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Schools' Elevator Contract Under Investigation

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Does the elevator to the Richmond Public Schools procurement department go all the way up? Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring has his doubts.


Herring is investigating a questionable construction contract awarded by school procurement officials, later rescinded due to irregularities. The $292,080 contract for design of a long-delayed elevator at William Fox Elementary School aimed to bring the school into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


“It's pretty clear to me that the procurement act — certainly the policy underlining the procurement act wasn't followed,” Herring says. “The very limited investigation I plan to do is whether the people who bid the project out had any intent to circumvent the procurement act.”


A schools' internal audit report revealed, among other things, that the company awarded the contract, Ballou Justice Upton, was contacted by procurement officials in advance of the department's releasing its request for proposal, and asked for a preliminary design-cost proposal. That cost proposal mysteriously became the crux of the school's system's RFP — guaranteeing the contract would be awarded to Ballou.


Herring became involved after the school system's attorney, Brad King, forwarded a letter from School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf that called into question the legality of the now-voided transaction.


Others also have questioned the contract award — as well as the competence of the internal school audit of the transaction — including attorney and frequent schools critic John Butcher. Butcher's Web site, crankytaxpayer.org, includes a breakdown of alleged violations to the state procurement act.
At a minimum, Herring says, the report shows incompetence. But whether it shows criminal incompetence leading to prosecution is an entirely different story.
“You read the audit and you can't help but just sort of sigh,” Herring says. “It hardly inspires any confidence in the capacity of those people [in schools procurement] to bid out and manage a project.”

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