Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Radikal Interview #2: Charlie Grapski In the Hotseat, Part I.

Before we get to the first part of the interview I'd like to throw out a few one-liners for the Radikal audience.

1). From what I understand, UNITE Senate leader Gavin Baker contacted Vice President-elect Lydia Washington with some questions pertaining to cabinet re-structuring, I'd like to know if that contact was received. My email is: , I'd also like applaud Senate Leader Baker for working so diligently on bi-partisanship (so quickly in fact that he's taken the initiative to break the ice with the Madam Veep before she's even been inaugurated, kudos!).

2). Received a very thoughtful and warm-hearted email from Impact/Unite leader Amanda Kane.

3). Rumor has it that fmr. Progress Party presidential candidate Mackenzie Moritz has accepted membership in Florida Blue Key? But really, who cares? (lol) Onto Grapski!!!!


TheRadikal: For the record, please state your name, claim to fame, and your role in student leadership at UF (why you first got involved with SG, which party, some notable people you worked with, and some cool pieces of legislation or other things you got done while involved with the process).

Charlie Grapski:

1.a. Charles Grapski
1.b. I am not in the position to state a “claim to fame”.
1.c. My role in student leadership at UF is extensive. I was involved with groups such as EAG (Environmental Action Group), Graduate Student Council (in the founding process), CLASSC (I was the Microbiology Representative to the Council), and TRAC (Transfer Activities Council) before I was ever involved in Student Government. In 1989 I created an organization called Students For a Better World and we were involved in the Chinese Democracy Movement. It was after this that I first was able to get into SG. I tried the year before – to no avail – as I discovered the “closed” nature of the process. In 1989 I became a Senator. In the Fall of 1989 I ran for Senate in an off-campus seat (32607) and won. This was with an informal coalition of independents – which I later formed into the first Independent Coalition. I was the minority (independent) leader of the Senate that year, as well as a member of the Replacement and Agenda Committee, the Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and a senate member on the Activity and Service Fee Advisory Committee (which then controlled the entire A&S fee budget – and was elected by the student body at-large – half of which were senators and half not). The Independent Coalition is not a party, per se, but its antithesis – a coalition – although it operated as if it were a party under SG laws (as was necessary to have any chance of success). We ran senate candidates every election – although at times, in Spring elections, we took on another identity as we formed coalitions with students seeking election to executive positions (thus in 1990, for example, there was the Voice Party). This continued through the early 1990s – during which time I was in Orlando. When I returned to UF in 1993 I re-established the Independent Coalition, and merged it with another group I had formed back in 1989, the Coalition of Concerned Students – which dealt with a number of issues outside of SG that SG should have been pursuing (i.e. the defense of the group Campus Organized Against Rape – which was eventually eliminated by UF due to its success). The merger produced an organization known as the Independent Student Coalition – which took on both roles of working inside SG and outside of it. Again we ran candidates in fall elections – and formed coalitions in the Spring (i.e. the 94 Party, Cash Back for Students, Students Party, Vision Party, etc.). In 1995, under the name of the Independent Majority, I ran for student body president. I also was a Senator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1995. I was also the Ombudsman of the Students in 1993-94 under the administration of Chris Tompkins – and again was in this position in 1996. I served as the chairman of the President’s Blue Ribbon Committee on the Quality of Education and was the president of an organization called S.O.S. (Save Our Schools). I have been an active member of GAU and was one of the founders of the GSC. I formed the Student Advocacy Cabinet and served as an Assistant Director as well as an Assistant Director of the Environmental Affairs Cabinet (which I also formed).

Too many people to note that I worked with. Too much legislation – but including the establishment of the above cabinets, I was the author of numerous resolutions, a law on recycling policies, together with Chris Tompkins I rewrote the Senate rules and procedures, I was the person who established two-day elections in 1995, and a large number of other legislative actions.

You get the picture. There is too much to tell to give you all the details. One other interesting item: I re-founded and was President of the original founding chapter of Blue Key, the national leadership honorary, which was founded at UF in 1923 and from which what is now Florida Blue Key was kicked out for their political machinations.

TR: In 1995 you sued Florida Blue Key, a leadership honorary at UF and settled out of court. In your opinion, what role has FBK have while you’ve been on this campus? How did the organization or its members sabotage your bid for the presidency? Do you feel that actions taken against you are isolated issues or part of a larger, more intricate modus operandi of the organization as a whole?

CG: I did not settle anything out of court. In 1995 I sued Florida Blue Key for defamation of character and conspiracy – along with two of its members (Peter Vlcek and John McGovern). In 1998 we first went to trial. It was a two week trial – and I won. Prior to this victory by the jury we won an important ruling by the Court, known as a “Judicial Notice,” in which I proved to the court through my historical research that FBK operated historically and primarily as a political machine on campus controlling SG and Student Activities with the help of the University Administration, its role in Homecoming and Gator Growl, and its powerful network of alumni. I also proved how FBK’s political machine operated on the campus. The jury verdict came in against McGovern (who the week before the trial was made Student Body President by FBK’s political machine) and FBK. Vlcek was severed from the case in the midst of the trial – but was tried again individually in 1999. The jury in the first verdict awarded a judgment against the defendants for $250,000 - $100,000 more than we asked the jury to award. In the second trial – we again asked for that amount – and this time the jury award $6 million. There was no out of court settlement. There were two trials, two verdicts of guilty on all charges, and two judgments. What is often misconstrued as a “settlement” refers to the arrangements made with the several defendants as to who would be pursued for which parts of the judgment. FBK was and remains to have been found guilty of all the charges.

The role of FBK on campus has been primarily a negative one historically. It runs a political machine which has had monopolistic control of SG and thus student activities since the 1920s. Indeed I proved this in court. It furthermore has provided a training ground for corrupt and unethical politics and politicians – not only on campus – but in our state and national government. The organization is anything but a leadership honorary – it is a followership honorary and a political machine.

The details of FBK’s activities are too complex to lay out here. In a nutshell, however, the issue that went to court was their publishing of defamatory flyers falsely accusing me of being a convicted child molester – which were posted all around the campus the day before the election.

The actions taken against me are part of the normal modus operandi of FBK’s political machine. It has, throughout its 80 year history, used intimidation, threats, bribes, etc. to maintain its exclusive power.

TR: For the students out there unaware of the Secret Elite leadership conflicts of years past, could you please shed some pearls ! of wisdom on the feud between FBK & ODK? Also let us know when FBK first allowed women & African Americans and why? Lastly tell us about the differences between Blue Key and Florida Blue Key?

CG: Wow. That would take a few hours.

In 1923, with the help of certain administrators, a number of student leaders on campus were brought together to assist in putting on events for the largest Homecoming ever. That group was the formed into an organization known as Blue Key by the Dean of the General Extension Division, Major B. C. Riley. Within a few months this was a national organization. Unfortunately, however, the membership of that first group overlapped with a pre-existing political machine on campus that had control over the Student Government and indeed had only recently re-established that government under a new Constitution (the one we have now effectively). The overlap led, rather quickly, into the organization becoming a legitimate shell – with direct ties to the administration (and eventually a powerful alumni base) – within which the “secret” machine operated. At first it really was secret – only being exposed (as the Beefsteak Club).

There is an very interesting book one can find in UF’s archives by one of Blue Key’s founding members and the 1924 Alligator Editor (and later UF professor) Angus Laird. He was actually one of the first to expose the machine for what it was – and you will see some of his stories (i.e. kickbacks of money going to SG officials; physical threats to fraternity members if they did not support the party; the Greek bloc as a basis for support, the stealing of elections; etc). Its entitled something like “What I saw”.

In 1932 FBK was thrown out of the national organization it founded – when its members attempted to strong arm their way in a national convention and take over the national organization as a national good ole boy political machine. It later established itself as a Florida corporation – Florida Blue Key, Inc. In the 1930s there was nearly a war over Blue Key’s political machine. ODK was first established, I believe in 1929, as a challenging organization to Blue Key’s political machine. The two went head to head until the UF administration took the side of Blue Key, disestablished ODK, and provided that Blue Key alone would be allowed to operate on campus. Ironically, in the 1970s, this scenario rose again – as ODK was founded specifically to challenge FBK’s political machine, were at war, the UF administration stepped in, sided with FBK, and merged the two organizations and eliminated ODK on campus (it has since re-emerged). That was the same period – early 1970s – when UF’s refusal to admit women was nearly challenged in court. Facing the inevitability of sanctions – they reluctantly (and very slowly) began admitting women. A few years earlier they were forced, under protest, to admit African-Americans.

In 1995 I re-established that original founding chapter, started in 1923, here at UF. It is a national leadership honorary. Its point on campus was to develop into a true leadership honorary. The organization still exists but is currently inactive. I’d like to see some true leaders emerge to take charge of this organization once again.

TR: Why are you suing Bernie Machen?

CG: Because he broke the law. Because he claims he is above the law. And because he is not above the law. Machen has refused to recognize Florida’s public records law. He has refused to comply, outright, with that law when I filed requests for documents which it is the right of all citizens to access to ensure public oversight and accountability over public officials and agencies. So I took the matter to the courts.

The particular issue was over the allocation of nearly a half million dollars in public and A&S fees, through their control of SG, to FBK. These expenditures are inappropriate (given FBK’s role on campus and control of SG) and illegal (they are an exclusive and dues paying corporation – not free and open to all students). I asked Machen to take action to prevent this allocation of funds. In order to find out what the University did or did not do – I requested public records – and Machen outright denied that request thus refusing to follow the law.

I am thus in court – and will pursue this matter until it is finally resolved – and all UF entities and officials are in full compliance with this important law.

Indeed, this Friday at 10:30 in the Alachua County Courthouse, Judge Roundtree’s Courtroom, we will be in full trial. Bernie Machen and Patricia Telles-Irvin (Vice President of Student Affairs) will be on the stand to testify. Anyone can attend – and students who are concerned ought to be in attendance to show their support for the law.

TR: Did you knowingly mislead the courts as was implied? Were you or were you not given the information you requested? Please expound

CG: No. That was nonsense. This was a tactic used by John DeVault, Machen’s attorney, and falsely sworn by Machen to the court. DeVault, by the way, is a prominent FBK alumnus and a former president of the Florida Bar.

The claim was that I mislead the court because I did not tell them I received records from Dr. Telles-Irvin. They falsely told the court that Telles-Irvin gave me the documents I requested from Machen.

The truth is: 1) I have never received a single Machen document from any UF official; 2) Telles-Irvin never provided Machen documents; 3) Machen outright refused to follow the law and has to date provided no documents. Furthermore, I was preparing to bring a case against Telles-Irvin for her non-compliance with the law when they introduced this misleading defense. Telles-Irvin has never fully complied – although unlike Machen, she has provided SOME (but not all) documents.

It is unfortunate that there are lawyers and public officials who are willing to lie to courts – if they can get away with it. Machen and DeVault knowingly mislead the court in their original motion. And thus we are going to full trial this week. We don’t have a good judge – his bias is for those in positions of authority. But the law is on our side – and in the end we will prevail.

Machen has openly stated to others his contempt for the public records law and his intent to not allow it to be used to obtain documents regarding his performance of his public duties. That is a fact. And that is a knowing and willing violation of the law. If the court system worked – he would be found guilty of a third degree felony for that offense.

TR: Is it true that after many semesters teaching courses at UF, that you suddenly found yourself out of work for Spring? Have you been blacklisted , in your opinion, for filing a suit against university officials (or did you simply choose to move on to greener pastures)?

CG: Well, there is some rumor that Machen or others on his behalf, have taken action to make it difficult for me to continue teaching at UF. I don’t know for a fact what has been done – although I do know that Machen’s office, and others, have made phone calls throughout the University inquiring into matters pertaining to my academic and teaching activities.

I don’t fixate on this. In the end, whenever officials take such actions, it can come back to haunt them. I am not intimidated when I know I am in the right – and I take the actions because they are right, irrespective of the personal costs or difficulties. In this case I know I am right and Machen is wrong – and thus I will pursue this action to the fullest of my ability.

TR: As an instructor and a graduate student at the university, what changes do you feel need to take place to make working and living conditions better for those outside the undergrad demographic. Do you feel that Graduate representation is adequate and/or taken seriously by the administration? From family/graduate housing, to representation in SG, to compensation through programs like People Soft what are some things that should be done to improve. SG is listening.

CG: Well – I could again go on for hours and pages on this. But let me just briefly touch upon it. We need a true commitment to education from the state government down to the UF administration. This is not a business – it is an educational institution – and undergraduate education should be treated with respect. It currently is not. People Soft is a scam. But then again – there are many money making scams taking place on UF’s campus – to drain money out of the pockets of the undergraduate students. That, in effect, is how the University administration (as opposed to faculty) view undergraduate students – not as students but as customers to exploit. Teachers need more respect and better pay. More teachers need to be hired. Fewer students need to be enrolled. And classes must be much smaller. Faculty should be hired – and rewarded – based on their teaching quality. They currently are not.

SG needs to be shut down and restarted on a democratic basis. No reform will ever fix this system – because it is under the absolute control of one small group. And the rules have been written by them for their continued control. Graduate students used to have no representation – I was the first to introduce the legislation for graduate representation – and after several years I was successful. However Graduate students are legally entitled to a greater percentage of the Senate than they are currently given. There should, actually, be a separate governing council for the graduate school. I have not always been of this opinion – but experience has shown me the necessity of this. The most important SG reform, however, is to change the electoral method. We have a mixed system of single member and multi-member winner-take-all elections. This ENSURES the monopolistic control of FBK. The only way to change that – is change that electoral method. I would adopt “choice voting” – and you would see an overnight massive improvement in SG due to the inclusion of far more voices and the viability of independents and other parties.

TR: Outside UF, you are also heavily involved in local and national politics. Speaking in regards to Gainesville and Alachua County what are your views on city & county commissions in their work to truly make living and working conditions better in our community? In layman’s terms….do these people actually care? How have candidates you’ve supported fared so far (I.e. Hanrahan, Donovan, others).

CG: There are two questions here: do they work and do they care. By and large, nearly all of the local elected officials “care.” But do they fulfill their duties and obligations? Not necessarily. I say this as a reflection of the whole – not pointing to any one in particular. There have been a few outstanding commissioners at city and county level – but by and large – the totality has been disappointing. As for representing students – these commissions are not representative of students at all. But this is in large part due to the apathy of the students. The voting power of students locally, if they used it, is immense. If students excert themselves seriously – they will be heard – and will have to be taken seriously. As long as students don’t register to vote locally – and don’t use their voice – they won’t be heard and thus won’t be represented.

I have been extensively involved in all levels of city and county government and know it well. I recently ended my service on the County’s Blue Ribbon Committee on County Finance and am currently on the Charter Review Committee, looking at the electoral process, for the City of Gainesville.

If I can stress anything about local government – it is get involved.

I have supported numerous local candidates – far too many to list in detail. Recently I have supported the campaigns of Jeanna de Mastrodicasa and Jack Donovan at the city level and Mike Byerley at the County level. Indeed Mike Byerley and Jack Donovan are excellent examples of the kind of representation we need in this community.

As you are also aware I have also taken actions against two sitting county commissioners. A few years ago I brought an Ethics charge against Cynthia Chestnut for her dealings with Clark Butler who is a close friend of hers and was seeking her assistance in getting the county to build him a road, at our expense, for his multi-million dollar profit efforts at Butler Plaza. I won that case. I also revealed the fact that Paula Delaney did not legally occupy her seat – as she did not actually live in her district.

As you may also now be aware – I am currently running for the State House of Representatives from this area.

TR: You’ve had some run ins with Tony Domenech as well, are his days as an electoral threat over? (Part II. of this question in the second installment).

CG: Yes. I once respected Tony and got along well with him. But I saw the true Tony Domenich when he ran for re-election last time. After talking with him at the Swamp (yes – the night of SG Spring elections he was there with the FBK machine – who were running his campaign) – I asked him a question he did not like. (It was did he really think it wise to have the FBK machine run his campaign (but then again – he joined a fraternity that year too!)) – and he literally turned on me. His face was red, his veins popping out of his neck, and he effectively challenged me to a fight in the Swamp. But then again – it is publicly known that he has similarly called commissioners out to the parking lot for fights – including then mayor Tom Bussing, mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, and Warren Nielson. So I found out that Tony has a very developed “win friends and influence people” persona – but that in the background, the true Tony is another creature altogether. I was very disappointed at that revelation.

-------Part II. of the Charlie Grapksi Interview...Coming Soon


bohemian said...

Great Interview.

Daniel said...

Good stuff.

Exposing corruption and ousting crooks is good for everyone.

Louis Clark, president of Gainesville Humanists, put a transcript up of Grapski's talk there at their organizational meeting, and everyone ought to check that out.

Keep up the good fight.

dronbyfoto said...

This site is one of the best I have ever seen, wish I had one like this.