Final Piece To The Puzzle

In the first two installments in this trilogy I provided some missing pieces of the puzzling GFPS action concerning the award of the General Construction contracts for Giant Springs Elementary School and the CM Russell Additions. Some of you appreciated the information presented and some of you viewed the pieces as “sour grapes”. In any event, please keep in mind that YOU own and pay for the Great Falls public schools, not the Superintendent and not the school board of trustees. They work for you and when they get it wrong it is up to you to speak out.

When you do speak out, what do you say? The recent E-City Beat reader’s poll below provides some insight as to how the taxpayers of Great Falls feel about the District’s nonconventional process of non-competitive General Construction contract awards.

Do you believe that public and school district construction contracts should be awarded by a process of dollar amount Competitive Bidding?

  • Yes (77%, 44 Votes)
  • No (23%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 57

I have also explained, in my opinion, the deficiencies in the District’s process for selection of architects for the bond projects. Having a selection committee comprised of only District employees with no professional knowledge of architectural evaluation and using a grading system that does not attribute each committee member to their scoring sheet makes the process susceptible to bias, favoritism and conflicts of interest. Given that concern, why wouldn’t the District want to use a process that was based upon a blind design competition juried by licensed and experienced unbiased design professionals from out of state who have at least a cursory knowledge of the projects? One E-City Beat reader might have the answer.

Dean January 16, 2018 at 7:45 PM

“If the GFPS were to do this, how would you ever reward your friends or those who helped get you into that power position”?

I had the opportunity to discuss Montana’s conflict of interest laws with a staff member of the Montana Attorney General’s office. My inquiry was prompted by what could be perceived to be a conflict of interest issue when a sitting president of a local bank also serving as a school district board member made the motion and voted for the award of the Great Falls High School Master Plan project to an architectural firm’s principal who served as a board member of her bank.

At the conclusion of our conversation the staffer asked me if I knew from which city in Montana their office receives the most corruption complaints. My answer was incorrect – her answer was Great Falls! Not something to be proud of.

The truth is, Great Falls may be conflict of interest challenged and we need to do something about it. Currently the City is doing something about potential conflicts of interest and the school district should follow suit.

Forensic Strategic Solutions, a national financial investigation firm serving law firms, insurance companies, banks and governmental agencies wrote an  article, “Why Corruption always requires a Conflict of Interest”,10-28-16, which states “When it comes to corruption, there is almost always a common denominator: a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest exists when an individual or corporation has the opportunity – real or perceived – to exploit their position for personal or corporate benefit…To prevent conflicts of interest from morphing into corruption…management should be intentional in creating an environment where staff is comfortable declaring annually in writing any potential, perceived or actual conflicts.”

The current school district administration was given sample annual conflict of interest forms which most certainly found their way to the circular file.

Transparency is essential in the avoidance of conflicts of interest because without it there can be no accountability and little or no oversight by the public. The term is heavily talked about by the school district, but do they walk the walk?

School district policies relative to transparency, accountability and the avoidance of conflicts of interest, bias either for or against potential district vendors should be initiated by the school board, not by district administrators. If board members abdicate their roles as representatives of the taxpayers maybe it’s something to consider for the next election.

Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

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