Sat, Jan 28 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité
Some members of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee expressed concerns to Sweetwater Union High School District staff about a lack of transparency in the use of future Prop. O expenditures at a Jan. 18 meeting.
Earlier this month, District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand halted any further Prop. O work by construction management company Seville Group, also known as SGI, Inc.
The action was taken after district contractor Henry Amigable became one of five people charged with multiple felonies in an ongoing South Bay corruption case.
During the meeting committee chair Bernardo Vasquez asked district staff for a financial report of the $55 million of state matching funds the district received last year for Prop. O construction.
“I want to know where the money has been earmarked so we can see where the money went,” Vasquez said. “We’ve had issues with the district borrowing money from the Prop. O fund in the past to pay for operating expenses.”
Vasquez said an expense subcommittee will be formed to better explain change orders and answer financial questions.
District Chief Financial Officer Dianne Russo said the district will provide the committee with a copy of the county treasurer’s report to prove it has money for remaining construction.
In addition, director of planning and construction Paul Woods said that a performance review will be complete by the end of this month.
During public comment Kathleen Cheers said she doesn’t believe the district has any money.
“You’re going to get a B.S. audit (from the district),” she said. “I used to believe in Brand. Not anymore. He’s the next player that’s going to fall.”
Carlsbad-based Eric Hall & Associates employee David Randolph, who was hired to conduct the district’s audit, has since been removed after Brand became aware that he was a former SGI employee.
“It’s a small, small world after all (in construction),” Woods said.
Vasquez said the conflict of interest was just another example of bad choices that have been made by the district.
“We just can’t seem to break ourselves from hiring truly independent people,” he said.
Committee member David Butler said he has concerns with existing district employees working on the remaining projects.
“How do we determine that Prop. O money is not also paying part of their salaries?” he said. “How can I believe the district will make better decisions from here on out?”
Russo said managing the projects will be less expensive if performed in-house and that the district is bringing in managers as well as others from the San Diego County Board of Education to complete projects within 1.5 years.
Chula Vista resident and parent Stewart Payne urged the Committee to review the district’s legal requirements.
“You guys are the last line of defense,” he told committee members. “We need you to take a serious stance with this board.”
The Committee can only provide comments and feedback on board decisions after the fact, according to Vasquez.
“It’s frustrating,” Vasquez said. “The public is calling for more than the committee can provide. In our role we are not to serve in an advisory capacity.”
Vasquez asked committee members to renew their commitment and equated the situation to being faced with a tsunami.
“It’s like you’re sitting on a beach and a tidal wave’s coming … do we sit here or do we run for our lives?” Vasquez said.
Other defendants include former District superintendent Jesus Gandara, former district board member Greg Sandoval and school board trustees Arlie Ricasa-Bagaporo and Pearl Quinones, who pleaded not guilty Jan. 13 to perjury, filing a false document, wrongful influence of a public official and bribery.
The next regular meeting is March 8, in the Chula Vista High School auditorium.
In a previous version of this story it was incorrectly inferred that Kathleen Cheers said "bullshit."
Cheers actually said "B.S."
The Star-News regrets the error.
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