By William Hladky, FloridaBulldog.org
In the last five years, two Broward School Board members were convicted of corruption and a statewide grand jury described the board as both inept and corrupted by “contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.”
It was against that backdrop that the School Board this month chose to see no evil in a whistleblower’s sworn complaint that district administrators had “rigged” bidding procedures. Instead, they mostly complained about bad publicity and said they didn’t want to get involved in overseeing the process.
Except for Nora Rupert, board members during the March 17 meeting indicated that they did not want Superintendent Robert Runcie to send them any of the controversial bid documents. Instead, they grumbled about “the press,” the “nay nays,” and “Monday morning quarterbacks”.
Michael Marchetti, former special assistant to the superintendent, has claimed school administrators rigged bidding to ensure that Jacobs Project Management Company would receive the contract to manage $800 million in capital projects that voters agreed to finance. The contract is estimated to be worth as much as $20 million.
Marchetti told Runcie about the alleged rigging in two January emails and reported it to a Broward County School Police detective during a Feb. 10 sworn statement. Marchetti, who retired last month, also said that Jacobs executives violated the school district’s “Cone of Silence” in a telephone call to Marchetti and during a subsequent meeting they had with him.
The Cone of Silence policy prohibits bidders from talking to any school board member or district employee except “designated staff…until the contract is awarded by the School Board.”
The school administration took no action on Marchetti’s claims until March 9 when FloridaBulldog.org sought comment about the allegations. The district then posted a notice reversing its recommendation to give the contract to Jacobs because company officials had violated the Cone of Silence policy. The administration also recommended splitting the contract into two parts when the work is rebid. Derek Messier, the school district’s chief facilities officers, has said that should be soon.
BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR JACOBS
At its meeting two weeks ago, the board brushed aside Marchetti’s most serious assertion and unanimously approved the administration’s recommendations to rebid the contract in two parts. The board did not sanction Jacobs Project Management, or any of its officials. Jacobs is eligible to rebid on the new contracts.
Board Chairwoman Donna Korn suggested the board may need to change its policy so it can ban a company from future bidding and not just the company representative who violates the Cone of Silence. The chairwoman said the board currently can bar the representative from doing business with the school district for up to two years.
Jacobs Project Management is a subsidiary of the international engineering, architecture and construction firm Jacobs Engineering Group, headquartered in Pasadena, California.
Marchetti has alleged that Messier told him before bids were requested that he liked Jacobs, and that after bids were received Messier handpicked amenable administrators to sit on an ad hoc committee that selected Jacobs for the contract. The move bypassed the School Board entity that usually ranks bidders – the Qualifications, Selection and Evaluation Committee (QSEC) – before district staff negotiates a proposed contract for the board’s approval.
The board’s discussion focused not on why Messier created a special committee to vet the bids, but whether it was within policy.
Board policy requires the qualifications committee to be involved in contracts involving “total program managers.” Messier told the board the contract “fell outside QSEC.”
The issue centers on whether the contract involves “total program managers.”
School Board General Counsel J. Paul Carland II said bypassing the qualifications committee “doesn’t appear to be a…violation” because the proposed construction management contract is not for a “total program manager.” The attorney said he based that tentative opinion on Runcie’s interpretation of the policy, adding he needed to research the issue further.
Marchetti accused Runcie in an interview of “playing verbal games.”
Charlotte Greenbarg who served on the school district’s Audit Committee and Facilities Task Force between 1999 and 2014, agreed, saying Messier is wrong.
“If it is going to manage projects, how can they not go through QSEC?” she said in an interview.
Carland’s opinion prompted Board Chairwoman Korn to say she was “not comfortable with this going to QSEC…If we want this to go to QSEC, we need to change the policy…I haven’t seen something wrong here except for a breach of the Cone of Silence (policy).”
“THAT’S NOT MY JOB”
Board members Ann Murray and Abby Friedman expressed support for Messier and noting they didn’t want to “get into the weeds” concerning the allegations.
“That’s not my job,” said Murray.
“I never take the perspective that somebody is trying to hide something,” added Board member Rosalind Osgood.
Video of the meeting shows that only Rupert questioned the decision to bypass the qualifications committee, which she noted was “put in place to avoid situations such as we are in…We still do not know who was on this particular committee …was there any conflict…It doesn’t pass the smell test…”
Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, chair of the district’s all volunteer Facilities Task Force, told board members Messier advised the task force in November that the qualifications committee would be bypassed. “The air in the room literally changed and people raised eyebrows. I advised that would not be the best course of action,” she said.
In an interview, Lynch-Walsh said she opposed Messier’s ad hoc group because the qualifications committee meets “in the sunshine” and includes a member from the Facilities Task Force and the school district auditor’s office.
“There was no task force member (and)…no auditor on (Messier’s) committee,” she said.
Task force members monitor the planning, construction and maintenance of school facilities. The board selects them from nominations submitted by its members, Parent-Teacher Associations, the League of Cities, the Broward Teachers Union and other organizations.
While giving Messier a thumbs-up to proceed in the face of Marchetti’s allegations, board members also used their platform to lash out at critics and the media.
“We will always have our critics, will always have our Monday morning quarterbacks and we will have people who question what we are doing..,” said member Patricia Good.
“I’m not going to get into the situation where the press and other nay nays can start taking us down one by one,” said Murray. “We are a whole and we have to stay a whole…I am going to support the superintendent and staff…”
The board split on whether to praise or criticize Marchetti, who earned a civilian award from the FBI in 2011 for his prior whistleblowing at the School Board.
Freedman and Murray bashed Marchetti for talking to a representative of a company covered by the cone of silence.
Korn, however, disagreed. “The violator is the lobbyist,” she said. “I don’t ever want an employee to feel like they are somehow guilty of something because they receive a phone call.”
“I actually think (he) should receive an award,” said Rupert.
Marchetti’s job was to talk to Jacobs company officials on a regular basis. The School Board earlier had awarded Jacobs a $1.2 million services contract to help the school district assess facilities needing repair. Cone of Silence violations occur when company officials discuss the new pending contract, not the older services contract.
Several board members cautioned the administration as it moved forward.
“Perception…Mr. Messier is very important,” said Heather Pomper Brinkworth. “We need to be very careful when we bring things forward we think about the process…and what the perception is going to be.”
Robin Bartleman urged Messier to work with the Facilities Task Force. “They are our watchdog,” she said.
HeadsUPFlorida / March 31, 2015 11:04 am
You’d think the U.S. Attorney and the FBI would be very interested.
Charlotte Greenbarg / April 2, 2015 1:52 pm
Not unless it’s Federal money, as I’ve been told. Nothing happens to hold anyone accountable unless the Feds step in, unfortunately.
If any part of it is Federal dollars, then please let us know via this site.
MICHAEL SIRBOLA / June 4, 2015 3:17 pm
BROWARD BULLDOG You have been doing wonderful work here in Broward, kudos!
The diversity committee has a new website, it hasn’t ever been up, but we have it I am told. Perhaps one day the public can hear the deliberations, one might hope after all these decades… We just spent one entire year deliberating over bylaws I am told, seriously. I’m new.
I was recently censored from airing by BECON TV – Two days later Ch. 10 aired a piece interviewing Dr. Pope of Broward Schools to divulge that Broward is number one in cases of sexual related problems in schools of ALL Florida counties. They edited me out so smoothly I’m embarrassed to say how many times I had to rewind to catch the edits, and I use to be co-owner of a TV Channel!
Please note that just as the EPA in Florida cannot use the phrase “global warming” without risk of losing ones job, it is a written infraction to compare ANY education data on a Florida school to any other school or district OTHER than another Florida school.
Mr. Runcie has said in aired interviews that 90 children out of 250,000 kids were bullied last year compared to 1,050 just a few years before… he IS clearly INCOMPETENT for this position and must be removed. If you overheard the mechanic you are about to leave your car with saying to “just pour some water in to level off the tank of someones car” – would you leave your car there for repair? That would be crazy right? Woefully misguided, incompetent or a liar?
He is misguided is my call, based on his own harsh childhood he will see done to our children what he believes is necessary based on the harsh realities of his world as a child. Shame on us for allowing any child to be dealt such a harsh hand as was Mr. Runcie – shame on us to let it continue now under his clearly misguided (at best) leadership. Perhaps he can be educated, this is my hope. If not, he must be removed, clearly, and quickly. Mr. Runcie see’s no improvement in reading between grades 3 and 12 in our Broward schools as evidence that children just aren’t coming to school prepared, so it must be the parents fault and lack of adequate pre-kindergarden to blame – seriously, it’s the kids fault they can’t read, this is what he says out loud without blinking. Every single Broward HS has a ROTC, there isn’t even a county in TEXAS where that is true. We hand our kids over to the same system system exposed for abusing minors right HERE in Broward and it isn’t even discussed when the bills as blood money are paid the prison provider we hand our juveniles over to. Mr. Runcie has close ties with people associated with the prison system and its promotion, primarily through the Broad Foundation whose original charter was to dismantle the public school system as public enemy number one – the language has been cleaned-up considerably recently on their website. Broad employees came with Mr. Runcie along with the “deal.” I believe three Broad people came with him but they deny knowledge although I learned of it on the Broward school site. Perhaps someone OUT THERE IN THE PUBLIC can learn who these persons are or were that Mr. Runcie brought with him from the Broad Foundation? Just curious. Mr. Runcie can accomplish incredible GOOD by changing his plans and dropping his planned militarization and turning of Broward’s kids into the nations lackeys and service-people. Our kids can’t read not because they are poor, black, or anything else… they cannot read BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT TAUGHT THEM! Only five of 250 schools has passed all six subjects – this means that ONLY children going to one of these five schools will have the preparation needed and expected of them for graduation and that MORE THAN HALF OF ALL STUDENTS IN ALL 245 OTHER SCHOOLS have FAILED AT LEAST ONE SUBJECT – and many fail in multiple subjects – this is FACT and when brought up to Mr. Runcie 3 times has had NO RESPONSE from board or Mr. Runcie. Lies, lies and more lies. Enough! Our children are literally dying and being victimized – that they also cannot read is not even the main problem any longer!
We have numerous HIGHLY SEGREGATED SCHOOLS here in Broward where FEWER than 5% are a minority (non-white) and others where FEWER than 5% are white (majority) – and NO ONE in the administration even KNOWS this isn’t OK – they say “well all schools have equally inadequate numbers of teachers, facilities, and equipment” – they do NOT EVEN GET-IT that segregation IS NOT OK! They actually even segregate all of the pregnant children rejects kicked out of their private schools and every person they many have known since 1st grade – all put into one school, HIDDEN AWAY, for their own “protection” from the derision of others – with us adults at the head – which is where our kids are learning this horrid behavior – from us – we clearly damaged adults actually had 1000 people parade around the building with the kids inside to show how wrong-kids are treated! Enough! It is NOT just that white kids aren’t exposed to other races and vice versa, what of the 5% kids, the “whitee” in an all-black school or the “blackee” at an all-white school – what lessons are they NOT learning and what lessons might they be learning that are WRONG? Mr. Runcie, I suspect, was the “blackee” in this scenario and as a result it is his belief that he came out “better” than other blacks, and that it is they that are the problem, that they must buck-up, and strive to have good parents, and take the responsibility themselves, which is NOT their nature (he has wrongly learned) and so require to be punished and MADE to behave ad to perform responsibly. Mr. Runcie is the poster child for what NOT to have as far as “expectations” of ones children, for ones expectations of them and ones behaviors and actions all are the REAL reasons our Broward children cannot read and are being bullied without anyone noticing or caring. None of this is acceptable any longer. Both the Facilities Committee Meeting and the Diversity Committee meetings are this evening at the same time, one at a HS and the other downtown – I will be speaking to these topics at the Diversity meeting and asking that they be brought to the full school board.