By Tina Richards

With the sweet scent of Measure S success lingering in the boardroom, the Orange Unified trustees attended to the first order of bond business at the Nov. 17 public meeting – selecting a contractor to oversee construction at all four high schools.

A subcommittee of Tim Surridge, Rick Ledesma and Kathy Moffat had previously interviewed competing firms, and by a two-to-one vote recommended Cumming Corporation.  Moffat was the sole dissenter in the subcommittee selection of Cumming, and explained her discomfort with that choice during the board meeting.

Moffat said that she was surprised during the preliminary interviews when the Cumming representative and Surridige greeted each other on a first-name basis.  It was clear to her that Surridge had already met with the contractor and, she believed, that in the interest of transparency, the public should be aware of that before the board voted.

Nothin’ to see here

Surridge admitted that he did have a separate meeting with the contractor because he wanted to get more detailed information.

“I reached out to multiple companies to help me understand what they’re doing,” he explained. “I always tell Superintendent Christensen about these meetings. I do know the head of Cumming, but have had no contact. It’s not appropriate to bring this up,” he added, “to suggest wrongdoing right after the bond passed.”

He reiterated that he had made the superintendent aware of that meeting, and that no wrongdoing had occurred.  Besides, he noted, we already know these people because they have the contract for Canyon High School.

Moffatt stressed that she was not implying any impropriety, just concerned about the process.  “Every meeting with a contractor should be public,” she said,  “especially now.  The public passed the bond measure, and they need to be involved in the process.”

She suggested to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Cumming should be eliminated and the subcommittee’s second choice, Cordoba Corporation, should be selected.

“This is a lucrative contract,” she remarked. “Transparency is important.  No entity submitting a proposal should make contact with the school board or staff.  I’m not suggesting anything inappropriate.  But we must have public meetings, not private meetings.  This is public money, the public should be involved.  Discussions should be done in public.”

Shoot the messenger

Surridge reaffirmed the innocence of his meeting, and noted that the subcommittee met openly and anyone was welcome to attend. He bristled at Moffat’s nuance that his private meeting had been inappropriate.

Moffatt was about to reiterate that she was simply trying to keep the process open to the public, when she was roundly interrupted by Board President Rick Ledesma who told her to stop talking.  “We’ve heard enough from you,” he said.  “Let’s take the vote.”

Unwilling to be silenced, Moffat again attempted to explain her reasons for bringing up the Surridge meeting, and her belief that the selection process should not be tainted – for reasons real or imagined. But Ledesma cut her off.  Repeatedly. “You can’t speak anymore,” he railed. “You’re playing politics. You have to stop talking. I’m not going to let you continue.  You have to stop.  I won’t let you say any more.”

Mark Wayland volunteered that during his tenure, bidding contractors would want to meet with him.  “I always said 'no,'” he asserted, “because this is what happens.  I see,” he nodded to Surridge, “that you want more information, but it doesn’t look good.  Don’t give people a reason for us to fail.”  

“There you go, already,” Trustee John Ortega lectured Moffat.  “We were in a great mood, and here we go.  The committee vetted the contractors, the staff vetted them, they’re well-respected.  Now you’re playing politics. We’re not taking anything.”

Ortega justified his indignation by reminding the audience that he was reelected “by a landslide.”

Point not taken

With board members Ledesma and Ortega seemingly more interested in defending Surridge than addressing the issue of transparency and the public’s right to participate, the vote was held.

Andrea Yamasaki affirmed that transparency was foremost.  “Mr. Surridge said he didn’t take anything, but we have to be transparent, with no hint of impropriety,” she said.

Alexia Deligianni-Brydges added that she was inclined to reject both contractors (Cumming, Cordoba) based on the discussion.  In an aside, it was noted that Cordoba contributed to the “Yes on S” campaign ($15,000), as did Cumming ($7,500).

The board ultimately voted 6-1 to approve Cumming and direct staff to negotiate a final scope of work and price.  The company is being hired to collaborate with the architects, construction managers and staff to implement Measure S projects, as approved by the board. It will be responsible for scheduling, interim housing options, cost estimating, permitting and preparing reports to the Citizens' Oversight Committee.

Cumming was previously named construction manager of the Canyon High School portion of the Measure S effort. That contract will be rebid, and a replacement contractor brought to the board for approval. 

The Orange Unified School District Administration Offices at 1401 N. Handy St.. (File Photo)

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