Remember the story we published just over a year ago about fired former superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, Joshua Powell, spending $90,000 to create offices for his wife?
Here’s a bit of it:
What would you do if you’d been called out by the State Auditor of Public Accounts for illegally hiring your wife for a $100,000+ (salary & benefits) job? Maybe spend several hundred thousand dollars more on unnecessary construction and renovation to build her an office?
Because that’s exactly what Montgomery County Schools superintendent Joshua Powell is doing.
We previously told you about Powell’s assistant superintendent being called to Frankfort to answer questions about unapproved projects at McNabb Middle School. But it turns out Powell was doing more than renovation at McNabb.
Powell, without board or state approval, has so far spent at least $90,000 moving the maintenance department around so he can renovate their building (essentially an empty pole barn) into an office suite for his wife.
Feel free to check it out for a refresher. Contains tons of photos and much more detail.
Turns out that story ended up being a pretty big deal. It caused state government to take action, shut the project down, shed light on communication breakdowns and ultimately helped send someone packing. That someone would be Phil Rison, former assistant superintendent.
During Rison’s due process hearing, which we’ve covered all week, the maintenance building scandal was a primarily focus. Let’s dig in to the transcript to see what went down…
Ira Kilburn, attorney for the school board, opened up by mentioning Page One:
There was a Page 1 article that we’re going to introduce as an exhibit that, in our opinion, is kind of what spurred the whole maintenance building issue. There was a lot of facts that came out in that. The state started looking into it. The timing of all this was initially presented to the board — or to the district that there was going to be a roof put on and some painting done. There were some e-mails back and forth, outlining what the work was going to be.
The maintenance building mess was one of the first things Kilburn brought up with Rison during testimony:
Q. No. 1, maintenance building, alleged that you failed to follow regulator procedures for the renovations and construction related to the maintenance building and failed to obtain appropriate and timely board of education and KDE approval. The maintenance building was nearly completed before BG1 was brought to the board on September 16th, 2014.
Is it accurate that you didn’t request the BG1 until September the 16th?
A. The BG was not requested until September the 16th.
Q. Okay. Was the work substantially completed at that time?
A. No, sir.
Q. What was lacking?
A. There was a lot lacking. I don’t even know if they are occupying it today.
Q. Can you give me an example of what was lacking?
A. Well, apparently, the outside façade is being completed, the roof and the metal siding around it. New garage doors had been put on it in order to make it aesthetically pleasing since you had to drive that way to go up to the new school. And then, the inside that they had started, apparently, had not been completed.
Q. Was all of the work up to that point at your direction?
A. I was over maintenance.
Q. Okay. Had you had a hand in all of the work that was going on as far as who was working there and what was being bought and —
Q. Who was over that?
A. David Walters is over the maintenance.
Of course, Rison blamed Joshua Powell for everything:
Q. Okay. Were you aware of all of the work that was going on?
A. Not necessarily, no.
Q. Was David not telling you what was going on?
A. I’m going to say that I wasn’t communicated with a lot on some maintenance issues that maybe occurred. Could have been directives from my boss since they lived close in proximity, would be my surmise. Probably, permission was given to proceed and move forward with other things that maybe I wasn’t privy to.
That line of questioning was so detailed that exchanges like this repeatedly occurred:
Q. Now, Exhibit 10, Tuesday, September the 16th, was that when the BG1 was brought before the board for the maintenance building?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. On the second page of Exhibit 10, where it says “Facilities,” is that the where the BG1 was discussed?
A. Yes, sir.
They went through documentation line-by-line.
When Powell, Rison and crew got caught spending tens of thousands of dollars without approval, a couple members of the former board of education were keen on approving it after the fact:
Q. Okay. Under “Order #2014-15:43: Primary motion passed, Mr. Murphy made a motion to approve the BG1 for the operations facility, as presented. Mrs. Wilson seconded the motion. Mrs. Anderson asked why the BG form was being submitted after the work was essentially finished on the building. Dr. Powell explained that the district had received initial approval from the building inspector to proceed with work. When the scope of the project changed, the building inspector asked that work cease and a BG1 was submitted.”
Do you know what was represented to the inspector as the work that was going on to be done?
A. Primarily, the work that was going to be done was changing the roof, doing the metal siding, the garage doors, to make it aesthetically pleasing at that point, as people drove by it.
Q. And a BG1 was not necessary for that?
A. At that point, Mr. McNeeds did not communicate that a BG was needed —
A. — according to Mr. Walters. He had conversations with Mr. McNeeds.
Q. Okay. When did the — at what point did the work go beyond the aesthetics?
A. To my knowledge — I’m not for sure and cannot be privy to when that occurred.
Q. Okay. So you weren’t a part of —
A. No, sir.
Q. — making these wholesale changes?
A. Wholesale changes? No, sir.
Donna Wilson and Kelly Murphey (along with Kenney Gulley) were gung ho, nothing to see here, no questions asked, move along. Alice Anderson, on the other hand, wanted to know what was going on.
Rison was so keen on denying any knowledge of, you know, doing his job, that he repeatedly accused Powell of directing things behind the scenes:
Q. As far as making the additional improvements to the building?
A. I’m not saying that someone wasn’t communicated to direct that, but I wasn’t privy to that.
Q. When the scope of the project changed, the building inspector asked the work to cease. Was the building inspector notified that all of this work was changing, or did he just come one day?
A. I think he made an inspection.
Q. When he discovered all the additional work, he did the stop work order?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And it was after that that you went to the board for the BG1?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. But you weren’t aware that these extra improvements were being done other than the additional aesthetics?
A. I wasn’t aware that the scope inside had changed.
Remember the photos we published that got this ball rolling?
Q. Okay. Now, Exhibit 11, the photos, I’m going to show them to you. You can kind of look at them as you go. Is this a picture based on what the building looked like when the work started?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Okay. Do you know what was in it before the school took possession of it?
A. It was a tool and die facility, I believe.
Q. Okay. Now, the two that I’m holding up, is this basically the way it looks today?
A. I haven’t been out there in some time but, yes, that’s basically the way it looks currently.
Q. The last time you remember —
A. Yes, sir.
Q. — that’s basically — that’s the aesthetics outside?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Okay. Now, as required by, I guess, OSHA and the state, was this a board that was attached to the outside of the building that had all of the different regulations as far as Workers’ Comp, employees, insurance?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Would that have been where you would have hung any kind of necessary permits you would have had to get?
A. I would say, yes.
Q. Okay. And then on, it looks like, September the 4th, is this the stop work notice that Ric McNees placed on the building?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Okay. Now, can you tell the board what work was done in that building?
A. Well, you can see from the photo that a new metal roof was installed, and the back part there was painted. And then the front part there, there’s metal siding that was put up around the front part. And then on the front part, you can see there’s a new garage door in the back. And there were two new garage doors and a new front door in front.
Rison again denied any knowledge of anything:
Q. Okay. Was there heating and air work done?
Q. On 9-3-14, there was no heating work done?
A. Not to my knowledge.
Q. Was there lighting work done inside of the building?
A. I’m assuming what had happened — once I was able — once I went into the building, after the stop work order, offices had been studded up, and electrical work had been done. They were making plans to stud it up and drywall it and, whatever, to eventually move — I later found out, to eventually move maintenance out there.
Q. Okay. So there was electrical and plumbing work?
A. I’m not aware of plumbing.
Q. Okay. Was there fiber option laid between the offices?
A. I believe there was, yeah.
Q. But you weren’t aware of the scope of the work that was going on in this building?
A. Not until after the fact Mr. McNees placed a stop work order.
Q. Were there ever any e-mails going back and forth between you and anyone about this building?
A. None that I recall.
And again accused Powell of directing everything:
Q. Back to the baseball field for a second. Did you approve all of the construction at the baseball field?
A. When you say “approved construction,” it was pretty much contracted out. So, at that point, Mr. Walters worked with the baseball field.
A. Worked with the Walker Company.
W. Were you overseeing it?
Q. Okay. So you knew it was all getting spent?
Q. But on this maintenance building, you didn’t realize this much money was being spent on the maintenance building?
A. Not all of it, no.
Q. Do you think that Mr. Murphy (sic) was keeping this stuff hidden from you?
A. Mr. Who?
Q. Walters. I’m sorry.
A. No, I don’t think Dave was hiding anything. I think he had been given an additional directive to proceed. And, you know, I see here that on Exhibit 12, there was a sewer line. You can see that was on July the 24th. That was Eller’s Plumbing. The trusses, I was aware of because there was some work that needed to be done on that roof. So the trusses, the overhead garage doors, Jimmy Coleman, the roofing laborer, was aware of. You know, water and sewer, basically, to tap on there — other than that, you know the-rest of that is primarily work around the facility.
Q. But you didn’t think that any of that required state approval or getting permits?
A. No, sir. And as you will see in some of my exhibits, I never hid anything from the standpoint — because I communicated with Mr. Dunbar on the fact that students were not going to be in this facility.
Check out Rison’s hilarious denial about Page One — you know he reads it several times per day:
Q. Now, Exhibit 13, were you aware of the Page One article about this project?
A. I don’t waste my time reading Page One.
Q. So you were never aware that this made — a lot of pictures of the project — I think they thought it was going to be an office for Anna Powell?
A. This is a — no, I never read the article.
Q. Now, were you aware of a back-to-school article that ended up in the Mount Sterling Advocate?
A. Yeah. That’s Ms. Fairchild. Uh-huh.
Q. Okay. Was there ever any discussions about what all work was going on, what was going to happen with this building?
A. The board discussed this building. When you say “this building,” for clarification, we’re still referring to the maintenance building?
Q. We are still referring to the maintenance building.
Afton Fairchild Spencer. Sure. You know how that played out.
Even though Rison didn’t know anything about anything, he claimed he didn’t need a BG1 for the project:
Q. Mr. Rison, I’m looking at Exhibit 14, at a series of e-mails on September the 3rd, and it looks like it started with an e-mail from you to Greg Dunbar. And for everybody’s information, e-mails, when you print them off, tend to go backwards. So you kind of start at the back and work your way forward on them. It states to him you had met with Ric McNees. You’re making improvements to the storage facility. “We are seeking our building permit, and I will have Craig do a layout of the building and get them stamped and forward to the building inspector. While discussing, the question come up about BG1, which we have not submitted because your — I am under the impression that no students will be housing in the facility and we’re using general fund money and doing the work with our own staff. Please advise if I’m correct.”
So it was your belief that you didn’t need a BG1 because you were using general fund money?
A. No. It was my believe that we didn’t need a BG1 because students were not going to be in that facility.
Q. Okay. So when you state that “we’re using general fund money,” you didn’t have the mistaken believe at that time?
A. I basically wanted him to be aware of that, but that’s irrelevant, what money.
Q. Okay. So you thought because there were no students there, you didn’t need a BG1?
Even though he didn’t know anything, he didn’t deny that work was done prior to communicating with the state:
Q. Now, I think he responded and sent you a lengthy — it was just copies of statute after statute and regs outlining the need for a BG1. And I think he asked you the question: “Phil, what is the scope of the proposed work?”
Did you answer: “Paint the outside/inside of the building, installing a new sheet metal roof and shelving”?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And it says, “We will use it as simple shipping and receiving.”
A. That was the plan.
Q. Now, that was on September the 3rd.
Q. And all of this work was done — all of the work that is in the one exhibit had been performed before that day?
A. Could have been, yes.
Like clockwork, Rison was caught claiming the building was to be used for two different purposes:
Q. Okay. You’re not going to dispute it — if the dates of the bills and everything is before that, you’re not going to dispute it was done before then?
Q. Okay. A few minutes ago, you stated it was going to be used for the maintenance offices?
A. Well, that was after the fact.
Q. Okay. Well, during all of this construction, when they started installing it —
A. It was going — in my opinion, what I was communicated, it was going to be shipping and receiving, storage.
Q. Okay. At what point did you — were you made aware that it was going to be offices?
A. I guess whenever Ric McNees put the stop work order on it. And, at that point, I saw the walls and everything studded up.
Q. Okay. I think the stop work order is, what, September the 4th?
A. Yeah, but I think we received communication earlier from Ric.
Q. Okay. So until you heard from Ric, you didn’t know it was going to be an office complex?
A. I wasn’t aware of that.
Q. And you always thought it was going to be shipping and receiving?
He didn’t know anything about anything but for some strange reason, you know, he was aware of all of those gigantic bills rolling across his desk:
Q. Then when you responded to Greg Dunbar, were you aware that the work had been done and paid for?
A. What work?
Q. In starting the installation for this office complex?
Q. You weren’t seeing any of the bills?
A. Sir, I’m not going to say that I didn’t see bills. I saw mounds of bills. And with that being said, they came to me from the maintenance office, and I signed off on them. So it could have been from Lowe’s. It could have been within a stack of — that right there, I didn’t go through each and every invoice, per se, from Lowe’s or whatever.
Q. So all of this money being spent on improvements to this building, it was under your direction, but you didn’t realize it was going on?
A. I wasn’t aware of what was going on inside.
Nearly $100,000 worth of work was done on the building and Rison and crew only told the state a little paint was being splashed on:
Q. Okay. Now, I think he responded back to you, “shelving is equipment and does not require professional design services. Painting clearly qualifies as repair and maintenance. The roof replacement is iffy, but given the scope and nature of this roof, KDE will forego requesting a BG1. We recommend that you not use a system with exposed fasteners. Please, comply with requires of KRS 45A, Kentucky Model Procurement Code, when acquiring materials.
So, at that point, Greg Dunbar was thinking that it was only painting the outside of the building, inside of the building and installing a new sheet metal roof and shelving?
The full scope of the project was apparently hidden from the state:
Q. But you didn’t explain to him that all of this other work had been performed before that date?
Q. And then I think he sent — it looks like Ric McNees sent Greg an email on September the 3rd that says: “What about the new stud walls and expansion of the original floor plan?” And he believes the entire – and underlines and makes in bold “entire” – scope of work may have unintentionally not been included.
Did Ric McNees feel that what you all were doing went well beyond what the scope of the work should have been?
Q. And he did the stop work order?
A. (Witness nods head affirmatively.)
HEARING OFFICER FRANCES: Was that a yes?
THE WITNESS: Yes, sir. Sorry.
Q. And I think he sent an e-mail to you that said: “I am going to place a stop work on the project until the BG1 is issued by the Department of Education and the signed and sealed drawings are received and the project is permitted. I will need a copy of the BG1, signed and sealed drawings, and a check for $750 made payable to the Kentucky State Treasurer when I process the field permit.”
So you’re saying that’s the first time you knew there was any issue that required a BG1 —
A. Yes, sir.
Q. — and all of this additional work —
A. Yes, sir.
Q. — was ongoing?
Now, did you ever contact Ric McNees yourself and explain to him that there was additional work going on?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did anybody, under your direction or under your supervision, ever contact him and tell him extra work was ongoing?
A. Not to my knowledge.
Frankfort was on to the whole charade:
Q .Now, there’s an e-mail September the 5th, at 9:30 in the morning, from Greg Dunbar. It says, “Phil, the description of the scope you provided me Wednesday, ‘Paint the outside and inside of the building, installing a new sheet metal roof, and shelving. We will use it as central shipping and receiving.’ is not consistent with Mr. McNees’s description of the work performed. Previous correspondence indicating that a BG1 will not be requested is hereby rescinded. Submit a BG1 and a supporting board order for this project.”
Is that the first time you actually thought you had to have a BG1?
A. No. I think prior to that, after — I think the stop work order was posted on the building on August 6th.
Q. Now, you asked that the stop work order be lifted and you stated, “Basically, this is a whole mess of inaccurate communication from both parties, but we are not refusing to do anything but what is requested.”
So this whole thing, you’re blaming on — is just inaccurate communication?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And then I think you got an e-mail back from Greg Dunbar. It said, “KDE’s first knowledge of the work associated with the maintenance building was September the 3rd, 2014, not July. The description you provided appears to not have covered the full extent of the work currently being undertaken. Had we been aware of the proposed project, a BG1 would have been requested.”
Greg Dunbar is letting you know, in September, that if he would have known what was going to be going on, you would have been told to get a BG1 initially?
Despite not knowing anything about anything, Rison still claimed to be aware of statutory requirements prior to work on the building:
Q. you, in your experience as administrator, didn’t think a BG1 was necessary?
A. No. And based on the fact that we — Dave communicated to me that Ric McNees informed him that we were fine.
Q. Okay. Had you ever looked at the regulations and the statutes that Mr. Dunbar sent you setting out what is required, what work can be done under a BG1 or when a BG1 is necessary?
A. Yeah, I’m aware of that.
Q. Did you ever look at them before this project?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you not understand them?
A. Sometimes, seeking guidance is best to get permission and communicate with them. I usually had a pretty good relationship with them, worked on several projects with them. So I always would communicate with them.
Q. Prior to starting the project, did you communicate with them and tell them everything going on in the building?
A. I think after Mr. McNees — David told me Mr. McNees said we were good to go, at that point, we proceeded.
Maintenance was directly under Phil’s supervision but he didn’t know how much money was being spent?
Q. Now, do you know when the BG1 was submitted to the board, how much was requested or how much the project cost?
A. I think 89,000 was on the BG.
Q. Okay. Now, who helped arrive at that figure?
A. David and Kim and his staff. We worked on that.
Q. Were you a party to that?
A. Yeah, I was aware of the BG.
Q. And how many different versions of the BG, just the one?
A. Yeah. I think you’re confused with the baseball, since it had several BG’s.
Q. I wanted to make sure there was just one for the —
A. Only one that I know of.
Q. Okay. And it was for 89,000?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Do you know how much was actually spent on the project? Did the whole 89 ever get spent?
A. I have no knowledge.
Q. So maintenance was under your direction. You didn’t have a clue what was being spent?
A. I couldn’t tell you what they’ve spent since I’ve been gone.
Q. What about while you were there?
A. Basically, you have an exhibit there that had the expenditures on it.
Q. But you weren’t aware that that was being spent at that maintenance building? If I understand your testimony earlier, you watch all the bills coming through, but you didn’t —
A. I sign them, yes I do.
Rison admitted under oath that he told Joshua Powell the district had approval:
Q. Now, where would Dr. Powell have gotten this information about the building inspector and what all was going on with the maintenance building?
A. Well, once we received a stop work order, then I notified him.
Q. So when he tells the board that the district had received initial approval from the building inspector to proceed with work, who would have told him that?
A. I guess myself or David. One of us.
Q. Had the building inspector, you know, basically, told you all to proceed with the work initially?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. But, at that time, what was he told was going to take place?
A. Basically, the outside façade, primarily.
Q. In your experience, knowing what all went on now, should he have been brought in from the get-go and told about all of the improvements that were going to be made?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. But he wasn’t?
A. No, sir.
Q. Okay. And was that under the maintenance department that you were supervisor over?
When Wayne Young cross-examined Rison, the flip-flopping and dancing around kicked into high gear. Here Rison claims the building was to be used for shipping, receiving, storage:
BY MR. YOUNG:
Q. Let’s talk about — you keep talking about the maintenance building. You’ve already testified there was — there’s some public confusion about the maintenance buildings in this district, is there not, because there’s more than one?
Q. Okay. And the one that’s the subject of the conversation today is a building that was on property that the district purchased?
Q. So the district didn’t own or use the building until the property was purchased?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Who made the decision to renovate that building?
A. The board discussed it during the transition of that property from the standpoint of — when the property was purchased, there was maybe — not for sure what we were going to do with that facility. The board discussed it — at least, what i was made aware of by Dr. Powell, the board discussed it, and they wanted to maybe, you know, make sure it wasn’t an eyesore, or whatever. I opinioned(sic) that it would make a great central shipping and receiving area because of the close proximity to the interstate.
With that being said, I think we let it sit for a little bit as we completed the intermediate school. And then once the transportation department could not get the — Route 11 going to where — the entrance into the school was placed where the documents showed, and we had to have a temporary entrance. Then it showed, primarily, it was by that facility. So, therefore, every parent, community members, who drove up to our new school were driving by that facility.
Q. What’s your understanding of the intended use of that building at the outset of that renovation?
A. Shipping and receiving.
Q. And when you say “shipping and receiving,” tell me what that involves.
A. Storage. We were going to utilize it for storage, to be able to store things there. Then, from there, things would go out to our schools.
Q. To your knowledge, would there be individuals who would be assigned there as their workstation at that time?
A. Not necessarily, no.
Q. Would they come in and get things and come in and drop things off; is that your understanding?
A. That’s correct.
Here Rison blames David Walters, head of maintenance, for directing work on the building:
Q. What determined when they did the work?
A. Primarily, I’m assuming David — primarily, when he felt like some of them got caught up — he directed that. Every morning, when they came into the maintenance building, he was primarily giving everybody their work assignments.
Q. So David Walters assigned people to work out there?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Was the work done on a regular basis? Was it done every day?
A. No. I’d say it was sporadic, based on the needs of what occurred or what work orders were coming in.
Q. Did you direct people to go out there and do work?
A. No, sir.
Q. So when you stated to the folks at the Kentucky Department of Education what your understanding — and it’s in one of the exhibits — what your understanding of the scope of the work was, was that —
Q. — an accurate assessment of your understanding at the time?
A. My understanding and the directive — the communication from Dr. Powell was to fix it up to where the outside looked good, and whatever. Now, when the scope of that changed, I’m not privy to.
Q. Were you involved in —
Q. — discussing the scope of the work?
Q. — after that? Who, if anyone — if you know, who went out there when the work was being done to assess it, supervise it, direct it?
A. It would have been Dave.
Q. David Walters?
Rison said Powell was notorious for giving directives and ordered Walters to make changes:
Q. Okay. Do you believe that he had conversations with Dr. Powell that did not include you in discussing the work that was being done there?
A. In my opinion, I would think — I believe that — Dr. Powell was notorious for, basically, communicating to others and telling them to do something, giving them directives. And then, at that point, I would be made aware of it later or find out about it later. So, yes, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Q. Were you surprised — you testified you went into the building on one or two occasions, and you didn’t see any studs, HV/AC(sic), electrical, plumbing; is that accurate?
Q. When did you first see that?
A. After communication with Ric on the “stop work order,” which I have in my notes was around August the 6th. And so, at that point, on August the 6th, once I was made aware of that, then I went — I didn’t even have keys to the facility prior to August the 6th.
He tried to claim maintenance was directly responsible for all billing:
Q. Exhibit 12 includes a lot of invoices. I’m not going to go through those individually, but I’m going to show them to you. The first question I’m going to ask you is: Do you know — does your signature appear on any of those invoices, or your initials? Do any of them appear to be signed? Not all of them, I don’t think.
A. No, I don’t see my —
Q. Is that unusual, that your name wouldn’t be on there?
A. No, that’s not unusual. Because, basically, accounts payable for maintenance issues is done at the maintenance facility.
Q. Whose names appear on those invoices?
A. David Walters.
Q. Anyone else?
A. Steve Vice, some of our maintenance workers.
Q. Steven Vice is a maintenance worker?
A. Yeah, he’s a maintenance worker. Clayton Watkins is a maintenance worker. Brian Hieney, one of our maintenance workers.
Q. And, again, I’m not going to go through each invoice, but do some of those invoices appear to be for equipment used — that employees would have to use or, apparently, rent, and some minor supplies such as paint, paint rollers —
Q. — those kinds of things? Would any of that indicate that electrical or plumbing or —
A. It would be different than what we have to purchase.
Q. Carpentry was being done?
A. Our staff is very capable of doing that.
Q. I’m reading about fasteners and ridge caps. Are those roofing materials and siding materials? I’m reading about tracks for a piece of equipment. Do you know anything about that?
Q. A scissor lift. I don’t even know what some of this stuff is. A bull float. What’s a bull float?
A. I have no clue.
Q. Does it indicate — is it plumbing or heating or a carpentry device?
A. It could be.
MS. ANDERSON: No. A bull float is for concrete. They poured new concrete outside the doors. So you’ve got to have a bull float to soak it down.
Q. That wouldn’t indicate electrical or plumbing or HV/AC(sic) work was being done though, would it?
After previously testifying it was his responsibility, of course.
Oh, wait, he admitted the invoices came across his desk:
Q. Anyway, the point is, based on this pile of invoices, there’s — which you admitted earlier in your testimony came across your desk —
A. Yes, sir.
Q. — but you didn’t review thoroughly. Had you reviewed them thoroughly, would it have given you any indication that the scope of the work changed over — from the beginning until the time the stop work order was issued?
A. Probably not, no.
Q. So even if you had pored over them, you may not have been able to figure that out, that something was going on that you weren’t aware of?
A. Based on some of the items there, the roof — again, I was aware of the roof and the metal siding. Because we were working on the outside.
Q. But is it your testimony that the nature of the work being done inside the building changed and that you weren’t aware of it?
A. The scope changed, yes.
Young nudged Rison into saying the board was made aware of construction changes when Rison was made aware:
Q. It says you failed to obtain appropriate and timely board and KD approval. Was that obtained?
A. Yes, sir, it was.
Q. As far as being timely, when was it obtained?
A. It was obtained once I was made aware of it. At that point, the board approved it on September the 16th.
Q. So the board was aware of the scope of the work that was being done at pretty much the same time you became aware of it, or soon after?
Q. Did you have any conversations with David Walters about when and how the scope of the work changed?
Q. So is the work done now, or do you know? Was it done when you left the district?
Q. Did you have an estimate of how much had been done, how much remained to be done?
A. The only thing I can tell you is that the walls were studded up. There wasn’t any drywall or anything like that.
Unfortunately, none of that was based in reality. School board members were aware much prior and several school board members spoke to me about it well before our story was published. They tipped me off.
Rison claimed there was never a reason to look inside the building despite him being in charge of the massive project:
Q. Based on your understanding of the project, was there any reason to look inside the building?
A. No. I mean, again, during the course of the workday, I could be at a lot of different places. But, basically, I could drive by the facility and see it.
Q. And everything that you thought was supposed to be done, you could see from the outside, is that correct?
When Kilburn took the floor again, he called David Walters as a witness. Here’s Walters saying he reported to Rison and that his division fell under Rison’s supervision:
Q. Do you have a job title, or what are your duties?
A. I’m kind of the maintenance supervisor. Quality Control Manager is my official…
Q. Okay. You’re basically over all of the maintenance for the whole district?
Q. Okay. In your duties, who do you answer to?
A. As of right now, Dr. Coolross (sic).
Q. Okay. Prior to — I want to say back in the spring, who would you have answered to?
A. Phil Rison.
Q. Okay. Was he the assistant superintendent?
Q. And your division, the maintenance division, fell under his direction?
Walters said he reported directly to Rison during the maintenance building work, everything was discussed with Rison, Rison always had the final say, no funds were spent without his knowledge:
Q. Now, who was overseeing the renovation of that building?
A. Directly, I was. On the job, I was overseeing it.
Q. Who were you answering to?
A. Phil Rison.
Q. Did he have anything to do the management or the renovation decisions?
Q. What was his involvement?
A. Everything we did was discussed. Of course, Phil always had the final decision on any money being spent on that building.
Q. Okay Did you spend any money on this project that phil didn’t know about?
A. Not that I’m aware of.
Q. Would he have — would he have been the one paying the bills or seeing the bills and okaying them?
A. Phil signed all POs, yes.
Rison claimed he’d only visited the site once or twice but Walters said he met with him on several occasions:
Q. Over the course of this project, how many times would you estimate you and he discussed this project?
A. I couldn’t give you an accurate number on that. It was several times. We had a lot of discussions about timelines and money and what we were doing and when it was going to be finished and things like that.
Q. Fair to say more than once or twice?
Q. Was it a meeting?
Q. Was he ever at the project site?
Q. How many times would you estimate there?
A. Several. I couldn’t give a number. Several times.
Q. More than once or twice?
Who was there when the scope of the project changed? Phil Rison:
Q. Was he there while the building was changed into the office complex?
Walters said the building was to become a new operations center, that Anna Powell’s offices were going into the old maintenance operations center:
Q. When was the first time you ever recall discussing with Mr. Rison changing it to an office complex?
A. Well, it was never said it was going to be an office complex.
A. There was offices already in the building when we started on it. The offices were — we were going to clean it up, fix it up, but they were in too bad a shape. The studs were rotted, and there was mold. It was just too much to — nothing to repair. It just had to be replaced. We tore it all out. In the meantime, the decision was made that that would be the new operations building. Our old maintenance shop would be a place for Anna Powell, Tina(sic) Amburgy(sic), a couple of other special ed people. That was going to be some kind of an office area for them.
A. So that changed the scope of the project, where we went from shipping and receiving over to a full operations building out there.
Q. Okay. Whose offices offices were going to be in the building once you got it done?
A. In the operations building, there would be my office, the secretary, and there was another office for whatever reason, whatever we deemed necessary, you know. Whether it’s a blueprint room or a key room, or whatever. We still haven’t made that decision.
Imagine that. Just like we reported at the time.
According to Walters, Rison was absolutely aware of what was going on — he had discussions with him about replacing the offices:
Q. Okay. Now, was Mr. Rison involved in those decisions, who would be in those offices?
Q. Had he talked with you about making offices at this new building?
A. We did discuss replacing the offices, yes.
Q. Okay. So he knew that the work was going beyond putting a roof on and painting the outside?
The decision to change the scope of the project came before a stop work order was received from state government:
Q. I mean, did he pretty much know that from day one? Or did he come in after the stop work order and discover it?
A. It was never Day 1. It was when the decision was made to make that operations rather than shipping and receiving. That’s when the decision was made. The stop work order came later.
Q. Okay. So well before the stop work order, Mr. Rison knew that that was getting more than just paint —
Q. — and a roof put on it? And he was involved in the decisions to do that?
Q. Without him, do you have the authority to do a BG1 on your own?
Q. Should have one been done on this building?
Q. Okay. And is it his responsibility to get BG1s for —
MR YOUNG: I’m going to object. I don’t think Mr. Walters knows whether it’s Mr. Rison’s responsibility to do something.
HEARING OFFICER FRANCIS: Sustained.
Q.In the past, when this type of work was being done, did you get the BG1s yourself —
Q. — or was it Mr. Rison that took care of it?
A. I can’t say that.
Again, Walters claims Rison visited the job site regularly:
Q. Now, in running the maintenance department, what kind of oversight, traditionally, would he give in any kind of project?
A. I mean, are you talking about —
Q. Would he start the project and never come around again? Or would he be there day-to-day and micromanage?
A. No. Phil always kept up with everything that was going on, on all of the jobs. He visited the jobs quite often. Sometimes, I would not be there, but I was told he was there.
Q. Okay. So do you think that 50-some thousand dollars could be spent on one project and him not know what was going on?
Q. But you also know, with the discussion with him, personally, he knew these renovations were ongoing?
Q. And he was involved in the decision to change it from shipping and receiving to putting people in offices there?
He said Joshua Powell wasn’t involved in the decisions, it was all Phil Rison:
Q. Was Dr. Powell directing any of this —
Q. — as far as you know? He never sent you any directions on making any changes or doing anything?
Q. Everything came from Mr. Rison?
Q. Any of the money that went through maintenance went through Mr. Rison?
Q. Any dollar spent on this project, he had to see them and had to know about them?
Q. In your past experience, he knew where every dime in the district got spent on the maintenance?
A. No, I wouldn’t say that.
Q. Usually, he was who you went to when you need money for maintenance projects?
Q. You don’t think that any of this money spent on this maintenance building could have slid by him without him knowing?
A. No. He was involved on the roofing. I mean, in fact, he got the quotes on putting the roof on the building from Trimco.
Q. Now, I think the first thing I seen, there was a big sewer line put in?
Q. Was it a pretty extensive project?
A. 4,500, I think.
Q. Is it something where you could drive by and see the work taking place?
Q. Do you think that work could have been done without him knowing it?
When Wayne Young cross-examined Walters, he said he’d spoken with Powell about the project:
Q. Do you know if Dr. Powell directed the change in the scope of the project?
Q. You don’t know that. Did you ever talk to Dr. Powell about the project?
Q. Okay. What was the nature of those conversations?
A. Mostly, he wanted it done as cheap as possible. Hurry up and get it done. You know, he was not really interested in those kinds of things too much.
Q. Do you know if he was aware of the work that was being done inside the building regarding —
A. I never seen him on the job site. I have no idea what was reported to him. We had only one discussion with Bill that I remember, and it was very vague.
Interior framing of the building project was completed before the stop work order was received:
Q. You say “by then.” When was that? Was that after the stop work order or before?
A. Yeah. We couldn’t — actually, I’m wrong.
Actually, we had the framing done before the stop work order was put in place. Once the framing was — once the stop work order came, we got a design professional in. They went over what we had done. They drew that in. They had no problems. There was no code violations, and we were allowed to pursue with what we had already done.
Q. So the framing was done before the stop work order.
Kilburn questioned Walters again — this time about Rison overseeing the maintenance budget:
Q. Prior to the BG1, where was the money coming from to pay for all of this?
A. Maintenance department.
Q. It was coming out of the maintenance budget?
Q. That’s part of what Mr. Rison oversees?
Board chair Alice Anderson asked Walters who made the call to create offices for Anna Powell:
HEARING OFFICER FRANCIS: Any questions from the board?
MS. ANDERSON: I have one.
EXAMINATION BY BOARD MEMBER ANDERSON:
Q. You stated that offices were going to be made for Anna Powell, Dena Amburgy. Was that at the building by the intermediate school or by the current —
A. The current operations building is where the discussion was about having offices for them.
Q. Do you know who was making that decision to have those offices there for them?
A. I do not.
At that point, Richard McNees, one of the state government building/code enforcement guys from the Department of Housing, Building and Construction, was called as a witness. He says someone from outside state government tipped him off about the shenanigans:
Q. … Do you recall what your first involvement was with the building?
Q. What was that?
A. I was contacted by David Walters, and he was inquiring that — he wanted to do some work on the outside of the building.
Q. Do you recall what the scope of the work was?
A. Replace the metal siding, the roof, and that’s it, that I recall.
Q. Now, was this in one-on-one discussions with him? Was it through e-mail or —
A. A phone call.
Q. Okay. At that time, doing that type of work, was there a need for permits or any kind of inspection?
Q. Okay. Was there a time during the process where you came to find out that the scope had changed?
Q. Do you recall how that came about?
A. An individual got wind of it and told me.
Q. Okay. So maybe as a report through your department or to you, personally?
A. To me, personally. Someone outside of state government.
Q. Okay. And can you recall about when that was?
A. Right around the end of August, September of, I guess it would be, 2014.
Then McNees visited the site after communicating with Walters and Rison:
Q. … What did you discover when you got out there?
A. That there had been some interior demoing of the existing — I’m not sure exactly what was there, but it was all demoed out. I assume it was offices. And they had re-framed for the new offices.
Q. Who is your contact person during this? Were you still just working with David?
A. David, primarily. Mr. Rison — I had — we — David and Mr. Rison and myself met at the site.
But he was never contacted regarding the change in scope of the project:
Q. And it says, “Since the beginning of the work, the scope of the project changed by gutting interior offices and replacing new construction. At that time, David or yourself did not contact me to see if additional work required a permit, which it does, as required by sections 101.2 2013 KBC.
So when that work changed, they should have called you to come back and look at it or to get permits?
Q. And everything is going according to code now?
A. Well, the work has really kind of slowed up. And David is telling me they are working on other projects during the summer, the little maintenance types of issues. And once school started up, the project would start up.
Q. Did Mr. Rison give you a reason why you were not contacted when the scope changed?
Unsurprisingly, Rison didn’t agree with the stop work order:
Q. Okay. Now, did Mr. Rison — did he initially object to the work stoppage?
A. He didn’t agree with it.
Q. Okay. Did he feel that a BG1 was necessary?
A. I don’t know.
Rison tried to claim it was a gray/grey area:
Q. Is it accurate that he didn’t feel a BG1 was necessary because no students would be in the building, and they were using general fund money?
A. He indicates it was “grey, in my interpretation.”
Q. And it was based on no students and the use of the general fund money?
And he didn’t include an accurate scope of the project:
Q. Now, there’s an e-mail dated Wednesday, September 3rd that’s part of Exhibit 14, where you sent a message to Greg Dunbar that says, “What about new stuff, walls and expansion of the original floor plan?” And you put, “I believe – and then in bold and underlined – “the entire scope of work may have unintentionally not been included.” What were you trying to relay there?
A. Prior to that, Mr. Rison had indicated a scope of work to Mr. Dunbar, and I didn’t feel it was accurate in terms of the scope that had been actually started.
When Wayne Young stepped up to cross-examine, it was just more of the same dog and pony show:
Q. … So you don’t — he had not, prior to that time — and I say “that time,” I’m referring to around Wednesday, September 3rd and 4th, when the stop work order was issued. Prior to that interaction that you had with Mr. Rison, he had not communicated with you about the scope of work as he perceived it to be?
Q. That’s the first time you all talked about it?
Q. But you were told, at the beginning, by Mr. Walters that the scope of work was the roof, the painting, the external kinds of things that we’ve talked about?
Q. And then, later, some mysterious person made a decision to change that scope of work. We don’t know who that is, because we’ve asked. You don’t know who that probably was, do you?
Q. Maybe the same mysterious person that called you and asked you to come out there. Somebody changed the scope of work and somebody told you about that?
Q. Okay. And then that’s when you decided to do what you do, just go out there and look at it?
When Kilburn re-examined, he got down into the nitty gritty, illustrating just how shady the whole mess was:
Q. As far as — you was told the initial scope was going to be put a roof on, paint the outside. To do those, would you have needed to rent concrete equipment and bull floats?
A. In my opinion, no.
Q. Okay. I mean, you’ve been in the building inspection business for a pretty good while?
Q. Okay. Now, would spending money on an HV/AC(sic) system went beyond the scope?
Q. Doing two different purchases for lighting?
A. Yes. As the initial project was described to me by David Walters, yes, it would be an addition.
Q. Okay. As would have been a sewer line and installing fiber optic cables and new doors?
Young tried to claim the issues were lopsided in his closing statement, said it wasn’t Rison’s idea to change the scope of the project:
But what I would simply do is urge you to look at what’s on those two pages in front of you known as Exhibit 6, prepared by Mr. Pace. The first being the maintenance building. You’ve heard that testimony at length. You heard Mr. Rison say that the change in the scope of the work was not his idea, that he was not aware of it. When he became aware of it, he took the steps necessary to render it compliant with the appropriate law and policy.
So I think my point with that charge is that I’m not really sure how much is there. There’s some blanket assertions, but there doesn’t seem to be much to prop these up.
Sure is convenient that Rison never spilled the beans.
Kilburn had a lot to say during closing. Rison claimed he didn’t know anything about anything but the district’s organizational chart proves he was in charge, responsible and the like. If Phil didn’t know any of this was going on, he wasn’t doing his job:
Coming over everything today and last night, I was trying to anticipate what kind of defense I was going to hear today. And to tell you the truth, I’ve heard probably the most troubling one that I didn’t even predict, that I had nothing to do with this. I didn’t know none of this was going on and it wasn’t — none of my decisions.
The organization chart, Exhibit 1, everything we’ve alleged here today falls directly under Mr. Rison’s supervision. If all of this could occur and him not have nothing to do with it, not knowing it was going on, he wasn’t doing his job, period.
I don’t agree with the characterization that these were minor and everything was fixed. To have proper oversight and to manage what he was responsible for, you can’t use the defense, oh, I’ll fix it when I get caught doing it or I’ll fix it after it blows up. These were things that I think he had a direct hand in. I think we’ve shown here today what he did. And I think the evidence speaks for itself, and the testimony.
Now, you know, he basically followed in his letter that, basically, the only reason the maintenance building was not accurately charged was because it wasn’t complete. There’s no way that, you know, anybody can agree with that one. When you look at Exhibit 12 — I think 11 is the pictures. And you’ll see what condition it was in when it started and what it ended up at. Mr. Rison’s testifying that he went out there once, maybe twice. He denies having any conversations with Mr. Walters, who is seeing the day-to-day operations going on. Then we hear later there was many conversations, many trips there. Mr. Rison denies any knowledge of how much money was being spent. Again, he’s overseeing $52,000 coming out of the maintenance budget, and it’s coming across his desk. But he is denying knowing where it’s going or what it’s for.
Further, Rison says the issues were minor and Walters refuted his claims. Kilburn didn’t believe Rison was sincere when claiming he didn’t know how much money was being spent or when the scope of the project changed. Because those bills started rolling in almost immediately for more extensive work than was ever claimed:
But I think the proof here, when you listen to Mr. Walker(sic), on what all was going on, it was obvious he knew where every penny of this was going. The day this building project was started, I think it’s clear what his intentions for the building were. Eventually, he’s the only one that states who is going to be in the offices and how everything is going to be arranged. I don’t think there is any way you can take it as being sincere that he had no knowledge that this much money was being spent.
Now, in his line of work, I think he knew he should have a BG1. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Knowing the amount of money that was being spent, I think it was obvious that he knew he should have had a BG1. One of the most troubling things is that it was represented that it was just going to be painting, put a roof on, cosmetic job. But then we find out almost immediately — looking at the bills and the receipts in Exhibit 12, you’ll see he went well beyond that scope and the money that was being spent. Again, if this kind of money was being spent and he didn’t know it and wasn’t overseeing it, he wasn’t doing his job. No. 2, the testimony is that he micromanaged all of these projects like this around the district, and he was in and out of this building. So he knew this stuff was going on. And I think it’s been proven.
When the state inspector comes in and catches it — and what stirred the state up was — Exhibit 13, the Page One article, that’s when the state started inquiring about it, after this was publicized. What you’ll find out is that McNees comes in, shuts the whole project down, And, you know, it’s like, my bad, we’ll get it fixed. Then they start trying to get the BG1 and then the question was raised in the minutes, you know, what was — why are you here now after the building is substantially complete?
Q. Now, you know, the BG1 called for, I think, 80-some thousand to be spent, and we end up — there’s already 55, 56,000 spent. I think Mr. Walters is sincere and very credible in describing how the money was spent, what budget it came out of. And he couldn’t have done that on his own. That wasn’t up to him to spend that kind of money. I think Mr. Rison was in the know from Day 1 about what was going on at that maintenance building and what the purpose of it was.
That’s how it all played out.…
Really fascinating to see how hard Rison tried to downplay Page One’s role in exposing everything. He and Young fought hard to issue subpoenas and the like to drag me in there in an attempt to go after sources. To attack the messenger and attempt to take out their butthurt on me for uncovering and reporting scandal after scandal after scandal.
But they had the audacity to claim they had no idea what appeared on this website? Rison claims he doesn’t read it 24/7? Please.
You can see for yourselves just how dishonest these people are.…