Saturday, March 14, 2015

Turn Down For What!? M.E.A. Backed State Superintendent Candidate Used Taxpayer Money For Lavish Dinners And Drinking In D.C., Golf In Cali

 By Brandon Hall
(Email him at

Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston, currently one of the four finalists to replace a retiring Mike Flanagan as State Superintendent, is backed by Michigan's powerful teacher's union.

A source familiar with the situation tells WMP that Whiston is strongly supported by the top leadership in  the Michigan Education Association in the hunt to replace Flanagan.

"Whiston will do anything they want, he's the M.E.A.'s dream candidate," the source said.

Whiston, a former lobbyist, has been Superintendent of Dearborn Schools since 2008.

He found himself in hot water a few years as part of a Detroit Free Press investigation while he was a lobbyist for Oakland Intermediate School District.

The Free Press revealed that, among other things, Whiston had a habbit of charging taxpayers everything from games of golf  in California to flashy, alcohol filled dinners in Washington D.C. 

Whiston called the activities "an investment in bringing the money back into the district,"and said education was a "competitive business."

Here is an excerpt of the article from the Freep archives:

"Even golf wasn't off limits to some district employees.

Brian Whiston, the district's lobbyist, spent $166.50 for two, 18-hole rounds, including a cart, when he attended a legislative conference in Palm Springs, Calif., in February 2002.

When he submitted his expenses, he listed the golf rounds as a meal.

"It was my mistake, and I take full responsibility," he said in an interview earlier this month.

On the same trip, he bought four tickets to take a group of legislators and lobbyists on a tram ride through a picturesque canyon in a mountain range. He later listed the $83 expense as a meal and was reimbursed.

"I made an error, and I have no idea why I did that," Whiston said.

He rented a Chrysler Sebring convertible for three days, at a cost of $278, and split the expense with another conference-goer.

Such expenses are typical for lobbyists, he said, who often need to woo legislators.

"The public might not like an $80 tram ride, but you have to look at it as an investment in bringing the money back into the district," said Whiston, who is paid about $92,000 a year. "I've always said this will never look good on the front page, but I'm hoping that they'll look at the total picture. It's a very competitive business."

Austin, the interim superintendent, said such charges are not acceptable.

Whiston's spending on meals also appears to violate the district's travel policies.

On a trip to Washington in February 2001, he entertained 10 school board members from Oakland County -- including OIS board members -- at a $50-a-plate Sunday brunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Later, the group ran up a $1,022 dinner bill at the 1789 Restaurant, an upscale D.C. eatery, with the meals averaging about $100. Dining costs to taxpayers that day: $1,600.

"I do think we went overboard being a good host that year," said Tony Rothschild, a board member who was there for the meals. "There was some discussion that we were too generous and board members could have been reimbursed by their own districts."

Whiston turned in three receipts from Washington eateries to the Waterford School District, where he is board president, after OIS determined they were not reimbursable. Waterford reimbursed him $75.

He said he couldn't recall why he submitted the receipts to the Waterford School District. When asked if the receipts included alcohol, he said, "Sure, that's possible, but I don't know if that's what was done here."

The OIS's policy prohibits reimbursement for alcohol, but Whiston acknowledged that some receipts he turned in included alcohol. He was reimbursed."

Dearborn Public Schools Sup. Brian Whiston  (Photo by Press and Guide)

Whiston said he did not seek the job replacing Flanagan and says he was recruited by the firm handling the search.

"“When I was asked by the search firm working for the state board to submit my resume I was honored to be considered, but the decision was difficult as I was not seeking a position with any other school district. I am committed to the work we are doing here in Dearborn, proud to be superintendent of this district and enjoy being a member of the community. I’ve got a great job in Dearborn and this is an exciting opportunity, but not something I have to have."
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.
Email him at
Photo By Darlene Dowling Thompson

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