Show.
O’BRIEN: Hi Dale, it’s Kathy, you know me.
WETZEL: Kathy O’Brien!
O’BRIEN: Yeah! Well, here’s my question. Kirsten told me that the one survey was done and she sent me the copy, so if there is truly another survey that thousands did, why haven’t we received that? She told me this was it.
WETZEL: I do think that maybe — I don’t know what you received but I do know that the survey that the superintendent was referring to…
O’BRIEN: Well, I sent you a copy. The stats on it were 134 teachers and four parents…there’s only 8,366 teachers in the state, so I would love to see what other survey was done.
WETZEL: Well, well, I don’t know what survey you’re referring to ma’am, but the survey that I’m talking about, there more than 2,000 responses.
O’BRIEN: You said we were such a small group that were trying to look important or big, and I’m saying that was an attempt to insult, but it didn’t work.
THOMAS: Okay, Kathy, anything else?
O’BRIEN: Just one other thing. We keep hearing that, no we didn’t take any money but, but you’re kinda forgetting about the $104 million that we took in the grants under the state fiscal stablization fund, so, you know, I’m tired of the lies.
WETZEL: Ma’am, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Let’s just put that way.
THOMAS: Kathy, thanks for the phone call.
Both of the videos below have information about Dr. Duke Pesta and his opposition to Common core. Find more at Grumpy Opinions, also a wonderful resource for Common Core information.
UPDATE 10:17 pm CDT: My apologies to Ms. Baesler. Her last name was misspelled — corrected now.
If you would like to receive Maggie’s Notebook daily posts direct to your inbox, no ads, no spam, EVER, enter your email address in the box below.