Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14, 2009 It All Depends on What the Meaning of "Repairs" Is...

County Commissioners and the School Board met on July 7 regarding East High repairs.

Weeks ago, the Commission offered the Board $5.3 Million to spend on repairs at East High.

According to news reports, the Board's proposed "repairs" (dubbed Phase I) included buying more property around East High, adding eight new classrooms, and putting a new roof on the existing building (with the exception of the new library and the old 1923 section. )

[The Board plans to continue patching the roof on the 1923 section and then come back and tear the 1923 section down altogether in Phase II of its 3-phase plan. ]

Tuesday night the commissioners said "whoa" and told the Board that buying property and building new classrooms and patching part of the roof doesn't match the commission's definition of repairs. Commissioners are saying that they're not handing over money intended for "repairs" to be used for other purposes.

Apparently, some commissioners learned something from the school board's gross mismanagement of the last big ($35 Million) building program (1998-2003).

The last building program was a total fiasco. The school board thumbed its collective nose at the commission (and taxpayers) and awarded around 35 one-bid construction contracts totalling millions. The Board also paid out more than a million dollars to its two construction managers whose biggest job was managing themselves. The Board hated the phrase, but it was clear that they were "paying people to manage themselves."

On top of the one-bid contracts, self-management payments, and waste, the Board was so inept that it couldn't calculate a management fee properly and ended up paying "fees"' and "fees on fees" to its builders/construction managers.

Yes, the Board of "Education" designed or got duped into a construction management contract that paid contractors fees to manage themselves AND also provided for payment of fees on fees. Sort of like having to pay sales tax on an item and then having the store charge you sales tax on the sales tax. This "fee on a fee" deal resulted in around $100,000 tax dollars being wasted because the Board didn't have a clue what it was doing and then didn't want to admit and correct the error when it was pointed out.

Math is pretty straight-forward. When I exposed this little School Board mathematical gem to county commissioners during 2000 and 2001, even Maudie Briggs, Commission Chairman at the time, couldn't ignore it. Maudie didn't DO anything about the fees on fees, but she did write the funniest line ever in a letter to Roger Greene (who was School Board chairman and STILL serves on the Board) about the school board's mathematical prowess.

Maudie told Roger that the Board's calculation of fees on fees was "mathematically impossible correctly (sic)," and she then encouraged the Board to avoid this. Sadly, her scolding didn't deter the school board at all from continuing to shovel out boatloads of taxpayer dollars to pay those "mathematically impossible" fees.

The whole deal was pathetic from start to finish. But then, as now, the School Board had lots of cover in the many family relationships and conflicts of interest among school board members and county commissioners. Commissioners Herbert Harville and Joe Spoone are numbers people. Herbert has headed up the Finance Committee in prior years and Joe is chair of Finance now. During 2000 and 2001 and 2002, neither of them would say anything about the fees on fees. Why? Herbert had, and still has, a son working for the school system. Joe had, and still has, a wife and brother working for school system and a sister who was, and still is, on the school board.

The last school building program was known for millions of tax dollars wasted on one-bid contracts, huge payments for self-supervision, and payment of fees on fees. Its crowning glory, however, was the fact that state law was changed as a result of the outrageous actions of the little old Hamblen County School Board.

While the locals hid and protected one another, I packed up all the information and went to Nashville to see the State Comptroller. I laid everything out. Two construction management contracts. Every no-bid contract. Every conflict of interest. Every self-management fee.

I answered every question, and within a few short months a revised state law was introduced.

The 2002 clarification of state law passed UNANIMOUSLY in the state house and state senate and made it crystal clear---to even the Hamblen County Board of Education---that school construction managers are supposed to manage and supervise only and they don't need to be paid to manage and supervise themselves.

At the time, the school board's attitude was "give me the money and get out of my way." Because of their bumbling of the last building program, the current commissioners realize that you better not hand over the money until there is a satisfactory plan in place.

Of course, the commission's insistence on seeing the plan first also means that commissioners will hear mighty screams and loud complaints emanating from the HCBOE's offices at 201 E. Morris Boulevard.

Speaking of HCBOE's renovated offices, a lot of East High parents and others have begun to notice that while the Board has let East High go to pot, they have spared no expense in upgrading Director Lynch and Company's digs in the old Junior High Building near East High at 201 E. Morris Boulevard.

If Dr. Lynch and staff really wanted to do something "for the children," they could move the Board of Education offices into a portion of the old section of East High and let the uber-nice HC Board of Education building be used for East High classrooms.

After all, the Board's current offices were originally classrooms (Junior High School) and this would be a perfect location for East High classrooms or the freshman academy. WARNING: Do not hold your breath waiting for Dr. Lynch to move out of his office suite for the children.

1 comment:

Danny Lail said...

Ms. Noe,

Since I have stumbled upon your blog, I have read it religiously, and I glad that there is an alternative to what is put out in the fish wrap. Before I go further, I owe you an apology. During your time on County Commision, I felt like that your sole purpose was to cause as much hate and discontent as possible. This view was fostered by the one sided reporting of our local fish wrap, and talking to other members of the commission, who most of the time were the subject of your inquiries. Reading your blog has opened my eyes to the insanity and the inbred philosophy that rules both city and county government. This leads me to the second part of my comment: What can be done about this? Obviously, you have sat on the commission and became so fed up, you refused to partake in it anymore. Yet you stand on the sidelines and continue to rail against the injustice and mismanagement. Are you looking at getting back in the game at some point? I would love the opportunity to speak with you and to get more insight as to what is going on in the local government. Lord knows I am not going to get it from the Citizen Baboon. Feel fre to email me at lail3950@charter.net at your convenience. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Danny Lail