School Board Construction Chief Tried to Give Contractor $100,000 Break

lippmanjenne.jpg
Wild Art: Ken "Jailbird" Jenne and "Freeloadin' Freddy" Lippman back in the day.
At a time of budget shortfalls and employee layoffs, School Board construction chief Tom Lindner took it upon himself to try to do a $100,000 favor -- with taxpayers' money, of course -- for a politically connected local contractor.

And that was just part of an overall boondoggle in which about $1 million in taxpayers' money went down the drain. 

Thumbnail image for lindner.jpg
Lindner
​It began with an unnecessary contract approved by the School Board to build classroom additions. The contract went to James A. Cummings Inc., a top school builder in the county. Cummings has been a generous contributor to board members' campaigns and has hired former board construction officials to work at his firm, including former construction chief Ray De La Feuilliez after he was blasted in a prior state grand jury report. 

After the project began, an internal audit found that the district paid Cummings $100,000 for undocumented work that was never authorized in the contract or approved by the board. The auditors, citing School Board regulations, recommended that the district recoup the money from the contractor. 

But Lindner, in a letter to Cummings last October, unilaterally decided that he wouldn't make the contractor pay the money back after all. Lindner wrote that he had determined (by himself) that "the payments were appropriate under the contract" and that he didn't "intend to pursue the overpayment issue." 

Isn't that special? 

Inside, see what happened next (hint: Lindner got a taste of crow).
After Lindner decided, without consulting the board, to cut Cummings the break, auditor Pat Reilly released another audit report last month on March 24 recommending again that the board collect the money, only this time the amount was amended down to about $75,000. 

When pushed again, Lindner admitted that, in contradiction to what he wrote in his Cummings letter, the payments weren't allowed under the contract and had gone without proper documentation. "Accordingly we will pursue repayment by whatever means necessary," he wrote in his department's official response to the audit. 

Lindner wrote that he believed that "ethically," the board had a mandate to pay Cummings since the work was requested by School Board staff and completed by Cummings. 

Either way, rules were flagrantly violated and a favorite contractor got money that wasn't intended in the contract. I would suggest to Mr. Lindner that "ethically," his interest should lie in protecting taxpayers rather than contractors. 

And remember that this is the guy who is touted by the board as someone who can turn the corrupt school district around. In this case, it appears to be business as usual. 

But here's the ugly kicker: It wasn't just the $100,000 that the board paid Cummings that was wasted. About $1 million was spent on the project, which was ultimately abandoned without ever being completed. 

Why? Because the School Board ran into financial problems, and the classrooms were never needed anyway. It was just another example of the lobbyist- and contractor-driven building boom authorized by the derelict School Board that helped make the contractors rich and the school district very, very poor. 

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75 comments
Hammerhead
Hammerhead

Lindner is a person. He has military experience and is an individual. And yes - there is much more to this story.

HammerheadBroward at large, Florida

Stan Smith
Stan Smith

Tom Lindner is an honest and effective person. He is a Veteran of the Military and respected individual. - I'm sure there is more to this story.

Stan SmithFort Lauderdale, Florida

Score Keeper
Score Keeper

Okay I've gone to the website and read two reports. I read the first report from 2010 and then the most current report which is an update of the 2010 report. Here's what I got out of it. First of all there was a lot of wierd stuff going on in the 2010 report that isn't even being talked about out here that may be worse than the money that Cummings seems to owe the system back.

The 2010 audit found that a couple of employees were paid nearly 100k in unauthorized or improperly issued overtime payments. It also found that employees signed off on paying the wrong contractor - 675k for football bleachers - football bleachers? 675k?

I also found out that the Pulp is correct, about $1 million bucks was spent on projects that were abandoned and yet within the $1 million was an overpayment of over $100k.

Then when I looked at the update, it looks like a lot of policies and clauses were violated for the current construction chief to even write a letter, which was actually included in the update, relieving Cummings of their responsibility to payback the schools.

Then, true to Pulp's word, the construction chief does a 180 and admits that he was not truthful when he originally said in his letter that the money was paid per the contract. That has to be embarassing. How does the superintendent or the school board let that slip by?

Well anyway, either way it was enlightening and I would recommend that others do the same reading to see for yourself. At minimum, the district does not - DOES NOT - have it's act together and the reports vividly show that.

Anonymous
Anonymous

This is the kind of crap that got Lindner fired in 2004 from his last job.

anonymous
anonymous

Don't you just love LE and government authority in Broward County? .It looks like our taxpayer dollars continue to support "crooks on the ground."

Judge Sirica
Judge Sirica

Everyone knows the rules, and how the unauthorized change order game is played. The contractor knows perfectly well that if he does work at the request of some low level type that he is at risk of not getting paid. If he does it, he's just gambling that the contracting party will pay anyway rather than invoke the contract, and that that's a crapshoot.

The point is that the decision was subject to influence peddling.

Patti Lynn
Patti Lynn

From what I understand, several departments in the school board bureaucracy have had lectures in the past couple of weeks regarding nepotism. What a JOKE!!! Look at the transportation department...more cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc. than you can shake a stick at...and most of them "jumping over" those with more experience & longevity to obtain jobs which they have no experience doing. And...a lot of overlooked offenses...children left on buses, ESE attendants not securing the children, use of personal cell phones and ignoring school bus phones....the list goes on and on. And what about those 2 high level transportation officials who were suspended last year...aren't they STILL collecting their inflated paychecks???

JOEYPAD1
JOEYPAD1

I SAID IT BEFORE AND WILL SAY IT AGAIN..THERE NEEDS TO BE A CLEAN SWEEP OF THE ENTIRE SYSTEM FROM THE TOP DOWN..THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HANDS IN THE COOKIE JAR..

Diverdan61
Diverdan61

So let me get this straight....The school board hires a company for a school project, signs a contract for the work which includes a certain amount of money for a certain scope of work, tells them to start working on that scope, allows them to progress and spend money completing the work, receives an invoice for the work, reviews and approves the invoice, cuts the contractor a check, and then later decides they screwed up and should get the money back from the contractor, and when the guy in charge realizes that school board employees fucked the whole thing up and the contractor actually does deserve the payment, the contractor is portrayed as getting a "favor" or "break"? How ridiculous!

jad
jad

Michael J. Marchetti:

Have you reported any of the irregularities, such as that mentioned in previous blogs (and this particular blog) about excessive amounts of moneys spent on unnecessary buildings -- to other persons, rather than those associated with the school district or the State board?

There is a GET LEAN number to call to make a report to the Chief Financial Officer (Jeff Atwater), and (as what can be considered a State employee, due to the fact that those State bonds, under art. XII, sec. 9, Fla.Const., support your position) you might be entitled to an award for assisting the State in preventing waste, fraud, and abuse of the State’s financial resources. The number is 1-800-438-5326.

Sec. 17.325 is titled “Governmental efficiency hotline; duties of Chief Financial Officer.” Subsection (3) of sec. 17.325, F.S., reads as “Each telephone call on the hotline shall be received by the office of the Chief Financial Officer, and the office of the Chief Financial Officer shall conduct an evaluation to determine if it is appropriate for the telephone call to be processed as a “Get Lean” telephone call. If it is determined that the telephone call should be processed as a “Get Lean” telephone call, a record of each suggestion or item of information received shall be entered into a log kept by the Chief Financial Officer. A caller on the hotline may remain anonymous, and, if the caller provides his or her name, the name shall be confidential. If a caller discloses that he or she is a state employee, the Chief Financial Officer, in addition to maintaining a record as required by this section, may refer any information or suggestion from the caller to an existing state awards program administered by the affected agency. The affected agency shall conduct a preliminary evaluation of the efficacy of any suggestion or item of information received through the hotline and shall provide the Chief Financial Officer with a preliminary determination of the amount of revenues the state might save by implementing the suggestion or making use of the information.”

Fly on the Wall
Fly on the Wall

The Department of Education watching from Tallahassee is almost as good as the Broward County State Attorney watching the School Board from downtown. In the two previous Grand Jury reports, recommendations were made to the Board who responded that they were going to make numerous changes to correct the Grand Juries findings. All the Board did after that was tell the Grand Juries what they wanted them to hear and no further action was taken by the School Board. I think 15 years to get it right is long enough. I don't know how many of you remember our fight to clean up mold and mildew in the schools but until there was a public outcry, nothing happened and it has cost millions to clean it up. The public outcry and the School Board's Auditing Department brought the EPA who applied the pressure to make changes. Unfortunately, by decreasing the quality of the construction and its inspections, expect more mold and mildew.

Christy
Christy

Last Month Eric Smith announced his resignation. I wonder if he will come to Broward and take Notter's "job".

Guest
Guest

Was not able to watch.... How was the Scott Rothstein program?

B_tan
B_tan

Bob, you're very comfortable on camera. (not all writers are)

Easter Bunny
Easter Bunny

This whole thing smells of Bob Parks, biggest buddy of Cummings. They went to school together in Key West. Cummings hired Park's cousin as a "job estimator"......It should not be too late to put Parks in a Dept. of Corrections jump suit next to Mr. and Mrs. Kraft.

Tony
Tony

I find it ironic that we hold public officials to a much lower standard than the general public. These people are suppose to be "trustees" of our money. If this crap occurred in say a real estate or insurance firm this guy would have been thrown in jail.

Seymour_Skinner
Seymour_Skinner

It sounds like some of the incompetent school board employees that effed up and wasted our tax money are in here trying to place blame on someone else tonight.

Laid off PM
Laid off PM

Notter and his minions (i.e, Lindner) are at it again! This is unbelievable how these f@$**r's keep getting caught doing the stupidest shit possible. Makes you pause for a second and wonder how these jackass' ever got into these positions. As a former Project Manager at Facilities & Construction who got canned last year I have stories to tell you that would make your head spin. I saw projects started and then get cancelled for no good reasons. Money was pissed away on a weekly basis. I'd often get calls from the whores, who call themselves Board Members, asking me to start projects that had no reason to be except to please their masters, the Consultants and Contractors. What really pisses me off is that these corrupt pieces of shit are laying off hard working professionals because of their poor decisions made in the past and still being made today. As for Mike Marchetti I truly respect what he is doing. Don't stop buddy...

Mike Marchetti
Mike Marchetti

The first thing to understand about this issue is there is a contract that governs the owners and contractors responsibilities and actions. In this case the contract dictates that when certain items or steps are complete the next step or item after review and approval by the owner may begin. Only then would it be appropriate to bill for those contractually identified activities. The language of the contract is clear and in no way would allow for an employee to authorize a step out of sequence or in conflict with the contract or add scope. Every contractor knows this and certainly knows they would be proceeding at their own risk if they did proceed.

Mr. Lindner might know this too if he had any construction experience or was perhaps at least minimally qualified for the position he was temporarily assigned to almost a year and a half ago. Really doesn’t appear to be temporary does it. Sound familiar it should just think interim superintendent and Jim Notter and interim head of Human Resources and Gracie Diaz. Mr. Lindner really has no good explanation, first of all it would appear that he was not forthright in October when he said he did research and determined "the payments were appropriate under the contract". Either that or he does not know or understand contract language. Then when caught without a good explanation he resorts to I felt it was ethically correct because staff had authorized the work. That is always a tried and true standby; blame it on some innocuous unnamed staff member. That way when we get busted next time we can threaten to privatize them for being so inept.

What is really most troubling, all though totally predictable, is the fact that this is all happening real time and less than a week after the totally incompetent DOE has placed the evil eye on the District. This is the same complicit DOE who showed up for two and a half days and interviewed only the highest levels of the organization in order to decide that most things are really already fixed. The Board and Notter sat in their chairs on Tuesday and listened to Mr. Linder as he very cleverly never stated that it was him who personally authorized this gift. Instead when questioned by the Board he stated that well you know this contract began in 2007 clearly implying that this happened on someone else’s watch. And then of course the Board, Notter, and Lindner all began to sing in harmony about how wonderful the new board and new team are working and everything is fixed.

Everyone in Facilities knows about this issue and anyone with any construction background knows how wrong Lindner is and has been. Has everyone forgotten the lie about Cooper City High School sinking an inch a year that the Board and Notter couldn’t wait to lap up because they needed an excuse to replace the school? The Cooper City High School saga has DOE fingerprints on it as well. Are you beginning to see a pattern yet? All this talk about holding people’s feet the fire is and has always been cheap talk. Still lurking in the background on this issue with Cummings, these classroom additions, and Royal Concrete is the Zone 4 PPO building that nobody really wants to talk about; another issue that I sent to the DOE and have never been contacted or questioned about.

The point I tried to make in my open letter to Eric Smith of the DOE when I told him that Notter and the Board had lost institutional control was about this very type of issue and the total lack of accountability. Mr. Lindner violated basic contract language all of his staff know this and yet we are to swallow and respect these decisions. We are to listen like sheep when Gottlieb and Murray talk about how Facilities and the Building Department are distractions. Combine this issue with Murray sending notes directly to staff asking for more drastic reductions only weeks after promising to stop meddling with staff in their official response to the DOE on the Grand Jury Report, that ever watchful DOE. We are witnessing the infancy of Grand Jury number four. Mr. Notter and the old Board are making sure all the right players are in place to carry on the tradition. This isn’t happening four years ago on someone else’s watch it is happening live right in front of our eyes. Perhaps I am wrong about the DOE and they just need to see a good eye doctor.

HSAPT
HSAPT

Et Tu Lindner?

Hammerhead
Hammerhead

Just so you know, Lindner walks the halls of the KC Wright building and the Hortt complex talking about accountability, yet when given the chance to hold people accountable, he instead makes excuses in favor of the campaign contributors I mean venders. Too bad he can't keep his story straight. I am glad that so many of us got fired last year that we can now feel free to speak without fear of retribution.

Cummings knew they were going forward without a change order and that is contracts 101 stuff. You never do anything extra without approval, or your doing it with risk. The fact that the staff allowed this to go on does not allow Lindner or Cummings to walk away with the money. After all what is accountability?

Eric Smith took the easy and cowardice way out to offer these people six months worth of a break on this. The DOE really dropped the ball. Too bad they will be exposed too by the time this is over. If the people aren't already mad enough, wait until the rest of the story comes out.

Good luck covering up all that we know. Guess what...there will be more of us talking after the next round of lay offs. Your move school board and Notter.

Dan Reynolds
Dan Reynolds

Go Stan. It is so easy to throw stones from the peanut gallery when one knows nothing about the facts.

Reincarnation of Barney
Reincarnation of Barney

SSDD. Only now the S has that severe hair problem around his mouth, and wears cowboy boots.

Is it possible that we schmucks made a $100,000 down payment on a shiny new job with Cummings for this abusive bully ? How much more does Cummings need before they'll finally put him on their official payroll ?

Hammerhead
Hammerhead

It was for unauthorized changes in the work. Not part of the original work.

Past History
Past History

If I remember correctly when the district was getting all the flack for having mold in the schools, wasn't it Notter's then responsibility to handle the problem? Can anyone fill us in on Notter's former position before he was named interim chief?

DeathFrog3
DeathFrog3

Very good better than the Greed episode (IMHO) parts are online when I find the link, I'll let you know.

www.investigation.discovery.co...

There is a very good case overview (text not video) with some video and some pics

its on the front page now

B_tan
B_tan

heh, did you see that socalgal posted in the previous blog?

SuchCrap
SuchCrap

It has nothing to do with f'in up. The Money Is Gone due to financial negligence and the the ultimately the employees with least seniority were let go. PERIOD.

Midnight Rider
Midnight Rider

Again, a PM cannot authorize additional work. It is clear in the contract and read at pre construction meetings and is part of the precon meeting minutes which are read word for word at the meetings. It is a standard word template that all pm's read. The contractor knows he may not get paid if he does the work. So it doesn't matter what the PM says.

Another Laid Off Person
Another Laid Off Person

Hello Laid Off PM. I lost my job last year too, a victim of this band of misfits, morons, incompetents and thieves.

Thank you to Mike Marchetti for your bravery in speaking out. You are in grave danger of losing your job if you are not connected or part of the "goood old boys club" in this District.

Despite my years' of experience and excellent work reviews, I was laid off in retaliation for calling out wasteful spending, BTUsless' ineptness, NIS corruption, and Gracie Diaz and Jim Notter for not following their own written policies.

The DOE's response sickens me. Millions of tax dollars later, and their response is to put the District on notice that they are "watching"? Excuse me, but isn't that what DOE was supposed to be doing after the three previous investigations into BCSB corruption?

Forget about the money for a minute. The negligence and waste ruined people's lives. I have friends who were let go with 20 years of seniority. Some of them are still unemployed. The District ignores the layoff lists while it continues hiring cronies and friends off the street with BTU's blessing. These geniuses smugly hand out jobs and bogus "credit for job-related experience" to people who don't deserve them. I was holding out hope that the DOE would finally hold these people accountable. Boy, was I mistaken. Is there a lawyer out there with stones enough to file a class-action lawsuit against the Board on behalf of the people who lost their jobs?

SR
SR

Youre FIRED!

Patti Lynn
Patti Lynn

Mike,

Thanks for watching out for us, the taxpayers of Broward County. I feel your frustration, but, let's keep letting the public know. That is the only hope.

CS
CS

No consolation of course, however this shit has been going since my husband worked in construction/facilities in 1990. Sadly it took over 20 yrs for it to come to light.

Anonymous
Anonymous

This is the kind of carelessness that got Lindner fired in 2004.

Shaun
Shaun

No good construction company proceeds without written approval that they'll get paid for the work they're performing. I doubt Cummings would do that.

Hammerhead
Hammerhead

Spoken like a true union leader...

Bubba
Bubba

Was that "interim chief" or interim thief??

Dr_augusta
Dr_augusta

It broke the Rothstein/Villegas/Britt Lewis story down in an easy to comprehend manner, providing a panoramic vista of the entire dynamic and history...without digressing too much into individual story lines ( for instance nothing about Moe and his "seegars"). Nice to see Bob with his eyes open too....

DeathFrog3
DeathFrog3

I just did see the post thanks.

I think that show was better than the American Greed show. What a good representation of the SR saga. I am not a big fan of that Sakowitz guy.

I like that Howie was in the piece but he has more of an SR story too.

@ thumbs up!

Could you imagine the self promotion other blog writers would've engaged in if they were going to have about 20 minutes of face time on a nationally broadcasted TV show?

Midnight Rider
Midnight Rider

I forgot to add, after you hand out the letters to the staff you may get one also, ala Tom Coates. Remember that move Tom. Bye Bye TomOh and by the way, my 9 year old can drive a boat so we were never impressed dick wad. One thing for sure the incompetent PM III will be there tomorrow with your cafecito.

Bye Bye

Mike Marchetti
Mike Marchetti

The short answer is a completely unnecessary building to house maintenance operations in the Southwest area of the County. I am unqualified to provide the official District response as I lack the language skills of those at higher levels of the organization. That question should really be directed to Mr. Lindner. The story should be a good one though with all the page turning interest of our typical twisted behavior.

Hammerhead
Hammerhead

They did it Shaun. Read the report. I couldn't believe it either. Lindner even admits it in his responses. Go to the school board website and look at the audit report. It is in there. Look for yourself.

SuchCrap
SuchCrap

Which incompetent PMIII? There are so many of them and they really don't give a shit. Why does SBBC need that many people at that level of supervision when there is no money?

Mr. Carajo
Mr. Carajo

Can you be more specific about that incompetent PM III?

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