Pay_To_Play

Is Colorado’s largest school district involved in a pay-to-play scheme?

At their last school board meeting on Jan 17, 2013, Jefferson County (JeffCo) Board of Education (BOE) violated its own policies in what appears to be a pay-to-play scheme benefiting a major campaign contributor and local contractor.

Described in a press release issued by citizen watchdog group, Jefferson County Students First, the BOE awarded over $4 million additional dollars to one of the largest “Yes on 3A/3B” campaign donors without offering a competitive bidding process.  This is in direct violation of the board’s own policies which exists, in part, to ensure prudent use of tax dollars. It is no coincidence that this recklessness came just after the passing of a Bond and Mill Levy, giving the district an additional $138 million. The one Republican board member, Laura Boggs tried to do the right thing, but her efforts did not fare well with the remaining board members:

BOE President Lesley Dahlkemper explained that Bogg’s concerns had already been addressed in a “public email response” from Superintendent Cindy Stevenson to Director Boggs; the other board members were copied. A copy of this email had to be obtained via an open records request because the school district posted it on their non-public website. Normally, public communication is accessible to the public; this one was not.  JeffCo did not initially provide the email upon request.

Haselden Construction was originally awarded a $2.3 million contract in March of 2012 to perform mechanical work at Standley Lake High school, after an official bidding process. The additional $4 million (consent agenda item 6.07) is intended for bleachers and paving at Standley Lake High School, and is clearly in excess of the $50,000 limitation that requires an RFP (request for proposal). It is unknown how bleachers and paving can be labeled as an expansion to an existing scope of work on a HVAC improvement project inside the high school.

This is not the first time this power house sustainable design and construction player has been politically intertwined with multimillion dollar contracts awarded to them.  Their CEO, Ed Haselden, was appointed by Governor Owens to the CSU Board of Governor’s where his company won a $4.2 Million contract to renovated the CSU Industrial Sciences Building.  He also serves on the University of Colorado Hospital Foundation Board of Directors which probably had no bearing on the build of the University of Colorado Anschutz Cancer Pavilion.  The Haselden family and their business have an extensive history of campaign contributions totaling $212,305, mostly to Colorado democrats. The Haselden name is not only embedded in Colorado politics via campaign contributions and numerous board memberships, their revenue stream is deeply rooted in Jefferson County where they won the $36 Million jail expansion project that commenced just six years after the facility was built, and the DOE’s Renewable Energy Lab in Golden that cost $64 million, amongst other projects. When asked about the Haselden contract, Boggs had this to say:

“This agenda item clearly violates our board policy to require that any spending over $25,000 be awarded after an open bid process. Not only was the contract for four million additional dollars, but the scope of the work changed,” according to Laura Boggs, school board member.”

What are JeffCo’s policies?

JeffCo policies are defined in their Executive Limitations (EL). EL-07 and EL-08 stipulates the superintendent may not:

  • fail to provide a competitive bidding for projects in excess of $250,000EL
  • violate conflict of interest rules.
  • make or permit purchases without having obtained comparative prices based on similar quality for purchases of $10,000 or more
  • fail to use a competitive bidding procedure for all contracted services and purchases of supplies, materials and equipment in the amount of $50,000 or more

In light of an additional campaign contribution from Haselden to her own campaign, BOE member Jill Fellman should have recused herself from the vote, but she did not.  In fact, Ms. Fellman not only opposed Ms. Boggs’ request, she made the motion to approve it and voted in favor of awarding the additional monies to Haselden.  There are rumblings from parents who are calling for her censure.

The next regular school board meeting will be held Thursday, February 7th at the Jeffco Education Center located at 1829 Denver West Drive, Golden 80401 Bldg. #27.  The meeting will start at 6pm on the fifth floor.  The email for the Jeffco board is board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

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