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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

School Board President Insists NO Audit of ECCL Project

Rift Between City & School District
Audit Latest Imbroglio

The City Council has suggested the School District Board of Trustees audit Turner Construction, the builder of the Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life in order to claw back some money the district might have overpaid for the building project but the Board President is demurring, indicating he is more inclined to try to get money out of its ECCL partner, the City of Emeryville instead.  It's part of a growing rift between the District and City Hall born out of differences in how to divide up cost overruns in the contentious schools/community center project.

The City/Schools Committee, consisting of the membership of the City Council and the School Board, met May 4th and the frosty relations were evident when Vice Mayor John Bauters suggested going to construction giant Turner, who has recently been indicted for bilking clients, to see if there may be recoverable costs to help offset the cost overruns of ECCL*.  The idea was embraced by the entire Council but Board President Merriam oddly said it would not be appropriate, a position he has held for quite some time even as he has refused to properly elaborate.
Mr Merriam joined with former Board President John Affeldt last summer in quashing an attempt to audit Turner, citing the existence of the Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) makes it unnecessary.
Emery School Board President
Donn Merriam

'Even though Turner Construction
has been caught overcharging 

clients, we must not audit them'.

Just two years ago the County of Santa Clara held Turner to task for cost overruns and delays.  Turner blamed the city for the issues.

Mr Merriam's odd assertion of no Turner audit brings into question who's interests he has at heart.  The ECCL budget went significantly over budget and is still not complete.  Board member Brynnda Collins, when expressing her support for a Turner audit, questioned the quality of the work stating, "Big chunks of metal (are) falling and almost hitting a teacher."  There have been multiple suggestions of design flaws like lack of storage, concrete poured too thin and poor drainage.

It is clear to many there are enough reasons for an audit.  City Council member Bauters stated it could find enough savings to cover the remaining $370,000 the district owes Turner.
Los Angeles Unified School District routinely audits projects.  It should be noted LAUSD is so large that they have a group that audits every project. Turner recently was found to have overcharged them $190,000 on a $98 million project, almost exactly the same size project as ECCL.

Conflict of Interest?
Clearly audits are done and effective tools to protect taxpayer funds.  Which leads back to the question, does Board President Merriam have a Turner connection in his work as an employee of the architecture firm of Deems Lewis Mckinley (DLM)?  A Tattler search of their projects and Turner's revealed no direct overlap.  However it did turn up a project that involved Swinerton Management and DLM.  Swinerton worked on the ECCL project and frequently partners with Turner.

South San Francisco Unified passed a large bond project and used Swinerton to manage the project.  DLM bid on and was chosen to do the work. It is not clear if the Emery Board President personally worked on the project but the appearance of impropriety is evident.  Of course, an elected official should not be in the position to have to chose between what is best for their constituents and their pocketbooks.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss auditing the ECCL project at their May 10th meeting and Mr Merriam should leave the room while this is being discussed.  If he stays in the room, he should disclose the firm's relationship with Swinerton and have the legal counsel provide guidance.  It should be noted President Merriam has been caught violating simple rules of transparency because he claimed he was unaware of the conflict.

*NOTE: Although Turner Construction is a 'primary partner' with Turner GROUP Construction, it was Turner GROUP Construction that was indicted for bilking it's clients.  Turner Construction, the builder of the ECCL wasn't indicted but they were found to be overcharging their clients as the story states.  The Tattler apologizes for the mix up.

4 comments:

  1. We're waiting for it to be called child endangerment for parents to enroll their kids at Emery Unified.

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  2. as a former member of the measure j oversight committee in 2011, (under the administration of sugiyama and lindo and before rubio became superintendent,) and having resigned after five months, I have my opinions on the responsibilities, or lack of responsibilities, of the oversight committee. the oversight committee only exists because of state law but it has no influence or power. voters were duped in the wording of the measure j ballot measure.
    an audit is in order. I had to pressure the school district each and every month requesting an itemized listing of the paid monthly expenses. there is no difference between eccl being audited and the current audit of the university of california. as a taxpayer of emeryville until last summer, I formally request an audit and will contact the alameda county grand jury if necessary.

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  3. The Tattler publishes false information once again: it is completely incorrect that Turner Construction "has recently been indicted for bilking clients." The indicted company was Turner GROUP Construction. That is an entirety different company which has never been affiliated with Turner Construction. I know this because I read the same Chronicle article weeks ago and had the same question, so I looked up the answer. It took me a few minutes to find the correct answer. I guess that's more time than Brian has. I suppose I'm just a better journalist than Brian. I understand how this mistake could be made casually, however if you expect readers to treat the blog as a legitimate news source, it's an inexcusable, sloppy mistake.

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    Replies
    1. Turner GROUP Construction, "an entirely different company which has never been affiliated with Turner Construction". Are you sure Mr Anonymous? Are you sure Turner GROUP Construction is incorrect when on their own website they list Turner Construction (and Swinerton Construction) as 'primary partners': http://www.turnergroupconstruction.com/about-us/principle-partners-2/
      The Vice Mayor John Bauters was incorrect (and the Tattler when we quoted him) when he conflated the two Turner construction firms but the two firms are affiliated. Also, it was Turner Construction (not Turner GROUP) that engaged in cost overcharges that were found by audits as the story correctly states.
      So the most salient point is that Turner Construction, the builder of the ECCL, has engaged in false overcharging their clients in other municipalities, and that should be considered by the elected officials as Mr Bauters says. The fact that they overcharged before and got caught by audit should inform the decision makers.

      Having said that, the Tattler will add a retraction at the bottom of the story to keep it clear. Thanks for catching this.

      Delete