- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Montgomery County Council scheduled a meeting yesterday to further examine a county inspector general’s report that states members were misled by public school officials about a roughly $14 million school-reconstruction project.

“This is a very searing and explosive report,” said council member Howard A. Denis, Bethesda Republican. “The council’s mandate is clear. We have to gather the facts from all levels of government.”

The report by Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley was released yesterday and cites numerous problems with school officials handling a project at Seven Locks Elementary School in Bethesda.

The report states the officials did not present the council with all the options for increasing capacity at the school and that they misrepresented the level of support for the project.

The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28 and will be conducted jointly by two council committees.

At issue is whether the school should have been renovated or demolished to build a new one and give the property to the county for affordable housing.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, now a Democratic candidate for governor, asked schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast for unused school land for affordable housing in 2001.

Mr. Dagley’s report states school officials told council members that building on a new site would be $3 million cheaper than renovating Seven Locks. However, the officials never told members tearing down the school and building a new one would be less expensive.

The report also states school officials did not follow stated policy for awarding construction contracts worth more than $25,000, and awarded a project of $890,000 without soliciting competitive bids.

School board member Steve Abrams, who is running for state comptroller as a Republican, sent a letter to Mr. Dagley stating the inspector general does not have the legal authority to conduct such an audit because the school system is an “independent agency.” He also said Maryland law gives the school board “broad authority to control all educational matters that affect the counties.”

Mr. Abrams’ letter says the board and Mr. Weast will ignore Mr. Dagley’s report.

He said yesterday almost every one of Mr. Dagley’s findings are “way off.”

Council member Marilyn J. Praisner, Silver Spring Democrat, said she could not recall such an external report during her eight years on the school board, then 16 on the council.

“I think it’s a problem,” said Mrs. Praisner, chairwoman of one of the committees that will examine the report. “I think it’s also problematic to raise issues of legal authority after you don’t like the answers.”

Brian Edwards, school board spokesman, called the inspector general’s audit “all wet.”

“It’s terribly flawed,” he said. “He purposely mischaracterized and ignored the facts. He had an agenda, and he set out to prove it.”

Council President George L. Leventhal, however, said he doesn’t care about Mr. Abrams’ protests.

“County law is very clear,” he said. “The [inspector general] has the authority.”

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide