Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Plymouth School Board Member Admits to Conflict-of-Interest for Roofing Project. Taxpayers Ask for Investigation

Todd Samuelson
Taxpayers who foot the bills at Plymouth Schools are questioning an admitted conflict-of-interest involving one of its school board members and a Tremco roofing project.

The project has recently come under fire after it was discovered that $400,000 worth of roofing materials were purchased without going through a required bidding process.

Taxpayers say the materials could have been purchased for much less had the superintendent and school board followed the state's strict bidding laws.  They wondered why school board members would be willing to spend money so foolishly in these tough economic times.

Could the answer be found in the November 18, 2010 school board minutes where it was noted that School Board Secretary Todd Samuelson admitted to a conflict-of-interest as a partner with Umbaugh & Associates?  According to the minutes, Samuelson's firm was hired to prepare a PowerPoint presentation touting the Tremco roof job proposal, which leads to other important questions.  How much did the firm get paid, and just how involved are they in this project?

"Dr. R Smith, Mr. D Schoof and Mr. Doug Copley, of Tremco Corporation reported on the proposed project.  A PowerPoint presentation was made by Dr. R Smith which was prepared by Umbaugh & Associates outlining the proposed capital improvements....Member L Pinkerton made a motion to approve the Project Resolution.  Member L Holloway seconded the motion...Secretary T Samuelson again voiced his conflict with Umbaugh & Associates as an employee and stated he was still going to vote given this association with Umbaugh & Associates was stated into the record...The motion passed unanimously," read an excerpt from the minutes.

That's pretty brazen since Indiana Statutes define Conflict-of Interest as a Class D felony.

IC 35-44-1-3 says that "A public servant who knowingly or intentionally has a pecuniary interest in; or derives a profit from a contract or purchase connected with an action by the governmental entity served by the public servant commits conflict of interest, a Class D felony."

The law also requires that a public servant put their conflict-of-interest disclosures in writing.
"A disclosure required by this section must (1) be in writing; (2) describe the contract or purchase to be made by the governmental entity; (3) describe the pecuniary interest that the public servant has in the contract or purchase; (4) be affirmed under penalty of perjury; (5) be submitted to the governmental entity and be accepted by the governmental entity in a public meeting of the governmental entity prior to the final action on the contract or purchase...and (6) be filed within fifteen (15) days after final action on the contract or purchase with the state board of accounts..."
Clearly, Todd Samuelson should have recused himself from any discussion for the roofing project, and he most certainly should not have cast a vote in the matter.

This blogger has requested public records from the school district that may shed light on a few of the other details, including how much money was paid to Umbaugh & Associates, and whether or not this is the only conflict-of-interest involving Samuelson and his partnered firm.

A description from Samuelson's company's website makes it clear that a conflict-of-interest for the type of work that his firm is engaged in would be blaring.

Experience

Todd A. Samuelson works with cities, towns, counties, school corporations, libraries and utilities on comprehensive financial planning, bond issues and economic development. He also assists numerous clients with budgeting, forecasting and strategic planning.

Samuelson worked with White County, Indiana on an alternative energy economic development project which will become the largest wind farm development in Indiana. In addition he has worked on economic development packages in Whitley County, Indiana for Steel Dynamics; a county corrections complex and strategic planning for Elkhart County, Indiana; and bond issues for major facility improvements for the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Samuelson has provided expert testimony at local and state public hearings on capital projects, tax increment financing (TIF), property and income tax matters and issuance of tax-exempt bonds. He also has been a speaker on numerous occasions for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns (IACT), the Association of Indiana Counties, the Indiana Association of County Commissioners (IACC), the Indiana Library Federation, the Michigan Library Federation, the Michigan School Business Officials and the Indiana League of Municipal Clerk Treasurers.

Samuelson is a member of the Indiana, Michigan and Illinois CPA Societies and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. A 1987 graduate of DePauw University, Samuelson was a senior accountant and financial advisor with Arthur Andersen & Company in Chicago before joining Umbaugh in 1989. He is based in Umbaugh’s Plymouth office.
Taxpayers intend to ask the State Board of Accounts to conduct an audit into the matter, and they also intend to ask the Attorney General to look into this matter as well as other areas of concern.

After reading through public board minutes for the district, I was surprised to read that a Plymouth taxpayer was subjected to public humiliation for filing complaints with the Public Access Counselor after she was denied public records.  How shameful that taxpayers in Plymouth are treated with such disrespect, especially since they are the ones footing the bills for these types of shenanigans.

Perhaps a little sunlight should be shed on these and other grievances.  It's true that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and based on what I've been hearing from worn-out taxpayers in Plymouth, the school district needs a heavy dose of it.