Board never OK’d Prop P contracts

By Alyson E. Raletz

Two contracts totaling more than $10.8 million for architectural and construction management services related to the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program never were approved by the Mehlville Board of Education.

Neither a contract for Dickinson Hussman Architects for architectural services nor a contract for the McCarthy Construction Co., the firm selected by the Board of Education to serve as construction manager for Proposition P, was ever presented to the Mehlville Board of Education for final approval.

In addition, a Call examination of the contracts has re-vealed a discrepancy relating to the date the Dickinson Hussman contract was signed by Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the school district’s chief financial officer.

Furthermore, the district’s contract with McCarthy Construction, signed by former Superintendent John Cary, does not contain the date it was signed.

District voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million districtwide building improvement program funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.

A revised and reformatted Proposition P budget approved last month by the Board of Education projects the total cost of the building program at $86,725,000. The revised budget totals $14,325,000 more than the original Prop-osition P budget of $72.4 million that was approved by the school board in October 2001.

The contract for Dickinson Hussman Architects totals $4.491 million, plus general conditions that are projected to cost $200,000, while the contract for McCarthy Construction totals $2.835 million, plus general conditions that are projected to cost $3.321 million.

Superintendent Tim Ricker said board members never formally approved the Dickinson Hussman contract, but they were aware of the contract through Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities reports at board meetings.

Through an analysis of board meeting minutes and other district documents, Ricker also found that Dickinson Hussman moved from just being a consultant and then later was referred to as the district’s architect.

“There was never a specific agenda item or specific vote taken by the Board of Education on DHA’s relationship with the district,” Ricker said. “When DHA first started working with the district in a consultant fashion, I looked at board minutes and it went from the district’s architectural consultant, and then switched to district’s architects and they just kept working with them.”

Once administrators discovered that the board never approved the Dickinson Hussman contract, Charles said they consulted with the district’s legal counsel about the potential legal ramifications.

“And honestly, the only real exposure is on the part of the architects,” Charles said. “Because for a period of time, I guess, someone could have said, technically, they would have no recourse if the school district decided not to pay them. But since we’ve been working with them so long, and in legal terms there was an implied contract … so the school district was never legally in any jeopardy by not doing it.

“Was it the best way to do it? If we do it again, we’ll do it differently. The key thing is that we are getting quality work and projects are getting done.”

The Board of Education also never formally approved the district’s contract with McCarthy Construction.

During a recent board meeting, Charles cited Nov. 13, 2000, as the date the contract with McCarthy Construction was approved by the Board of Education.

But the board made no motion to approve a contract with McCarthy on Nov. 13, 2000. Board members approved the selection of McCarthy as construction manager for Proposition P and moved to direct administrators to “negotiate and develop a contract with McCarthy Construction.”

Board members never approved a negotiated or developed contract in future meetings.

“I thought they did,” Charles told the Call Friday. “The assumption you are making here is that the contract must be formally approved by the board in its final form and I don’t know if that is true.”

The chief financial officer and the superintendent have the legal authority to contract on behalf of the district, he said.

“What typically happens is … we would have a draft of contracts with, let’s say with McCarthy, and it would have been included as back up in the Nov. 13 board book and they would have that to look at before they would vote on that… I just can’t imagine that it (McCarthy contract) wasn’t presented to the board before it was signed.”

But it wasn’t. The McCarthy contract never was submitted to the board for final approval.

“The actual formal contract did not come back, but board members should have known the details of the contract by the 13th (November 2000) because they had received seven proposals from different firms,” Charles said after some investigation into past board books.

A selection committee made a unanimous recommendation to the board to name McCarthy construction manager and part of the panel’s recommendation “would have been price,” Charles said.

But according to district documents and previous Call articles, no estimates or prices were available at that time for board members.

“It was a request for qualifications,” Ricker contended. “The negotiation of the contract was actually the selection of McCarthy … The negotiation took place to get the pricing on the contract.”

When asked if the negotiated contract had to come back to the board for approval, Ricker said, “My assumption is no.”

Charles said that from a legal standpoint, the contracts could have been approved by the board or the superintendent and chief financial officer could have negotiated the contract.

“You can do it either way, but what it boils down to is what is the desire of the board,” Charles said. “I think the current board wants to be a little more involved in those decisions.”

Ricker said he intends to be up front with future contracts and place them on agendas to ensure the board has a chance to approve them.

“That may be just a difference in leadership style or the fact that my experience in working with this board is short term,” Ricker said. “When you have … long-term relationships with boards of education and administration, there’s a trust factor. Boards of education say: ‘Hey, we trust the superintendent or associate superintendent or the CFO to do this work, let’s let them go ahead and do it.'”

Ricker said that was the case during former Superintendent John Cary’s administration.

“I believe at that point in time … the board had complete trust in Mr. Cary’s integrity, his honesty, his abilities, know-ledge of financial/legal workings and he used to the optimum effectiveness all of the services that we have …

“In my mind, as I go through these documents, there was nothing that led me to believe that there was any perception of impropriety or the perception of anything other than … forthright work,” Ricker added.

Besides never going before the board for final approval, the Dickinson Hussman contract contains an incorrect date, while the McCarthy contract does not include a date.

The Dickinson Hussman contract is dated April 1, 2001, and signed by Charles in his position as assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer.

However, on April 1, 2001, Charles still served as principal at Mehlville Senior High School, and Tom Foraker was the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer. Charles did not assume his duties as assistant superintendent and chief financial officer until July 1, 2001.

After being informed of the discrepancy by the Call, Charles said, “We must not have gotten the dates switched on that. It didn’t happen until later … when we renegotiate the contract with them (DHA), we need to amend that and get that corrected.

“What was going on back in April, Foraker and architects were working on this and then architects picked it up with me in the fall, and we just never changed the date.”

After some research, Charles later told the Call that the Dickinson Hussman contract originally was drafted on March 30, 2001, but never executed. That fall, just a few months into Charles’ employment as chief financial officer, Cary approached Charles and told him the contract needed to be finalized and signed. On Dec. 12, Charles said Dickinson Hussman updated and revised contract percentages and district attorneys reviewed the document on Dec. 20.

The contract, though dated April 1, 2001, actually was not signed until Jan. 8, 2002, Charles said.

“I was an area superintendent then and I didn’t pay attention to that,” said Ricker, who became superintendent on July 1. “Now that’s no excuse.”

Also, the McCarthy contract, signed by Cary, was never dated.

Charles reviewed his records and discovered that, after contacting McCarthy, Cary signed the contract May 31, 2001.