On this episode of Luginbilled, Jodie deep dives into one of the many Joe biographies to figure out what's true and what isn't. Cool & Unusual Punishment is a member of the Nerd & Tie Network! Find more shows from N&T at their website in the show notes. As always, thanks for listening!
Press Release 6/12/2018
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Aaron: Ladies and gentlemen, my name's Aaron Etra. I'm chair of the Executive Committee of the Council of Organizations. I want to wish all of you welcome on behalf of the Council of Organizations of United Nations Association of the USA.
Jodie: You are listening to cool and unusual punishment. This is Luginbilled, our special series on Joe Luginbill, the music man of Eau Claire. I'm your host, Jodie Arnold, and I'm joined by my co host, Tyler Haas.
Jodie: I fell down a rabbit hole of sorts. As is easy to do with Joe Luginbill, I had stumbled upon a press release that I found on a website called the Wheeler Report, which is a site that, if you do a press release, even if it doesn't get picked up anywhere else, chances are that the Wheeler report has it. I learned this from my days of working in politics that the Wheeler Report is sort of like a hub for press releases.
Tyler: What constitutes a press release? Can we put out a press release? And would it end up there?
Jodie: Um, if you sent it to them, probably.
Tyler: All right. Something to think about.
Jodie: They're not, they're not terribly discriminating on what they put out there. But one of the press releases that had most certainly been written by Joe Luginbill himself-
Jodie: You tell me after I read it, who else would have wrote it, okay? “Eau Claire School board president elected to United Nations Council of Organizations. Washington, D. C. June 12th 2018. Members of the United Nations Council of Organizations in the United States have approved the election of Joe Luginbill to service their newest council member and executive committee member. Luginbill currently serves as the president of the Eau Claire School Board and is the youngest elected official in Eau Clairee history. In addition to being elected as a member of the Executive Council, U N Council of Organizations members unanimously elected Luginbill to chair the council's education committee. The Council of Organizations is a U. N. Organization of more than 100 non-governmental organizations with interests and education, social justice, peace and security, labor, sustainable development, human rights and health, and women's issues.” So that's how it starts.
Tyler: Okay, so this Council of Organizations, according to the press release, he was elected to an executive in-group of these, and also elected to an education board. Okay.
Jodie: This press release then goes on to, generally speaking, when you do a press release, you include some quotes from people that aren't you. It's just supposed to beef it up and give you some credibility. You know, outside of just you talking about yourself. “we can't wait to have further interaction with Joe and are delighted that he will be serving in our organization.” That's Carol Connors, Council Secretary.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity to make meaningful contributions through the council to education for global citizenship, which is where our UN Multilateral orientation fits in. Aaron Etra, council chairperson.”
Tyler: “Look forward to further interactions” is full on alien speak.
Jodie: And it's important to note that his name is specifically in there, you know.
Tyler: Yeah, Joe Luginbill is where the further interactions are desired.
Jodie: The second one is a bit more generic. It could be pulled from anything, you know. “I'm excited for this opportunity to continue my advocacy on behalf of the Children and families. I'm honored by the support and confidence of the council members and look forward to representing the Chippewa Valley.” In this work, Joe Luginbill the council works to promote greater public awareness about global issues and the United Nations importance and World Affairs Council members also work to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the U. N.
So I found that press release. I could not find a new story that came as a result of this press release.
Tyler: The way it's described in that presser sounds like it could arguably be more important than anything he's done around here. He's strengthening the relationship between the United States and the U. N. 106 organizations.
Jodie: There's no news stories attached to it. So I got this press release right, and I'm looking it over, and it's got UN, UNA, USA seals. You know, we will have a copy of this in our show notes. It looks pretty official. We've talked to some extent about his credentials that are ever-changing, that would be on his bios and things like this. Right. So I got this and I was like, wow, this really seems like quite a thing. This seems like something that you would hang your hat on. And then I started looking at the names of the people who gave these quotes, right? I was like, I wonder if those people remember saying these things.
He is executive committee member. He was unanimously elected to the Council's education Committee. This is somebody that you would know.
Tyler: Pretty glowing praise.
Jodie: Yeah, so I thought to myself. Okay, I'm going to try and find these people.
So I start with Carol Connors, and by chance, I found her and I sent her a message.
“Hi, Carol. My name is Jodie Arnold. I've been working on a series of stories for a podcast about Joe Luginbill, who was a big pillar in the community here. I have been working on a story about his work with the U. N. Council of Organizations,” which is what he calls it. “He had issued a press release in 2018 stating he had been promoted to these high levels within the organizations. And he specifically quotes you in a press release along with Aaron Etra. Would you be able to verify if you know Joe Luginbill and gave this quote where you mentioned his name?”
Her first response says “Jodie, you write ‘I have been working on a story about his work with the U. N. Council of Organizations,’” she says. “I know of no such organization. I am associated with the United Nations Association of the U. S. A. Council of Organizations. UNAUSACOO. That is different. It is not part of the United Nations. I have never been secretary of the organization.”
She does tell me “my records indicate that the Luginbill Children's Foundation was a member and that Joe Luginbill was president of Luginbill Children's Foundation. I hope this is helpful.”
So I write back and say, “how does an organization become a member of UNAUSACOO?” She tells me she doesn't know. I mean, when I was looking into this, it appeared to be something where you could send in some money and become a member of something, you know.
Tyler: So the Children's foundation joined.
Jodie: Nowhere does she verify any of these credentials that I gave to her to look at.
Tyler: No comment on the interactions she was looking forward to having?
Jodie: Well, yes, I said “thanks again. Sorry, but I just wanted to clarify. Is this a quote, the one referenced in the press release that can be correctly attributed to you. I appreciate your help.”
“No, Jodie, that quote should not be attributable to me.”
So then I thought to myself, I'm just curious. Can I find Aaron Etra? I just want to see what he has to say about this. I find him on Facebook and I said, “Hi. I'm wondering if you're the Aaron Etra that's been involved with the United Nations Council of Organizations?”
Well, he doesn't correct me on the name, he just says “the very same Jodie.”
So I go on to tell them “I've been working to uncover stories about Joe Luginbill. I see he had published a press release back in 2018 and you're quoted on it. I'm curious if this is something you actually said” and I send along the link to the press release. “I was thinking that perhaps he just pulled a generic quote of yours and made it sound specific to you. I'm not sure you're familiar with Joe Luginbill it all.”
“Wow, that's quite a story. Yes, my quote was generic. I don't even remember saying that. I have no memory of him.”
So I got this press release. I debunk most of it, right? And then I just kept falling down the rabbit hole because I was wondering when else had Joe used these credentials on something. Like, was it in a bio somewhere, or where else did anybody ever mention this as a thing? So I start looking. Back in October on the 17th in 2019, Joe was the guest speaker at the Eau Claire Democratic Party meeting, okay. That certainly wouldn't be strange for him to be the guest speaker, you know.
“Our October General Party meetings’ guest speaker is Joe Luginbill. Joe is a native to Eau Claire, founder of the Luginbill Children's Foundation, and the first openly gay school board member after being elected in 2015. In 2018, Joe was elected to the United States Council of Organizations for the United Nations.”
So then I thought to myself, I want to see what else he has listed on this bio. What at this point were the things that he like, would feel, of note, you know. He goes on to say that he serves as a child protection advocate, with UNICEF. I reached out to them and they didn't get back to me. So I'm not certain if that's correct or not, or what that really means. But he said that he served as a U. S. member of the United Nations major group for Children and youth.
Tyler: Are they affiliated with the other thing?
Jodie: This is something else. I know, it's another United Nations thing, which is-
Tyler: This is United Nations. What was the name of it?
Jodie: United Nations Major group for Children and youth. Yeah, I know.
Tyler: He had so much potential, straight through the minors right into the major group.
Jodie: I reached out to them on July 14th and I said, “Hi. Would you be able to verify if the Luginbill Children's Foundation was ever a member of UNMGCY, which is United Nations major group for Children and youth? Thanks so much.”
Tyler: Or minor. You know.
Jodie: I get this email back from Donovan Gutierrez. Hope that's how it goes. And he says to me on the 15th of July, “Dear Jodie, thanks for your email. Would you be able to provide a bit more context for the question? This is actually not the first time we've been asked this particular question. So it makes us rather curious.”
I don't know who else would have asked this. Maybe the police. I don't know. He provided me a bit of context about what this group does. They were established in 1992 as part of Agenda 21, which was the outcome of the Rio conference Earth Summit. They’re are General Assembly mandated official, formal and self organized space for Children and youth to contribute to and engage in the United Nations. “We participate in dozens of inter governmental processes and close to 100 additional multi layerm multi stakeholder avenuesm with activities ranging from capacity buildingm knowledge production, example in the form of policy briefs, to advocacy policy and facilitating youth led actions aimed at accelerating progress on different sustainable development frameworks.”
I don't want a dog on Donovan because we have a really great exchange. And as far as somebody I don't know in a limited exchange, I like him.
Tyler: I was actually going to say, setting aside how ridiculous that sounds to my ears, nobody types a sentence like that unless you really are into it.
Jodie: And I'm sure that the reality of participating in this is different then how wonky and and whatever this sounds, you know.
Tyler: Would you do me a favor and read that sentence again? One more time.
Jodie: We participate in dozens of inter governmental processes and close to 100 additional multi layer, multi stakeholder avenues with activities ranging from capacity building knowledge, protection example in the form of policy briefs, toe advocacy policy and facilitating youth blood actions aimed at accelerating progress on different sustainable development frameworks.
Tyler: I think is the happiest I've ever been in this series. If I memorized that whole thing, can I introduce our podcast with that?
Tyler: God, that is beautiful. It somehow got longer from the first time.
Jodie: I have to be careful saying that. I didn't want to mess up any of it, so I my diction, you know, I can kind of get lazy with my talking sometimes.
Tyler: And he didn't follow that up with like, “I know it's fucking wild, huh?” God, I do like him.
Jodie: Well, you are going to like him because this conversation is not over yet with Donovan. He does go on to tell me that it's entirely volunteer based. There's a policy of universal and equitable access to any and all youth led youth serving child letter child serving entities. Example, formal and informal organizations and individuals interested.
So I suppose that the idea is that this is like kids who have decided to do initiatives that can then have a place where they have a voice that can eventually echo to the U. N. “As such anyone can join in. The membership is over 8000 entities. We have no office employees, etcetera, but rather global and regional facilities elected, selected to coordinate activities on the platform. Our records indicate that Luginbill Children's Foundation was registered as a member on June 2019. Please let us know if you need more information or if you would like to discuss. Best, Donovan.”
Tyler: Yeah, I wanna hear him discuss, like his favorite record.
Jodie: He had that leading question about why I was asking this, because I did very generically, for some of these organizations, just want to verify. It's hard to not just, like zip open a bag and just let the contents of everything plop out. But he had questioned this, so I said, “This is so very helpful. Mr. Luginbill has falsified his credentials in many instances, I've discovered, and I'm trying my best to figure out which organizations he truly participated in. I will make note of this.”
So I kind of figured that would be it. He writes me back and says, “Hi, Jodie. Sorry to hear that. And fraudulent behavior is an issue we have been dealing with as well. Unfortunately, no issues have been brought to our attention with this member, but they have not engaged. Much mentioned, membership in our case implies that they have filled out the form. But if there are issues with their integrity, that is important to know. So we could be mindful in our effort to maintain a safe space for youth.”
So he messaged me that, and I had initially thought to myself, well, I got what I needed out of this, you know, as far as what I wanted to verify. They were not engaged. You fill out a form, but I respond, and I said “Thank you for the clarification. For reference, this is what is currently happening with the foundation” and I send a link for the WQOW story where we all first hear about the financial transaction investigation with the Eau Claire Police Department and he said, “Very disappointing. We have red flagged this, and we'll let you know if we hear anything on the matter. Best wishes, Donovan”
I didn't have any intentions of getting something red flagged, but when he mentions that they would want to know if there was some sort of integrity issue with somebody that's a member of the organization, I thought, well, what am I supposed to do here, not tell them that this is going on? I don't know how far all of this stuff will reach. Do you know what I mean?
The last thing was the International Association of Trauma Professionals. This is something that's actually offered through Pessi, which is an Eau Claire company. You basically by the certification. This organization, “I A T P, which is the International Association of Trauma Professionals, is a nonprofit organization specializing offering professional certifications and trauma assessment and treatment. Thank you for becoming your interest in becoming a member when you join, you know you're not only demonstrate your commitment as a trauma professional, but you gain access to these benefits.”
Okay, so this is more like on the side of if you were a social worker or something like that. And so that's something else that you could just buy and you get it. There are times when Joe has identified himself as a social worker. As with most things, there is a small nugget of truth in that he had some sort of a certification when he worked for an organization helping families in the area. But he was not a social worker, and he's never graduated from college. And I'm not saying that there is a problem with not having graduated from college. It's just that social workers graduate from college, and he has not.
Now, my whole point in all of this right, is that, maybe it's just fascinating to me. Well, some of this was outright fabricated, right? These people didn't know who he was talking about. They never said this stuff, and then I kind of felt on this other weird rabbit hole. Often we're telling somebody’s story or it's a very specific thing, right? This, even when it's correct to some extent, a lot of what we can identify when we're talking about Joe, sometimes there's a small nugget of something that in some way is correct. But then it's like, made extra. It's times 10. Things where you just have to pay some money and become a member suddenly, very cleverly, then oh, look, he's in the International Association of Trauma Professionals, which supports that lie, that he was a social worker, you know. Like, oh, wow, he's in these organizations that just add these layers of things that would be what you would want, like resume builder things. But it's like, here's some money, I just want that credential. I don't really want to do anything with it, but I want to be able to say that I I have it.
Tyler: Yeah. Perhaps that explains why a lot of these projects didn't take shape, because, did people in these professions and sort of areas ever have a conversation with him? Like this would fall apart very quickly, right? But it's like God, I guess he just kind of gives interviews and and says, uh, he's an advocate. If there's something you can advocate for, he's there advocating.
Jodie: Yeah, you know, you just look at a resume like this, right? And it's like, wow, that's quite a bit of stuff. Well, some of it's not true. Some of it is simply filling out paperwork, using organizations and affiliations for personal gain without really being actively involved in any of them. Just to have a whole laundry list like this where you're like, wow, this guy does everything. That's what most of this has been, him operating on the assumption since 2013 or 2012, whenever those first news stories came out, and he was saying stuff that was not true that we talked about in the first few episodes, nobody ever vetted anything. And you get a list of organizations like this and you think, well, Joe Luginbill is Joe Luginbill at this time. Certainly there have been issues, but nobody has wanted to be the David to go up against the Goliath publicly with things like the scholarships, and stuff like that, you know. So everybody just accepted everything he did as well, this guy's just a real go getter and whatever. These are all very strategic, right? It's a lot of Children stuff. It's a lot of United Nations stuff, mental health. It's all things that created dialogue on something that's not true.
All of this creates some sort of a supportive framework for things that were not true. He's not a social worker, Okay? These UN organizations, the one that I talked to, did not know who he was and he took people's names. He made up quotes. He put his name in there in hopes of creating this person that he wants to be, and is not.
Tyler: And that’s the thing, I don't know what… This was all working for him, but to what end? Like it seemed to be working for him. Whatever he wanted to leverage that for back home here, seems like he was getting it. That seems very focused, a bio of a very specific person who has goals with helping Children. He was honing in on the person like he would become with that resume, and then I feel like he got it.
Jodie: If he could have just stuck to bios and memberships and not actual commitments with real people around here, he would have gotten it. This is like a perfect example of when you have looked at a profile for somebody you want to date online and on paper, it feels like everything should line up and then you meet them and you realize they don't line up. And so on paper, when you look at something like this, it does work. I would say that when the dialogue is controlled by him, it's fine. When he is not in control, that's when things become a problem. That's what we've seen time and time again in the past, when suddenly he's being put in the hot seat and questions are being asked, he's resigning from the school board. He's not answering Amy anymore about the smile house. He's leaving Sarah Strunk out in the dust. He's not answering Eben David's with scholarship stuff. It's time and time again.
Tyler: When the narrative of controlling is just the bios you're writing about yourself, and the press releases you're writing about yourself and then giving to the community, like I'll tell you who I am. He got to write his own story about himself, kind of at his leisure.
Jodie: I just found all of this fascinating. This one press release became, proving that not true, this rather curated list of very specific organizations, especially when you look at any one of his bios. And things drop off when they're no longer relevant, you know, the cooking show stuff falls away because those get deleted at some point. So, yeah, that's my rabbit hole.
Tyler: Luginbilled is presented by cool and unusual Punishment. Research and interviews by Jodie Arnold. This episode was edited and mixed by me, Tyler Haas. Music by Xavly, John Wright, Azov Music, Sungjay Kim, Michael Adeles, Ishaan Dinser, and Yuvjeni Sarabrykovf. You can help support this and future stories, as well as get access to early and exclusive content by becoming a cool and unusual punishment Patreon supporter at P A T R E O N dot com slash Cool and unusual punishment. Our website, where you can find more episodes, as well as the documents and material we reference is, cool and unusual punishment dot com.