By William Hladky, FloridaBulldog.org
Administrators at the Broward County School District “rigged” bidding procedures to ensure that Jacobs Project Management Company would receive a multi-million dollar contract to manage $800 million in capital projects that voters agreed to finance, according to a district whistleblower.
Michael Marchetti, former special assistant to School Superintendent Robert Runcie, made the allegations to the superintendent in two January emails and to Broward County Schools Police Detective Edward Costello in an 18-page sworn statement on Feb. 10.
Voters approved the sale of $800 million in bonds in November to finance the projects. Much of the money is to be used to renovate and repair the district’s aging schools.
Marchetti identified the administrator mainly responsible for the bid rigging as Derek Messier, the school district’s chief facilities officer. The superintendent transferred Marchetti from being his assistant to being Messier’s subordinate in November.
Neither Superintendent Runcie nor Messier would comment directly. Both referred a reporter to the school district’s public information office, who did not respond.
Runcie was hired as superintendent in 2011 after working for Chicago’s Board of Education. He hired Messier, who also worked for Chicago’s public school system, in June.
Marchetti also told Runcie, and the detective under oath, that executives from Jacobs may have violated the school district’s “Cone of Silence” policy last January in a telephone call to Marchetti and during a subsequent meeting they had with him.
Marchetti provided FloridaBulldog.org with the sworn statement and his emails to Runcie.
The call and the meeting were held after a school district selection committee voted to recommend Jacobs for the contract, which is pending approval by the School Board.
A reporter asked school district spokeswoman Nadine Drew on Monday when the School Board would vote on the Jacobs contract. As of Wednesday night, she had not responded to that question or others submitted via email. Likewise, Broward Schools also did not provide requested documents on the pending contract.
The school district’s Cone of Silence policy prohibits a bidder from talking to “any School Board member, the Superintendent, any Evaluation Committee Member or any other School District employee…until the contract is awarded by the School Board.”
Jacobs Project Management Company is a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering Group, which is an international engineering, architecture, and construction firm. The main company is headquartered in Pasadena, California.
Marchetti told FloridaBulldog.org that he heard the capital projects contract might be worth $20 million and span five or six years.
Jacobs has an existing $1.2 million professional services contract with the school district to help assess facilities needing repair. Marchetti claims Jacobs has underperformed on that contract and he wondered in an email to Runcie if the company would be “qualified and capable to perform on (the new) contract that will surely end up being in the tens of millions of dollars.”
Superintendent Runcie previously complained about the company missing deadlines in a November letter to Jacobs Vice President Douglas Hyde.
Marchetti, who worked for the school district for 17 years, retired last month after the superintendent dismissed his concerns and told him “he didn’t feel that there was any issues…He thought everything was fine and that they were gonna go forward,” according to his sworn statement. The superintendent “didn’t even mention that he was concerned about the cone of silence,” Marchetti said.
MARCHETTI INFO TOPPLED GALLAGHER, KRAFT
Marchetti has blown the whistle before on wrongdoing at Broward Schools. Information he provided led to the 2010 arrests of School Board members Beverly Gallagher and Stephanie Kraft on corruption charges. Both were later convicted.
The School Board in 2013 paid Marchetti $190,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed after the school district laid off his wife as a research assistant for his alleged whistleblowing.
Messier allegedly began to grease the way for Jacobs after he met with Jacobs’ executives in August. According to one of Marchetti’s emails to Runcie, Messier told Marchetti after the meeting “he liked Jacobs very much…”
Messier also told Marchetti that “he was going to write his own RFP” to manage the district’s capital program. A RFP, or request for proposal, is a notice government puts out asking companies to bid for a contract. Marchetti worked for Messier at the time of the discussion.
Messier and Marchetti had lunch at Fort Lauderdale’s New River Grill and Pizza with Jacobs executives several weeks after the August meeting. One of those executives, identified only as “Mike,” knew Messier and they “rehashed some old times…when (both) worked together in Chicago,” Marchetti wrote to Runcie. “After the lunch, Mike made it a point to…tell me what a great guy (Messier) was…”
Marchetti told Runcie that Messier’s RFP “had not gone to the (school) board for approval to advertise and that (the) selection committee had been assembled…outside of the normal…process.”
“That’s another part of the alleged conspiracy,” Marchetti told FloridaBulldog.org.
In his sworn statement to Detective Costello, Marchetti said the selection committee that voted last December to recommend Jacobs for the management contract was composed of school district administrators handpicked by Messier.
Aecom Technology Services, headquartered in Los Angeles, and Skanska USA Building Inc., headquartered in Dania Beach, also bid on the contract.
By assembling his own seven-person selection committee Messier bypassed a sitting committee, Marchetti told the detective. The committee that normally ranks bidders is the School Board’s Qualifications, Selection and Evaluation Committee.
“WHOLE THING WAS RIGGED”
“This whole thing was rigged,” Marchetti said in the sworn statement, adding that Messier appointed “people he could count on…and would “make sure that (Messier) is happy with them.”
Two committee members chosen by Messier should have disqualified themselves from the selection process because they were working with Jacobs and Skanaska on other current contracts, Marchetti said. “They should have recused themselves. They had way too much familiarity with the proposers.”
Marchetti added, “For (Messier) to let that happen and then for him and the superintendent to…continue to negotiate with Jacobs and say that there’s nothing wrong or nothing tainted with this process, when they violated policy by not going to (the qualifications committee) to start with. Those are…the big flags to me.”
While Messier’s selection committee recommended that Jacobs be awarded the management contract, Jacobs and the school officials must negotiate details of the contract before it is presented to the School Board for approval.
Marchetti told Runcie in an email that Jim McDaniell, a Jacobs’ vice president, telephoned him on Jan. 10 to ask if Marchetti’s criticism of Jacobs’ performance on the existing service contract “was going to spill over and affect…negotiations” over the new contract. “He actually asked me to please be careful to see that it doesn’t.”
McDaniell, who heads Jacobs negotiating team, told Marchetti during the phone call “he knew he was walking a fine line in calling me because the contract has not been awarded and they are still in the Cone of Silence.”
McDaniell, reach by phone, declined to comment. “I can’t speak to the press on anything,” he said.
In 2013, school district staff disqualified Jacobs for competing for an earlier contract because the company violated the Cone of Silence policy.
CONE OF SILENCE VIOLATION?
Marchetti told the superintendent, “I believe this phone call and request alone violates the Cone of Silence and falls somewhat far below the bar for moral integrity we should have as a standard for anyone connected to the bond program.”
Marchetti said McDaniell also told him during the phone call that Jacobs “had a special in with Derek (Messier)…because Jacobs had an employee named Mike…whom Derek worked with before in Chicago for about ten years whom…Derek trusts and likes very much.”
“This conflict with Derek was not going to go well for me and that at best I could end up in a closet somewhere counting paper until I became so tired of it I would just leave,” Marchetti told Runcie.
In an interview with a reporter, Marchetti said McDaniell also violated the Cone of Silence policy by calling him several times between Jan. 22 and Jan. 26 to discuss the possibility of Marchetti working for Jacobs. Marchetti recently had decided to retire from the school district.
At McDaniell’s request, Marchetti said he emailed McDaniell his resume on Jan. 25.
On Jan. 26, three Jacobs executives met with Marchetti to talk about the advantages Marchetti would bring to Jacobs. Marchetti’s sworn statement says the executives told him his knowledge of the school district’s software and programs would help Jacobs “get a leg up” and “make them look good” on the pending project.
Marchetti told Detective Costello that he considered that meeting a “pretty blatant” violation of the Cone of Silence policy.
The day after he talked to Detective Costello, Marchetti emailed the school board about the potential bid rigging. Marchetti said in an interview that none of the board members have responded to his email.
Detective Costello did not return several calls for comment.
The school district seeks outsiders to manage construction projects because in 2013 the school board laid off half of its 28 construction project managers. The downsizing occurred after a statewide grand jury in 2011 sharply criticized the Broward School District and its facilities division for lack of oversight and handling of bids.