Miami Herald: Broward School Board seeks to fix contract-awarding process

Nov 5, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on November 4, 2009

At a workshop Tuesday, Broward School Board members discussed suggestions about how to fix flaws in the way the district chooses contractors for building and renovation projects.


In a bid to polish the image of a process tarnished by corruption, Broward School Board members Tuesday batted around ideas for improving the way the district awards contracts for construction projects.

Also high on their priority list: Improving public perception.

Some board member suggestions include:

  • Taking board members off the Qualification Selection Evaluation Committee.
  • Leaving board members on, but without voting rights.
  • Appointing a designee five working days before a meeting if the member can’t make it.
  • Rejecting campaign contributions while the district is soliciting bids for projects.
  • Putting three contractors on a short list and selecting the winner based on price.

District staffers have also recommended additional training for committee members on the Sunshine Law and policy that restricts communication with lobbyists while a bid is out.

They are also proposing strengthening language about that so-called “Cone of Silence,” detailing consequences for violating that policy and sending reminders to members.

Superintendent Jim Notter said he will bring the proposals to board members at another workshop before any changes are set in stone.

The 11-member Qualification Selection Evaluation Committee, known as QSEC, has come under scrutiny after the arrest in September of suspended board member Beverly Gallagher.

According to a criminal complaint, Gallagher boasted to an undercover federal agent that she had “figured out” the committee and had representatives who would vote the way she wanted. She is accused of pocketing $12,500 from agents, who were posing as consultants, in exchange for promising to award work to the contractors they represented.

Notter said Tuesday that the board is examining the committee’s policies and practices now as a result of “some very unfortunate events that occurred a couple weeks ago.”

Board member Stephanie Kraft said the events that led to Gallagher’s arrest would have been considered violations under current district rules.

“Let’s just keep in perspective that the incident that occurred violated our existing policy,” she said. “Sometimes having a policy doesn’t mean it’s not going to be violated.”

Ann Murray questioned why board members are even on the committee since they cast the ultimate vote on contracts.

“Each one of us gets a large donation from contractors and other influential people in Broward County, so that perception is that they have some control over us,” she said.

Kraft answered that board members should be on the committee — whether they vote or not — to represent the communities that elected them.

She suggested that anyone worried about public perception should decline to accept money from people who do business with the district.

“I think you’re abdicating your responsibility and the better choice is don’t take the money,” she said.

Nick Sakhnovsky, who chairs a task force on facilities, said Tuesday’s discussion did not address all the important issues. He has been requesting a meeting with public comment on the issue; members of the public are not allowed to speak at workshops.

“I saw a lot of punting going on today,” he said.