Next Guilford County School Board Meeting is Tuesday, November 22nd at 6:00 PM at 712 N. Eugene St. in Greensboro. Stay informed. Don't allow your tax dollars to go unaccounted for any longer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

LaRowe Continues to Be Common Denominator in GCS' Building Program Debacle

In a front page story in this week's Rhinoceros Times, Guilford County  Schools Chief Operations Officer Andy LaRowe is shown to consistently be the link for the $457 million building program construction mess.

The gross incompetency of GCS' Facilities leadership and its continued baffling support by the Guilford County Board of Education has been reported on greatly since June of this year starting with the revelation of inappropriate payments of $1.4 million to contractor by the name of Dennis ColeCole was reportedly the right hand man of LaRowe who allowed Cole to get paid this type of money without board approval.  In addition, although he was a contractor, he behaved as a GCS employee.

Even overpaid GCS School Superintendent Mo Green isn't paid a million dollars.

The latest is that construction contractor Miles Builders of Charlotte, North Carolina has not performed well on a $5.3 million renovation program of High Point Central High School.  As a result, Miles Builders is more than a month behind schedule.

Now, the Construction Advisory Committee is meeting in a series of closed door sessions discussing construction work under the leadership of LaRowe.  As a result, it's been decided that School Superintendent Green will monitor LaRowe's work more closely.

Really?!?  NOW, he is going to monitor?

So, where is Andy's boss, Sharon Ozment, in all this?

This mess has been going on a VERY long time.  The idea that NOW it appears LaRowe is going to be under more scrutiny is amazing.  The evidence of LaRowe's incompetence has been OVERWHELMING.  He was NEVER qualified to hold that position.  LaRowe doesn't meet the MINIMUM standards for qualifications in the form of a Master's Degree as stated as requirement in GCS' own job description for Chief Operations Officer! Yet and still is is allowed to run almost a half billion of tax payers money into the ground on projects that are on life support all because GCS insists on keeping a man at the helm who has no clue on how to manage people or projects.

If the GCS School Board would take two minutes to take their heads out the clouds, they would recognize that Miles Builders is like one of several contractors hired under LaRowe's watch with sketchy backgrounds (i.e. Triple M Contractors - interesting how they are in GCS minutes, yet GCS is no where to be found on their web site - maybe because they did a shoddy job with shoddy oversight!)  Two words:  law suits!

Instead of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), maybe there needs to be Occupy GCS (OGCS).

As always, to be continued.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Has Rhino Reporting Set the Stage for Other Resignations?

Sharon Ozment
Chief Financial Officer
GCS
By now, many have heard about the resignation of former GCS Purchasing Director John Mann.  As one commentor discussed on the N&R Blog about the story, many would say John is really small potatoes compared to the drama that's been taking place within GCS over the last two years.

In a story I missed (hey, I needed a break and vacation too), the Rhino did a strong story on a series of emails on how former contractor Dennis Cole was allowed to run a mok without purchase orders for work performed - as well as with little to no accountability.

Here is an excerpt from that August 18th story well written by Paul C. Clark:

In documents released in response to a records request by The Rhino Times, there are signs that Cole's expanding role and payments – most of which were done simply with invoices and purchase orders without contracts – were causing some dissension in the ranks of the Facilities Department.

In a Dec. 2, 2009 email, Guilford County Schools Director of Construction Julius Monk, who is paid $62,472 a year to direct Guilford County Schools construction but was largely pushed out of the chain of command by Cole, was already questioning Cole about his role.

Monk's email makes clear that, by that time, any changes to construction projects had to be cleared by Cole.

"The role of Standards and Design Manager does not end on bid day; otherwise, why would we need to submit substitution items to you for approval during construction?" Monk wrote. "Second, when CCA acted as Program Manager for 2003 Bond Projects, it was my understanding that it would not act in that capacity for projects for which it provided project management services. Andy would have to answer if and when he approved CCA to administer its own contracts."

CCA charged Guilford County Schools $88,000 for an administrative assistant until June 16, 2011, long after Cole had acquired a Guilford County Schools office and access to the school system's administrative assistants and other support staff.

But the employee at issue in Monk's email was Zack Dunn, a project manager whom Cole had apparently hired or planned to hire.

"How consultants acquire and maintain insurance, certifications, or any other requirements is their sole responsibility," Monk wrote. "I was a consultant at one time for GCS, and had to carry insurance, including workers compensation; and am confused as to why an exception should be made for Zack. I am also very leery of GCS paying a premium for services by running project managers, or other consultants through CCA; as opposed to contracting with them direct."

So by December 2009, at least one Guilford County Schools employee had argued that it was costing more to pay CCA for services rather than just to contract for them directly.

Monk continued by writing that the Southern program was not an audition and that project managers (whether referring to Cole or Dunn is not clear) should be trained before starting.

Monk wrote, "It is not my practice, and should not be the practice of anyone from the District, to hire unqualified individuals with the intention of using GCS resources to train them."Cole replied the same day in an attempt to refute Monk's claims.

"I take exception to the opinion that there exist [sic] a conflict between the position funded out of the 2008 Bond program and the funding source for the Southern Middle School project," Cole wrote. "Southern Middle School's design is complete, the project has been bid and a contract awarded and as Manager of Standards and Design my role is complete. This type of relationship has been previously discussed and initiated when as Program Manager for the 2003 bond program CCA provided project management services for capital funded projects."

Cole's email makes clear that Dunn, like Cole himself, was being paid through purchase orders and/or invoices. He wrote that there was no issue when CCA's project management services for Southern Middle School was paid for by purchase orders and that he didn't see why paying Dunn was being questioned.

"For GCS to initiate contract negotiations with Zack would create a financial burden that as an individual could not be born [sic] given the insurance requirements currently in place with GCS," Cole wrote. "I take no exception to Zack working as project manager for GCS without having CCA as the direct report."

Monk replied the same day refusing to authorize Dunn to work without a purchase order – something that was increasingly being done for Cole. Guilford County Schools was paying Cole directly for some services without purchase orders, and doing so required the signature of Guilford County Schools Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ozment.


Monk wrote, "I can not authorize work to be done by Zack in the absence of a PO, but if you wish for Zack to be the PM on the project, I will forward him a contract for his review, and request a proposal from him."

Andy LaRowe
Chief Operations Officer
GCS
"Andy" is the schools chief operation officer, Andy LaRowe, then executive director of facilities and construction. LaRowe was apparently responsible for the large expansion of Cole's, and CCA's, roles, and approved most of the purchase orders and invoices through which Cole and his company were paid.

Cole was a "program manager" for the school construction program funded by bonds approved by voters in 2003. That is, his job was to oversee, or help oversee, the entire program, including the performance of program managers. He also acted as "project manager," or overseer on the construction or renovation of particular schools.

If Cole were to oversee his own contracts by acting as program manager over contracts for which he was project manager, the conflict of interest would be obvious. Cole was not officially a project manager for any of the projects on the list for the 2008 school bond construction program – but during that period he was still acting as project manager for some earlier projects, including the addition of a field house and other facilities at Southern Guilford Middle School that were left out during the 2003 bond construction because the school board spent too much money on other projects.

LaRowe joined the email conversation by writing that he had no objection to Dunn being on a separate contract.

Monk replied, "It's my understanding that CCA is contracted for Standards and Design Management as well, which in my opinion poses a conflict for it to provide project management services as well." He recommended that Dunn be hired on a separate contract.

LaRowe capitulated in another email, saying he saw no reason for Cole to remain a project manager on the Southern Middle School project. "Zack should report directly to you," he wrote Monk.

Why did LaRowe sit back and allow all these policies and procedures to be violated consistently leaving Monk to be the primary enforcer?  Why did Ozment regularly sign requisitions for payment for contractors without either a purchase order or a contract? 

Both LaRowe and Ozment are paid a LOT more money than either Mann or Monk, thereby needing to be held far more accountable.

Therefore the only question that is left: 

With the dismissal of Mann,
are Ozment and LaRowe next?

Shouldn't they be?

This story comes courtesy of Paul C. Clark and The Rhino Times.

GCS Purchasing Manager Resigns Under Cloud of Suspicion

Ashes, ashes they all fall down!!!

As Guilford County Schools (GCS) continues to do its investigation into alleged financial improprieties and violation of purchasing policies and procedures, GCS Purchasing Manager John Mann has resigned under a cloud of suspecion for allegedy taking gifts from contractors and subcontractors. 

According to the Rhino Times and the News & Record, Mann's resignation was effective as of August 25th.

An excerpt from the article:  Man Leaves Under Cloud is as follows:

Mann's resignation is the third instance of Guilford County Schools losing a major construction-related employee or consultant to allegations of wrongdoing since it began its $457 million school construction program in 2008.

As director of purchasing, or purchasing officer, Mann was in charge of all purchasing in the school system, not merely in construction. But lately, perhaps the largest part of his job has been overseeing contracting and purchasing for the school construction program, which is funded by bonds approved by Guilford County voters in 2008.

Mann sat in on pre-bid meetings with contractors, approved purchase orders and invoices for consultants and contractors, and was the middle link in the financial chain of command for the construction program, above Guilford County Schools Chief Operating Officer Andrew LaRowe and below Guilford County Schools Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ozment.


Mann's resignation follows the dismissal in June of Dennis Cole, an outside consultant who had the title of "manager of standards and design" and who played a critical role in the construction program. Carr and school board members said Cole was cut loose for entering "an inappropriate relationship" with another Guilford County Schools employee, and using that relationship to access information that, in his position, he should not have had. Cole said he left voluntarily because his job was finished, although LaRowe disputed that, saying the position was still needed.

The school board's policy requires board approval for the purchase of all contracted services of $150,000 or more. Cole and his company, CCA, have been paid more than that by Guilford County Schools in each fiscal year since 2006, according to school system documents.

Cole and his company were paid through a welter of purchase orders and invoices, in most cases in smaller amounts that did not exceed $150,000. Mann questioned some of the payments, although he approved most of them. As early as December 2009, Guilford County Schools Director of Construction Julius Monk was already questioning Cole about his role.


A commentor on the N&R Blog only known as Stafford5465 states as follows:

John at $73k was small potatoes in the scheme of things. He did not have the clout to make the scores of people that are making in the 110k to 150k range do the right thing. John's department should not report to the CFO. The BOE has a poor understanding of procurement and contracting. John was under a lot of pressure to make the minority/women figures look better. Accordingly, sometimes the best deal for the GCS had to take a back seat. John is a small player.

One has to ask, is this only the beginning?  Are there more resignations to come?

I tend to agree with commentor Stafford5465.

Much of this story comes courtesy of Paul C. Clark at  The Rhino Times.  For the full article, visit The Rhino Times.

Friday, August 12, 2011

GCS & 'Mission Creep': Cronyism Further Exposed


As they continue to peel back the layers on Guilford County Schools', The Rhino Times has done further work revealing the ongoing favoritism and power hungry tactics displayed by one Mr. Andy LaRowe, Chief Operations Officer of Guilford County Schools.

However, as with any great financial heist, LaRowe is not acting without a supporting cast.  In addition to his boss, Sharon Ozment, Chief Financial Officer of GCS who evidently routinely signed off on requests for payments for vendors void of a contract or purchase order, was GCS Purchasing Officer John Mann.  An interesting character to say the least.  If anyone had the power to put LaRowe in check, it was him...and he didn't!  Sources say, sometimes he can be as much hell to deal with as LaRowe.

The information I've received on this three-ring circus is enough to make your head spin.  However, I have to expound later.  I've got stuff to do.

As always, great job, Rhino!

I'll be back with more soon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Standing Up for Truth & Transparency, Standing Up for Our Children

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ~First Amendment to the United States Constitution
I love the United States of America.  I am a proud American citizen who respects the dignity of the legacy of those who fought and died the enemy of oppression so that all could exercise his or her God-given freedom of will and speech; particularly when that will and speech is designed to shed light and protect the public interest.

As implied by the First Amendment, we as Americans have the right – and sometimes duty -to speak out on issues of perpetual unfairness and chronic injustice.
The identity of those who choose to speak out on such issues is irrelevant.  However, relevance always lies in the TRUTH.  Truth and transparency are non-negotiable elements when mismanagement of three-quarters of a billion tax payer dollars becomes more and more evident.  Those who hold such power possess a level of responsibility for which one should be prepared to account on a moment’s notice.

GCS Uncovered was not developed lightly or without thought.  GCS Uncovered was not created for the approval of those associated with those who have a line of credible evidence of failing to be effective in his or her high paying position at the expense of tax payers and their children. 

Accountability is the name of the game.  If one can’t take the heat, there is always another kitchen.
There is NO money associated with this blog.  The author is not paid.  There are no advertisers.  Like the platforms afforded an MSNBC or a Fox News, GCS Uncovered has a right to render an opinion in addition to the assessment of facts as identified by other news sources.

Over the years, several attempts have been made to gain GCS Board and executive management attention on issues of accountability.  A call for fairness and a consistency in process in the areas of contracting seem to fall on deaf ears year after year.  To add insult to injury, when evidence of improprieties and lack of accountability emerge, speaking out seems to be the only thing left to do.
On June 23rd, The Rhino Times lit the gasoline soaked fuse of mismanagement and apparent improprieties within GCS and its Facilities Department in particular. Little did the public know that the incident referred to in that article was merely representative of the systemic lack of fairness taking place within the walls of Guilford County Schools for years.
For those who insist on challenging the credibility of this platform and its author, you, in turn, are challenged to address the serious charges that lie herein as well as with other sources of similar information and the related documents available through GCS.  As a result, you as critics would then have more credibility with me.  And with so much of tax payer dollars at stake, it appears that the frustration you are experiencing with the things said herein are misdirected. 

Mismanaging three-quarters of a billion dollars deserves far more of your frustration than this little, itty, bitty blog.
The bottomline, this platform and its author are so NOT the issue.
Yet, as the growing evidence of mismanagement taking place at GCS mounts, this platform shall continue to be a voice for demanding accountability, oversight, and the implementation of audit controls.
Until such matters are properly and effectively addressed, this blog will continue to exist.
Finally, for those who insist that this blog is not credible or not to be taken seriously, I suggest you go to Google and type in “GCS and mismanagement” or “Guilford County Schools and mismanagement” and let me know how we rank.
As always, stay tuned…

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rhino Times: LaRowe Explains No-Bid Consultant Work

Today, The Rhino Times did a story on former Executive Director and current Chief Operations Officer (COO) of Guilford County Schools (GCS), Andy LaRowe and his explanation on No-Bid Consultant Work.

The explanation was substandard and left more questions than answers.  Not unusual for LaRowe who believes he can B.S. his way out of anything as the School Board sits back and allows him to use the tax payer $457 million school bond account to write blank checks against to his friends and colleagues with little-to-no accountability from the Board, the public, the State Superintendent, the GCS Superintendent; his boss, Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ozment and GCS Superintendent Mo Green.

Therefore, it's clear.  It seems LaRowe is going to be allowed to run the near total $1 billion construction bond program into the ground with not only less than minimal credentials to do his job, but with a demonstrated track record of incompetent management and millions of dollars of financial mismanagement.

Now, that's rich! No.  Wait.  That makes him and his friends rich.

While The Rhino did verify that Construction Contract Administration LLC (CCA), the one man band run by Dennis Cole, was paid $722,512 for direct services by Cole while the balance of the $1.4 million that he was previously report to receive went to other employees he had occasion to hire, it doesn't address the independent contractor issues.

Dennis Cole was treated as an GCS employee.  Period. Complete with phone line, GCS email address and all.

He was given a desk, an office, a GCS vehicle and a secretary paid for by GCS.  What about any of this is alright?  Anyone who runs a business knows that is overhead which should come out of that $722,512 that Cole was paid.  Instead, GCS under LaRowe's management, allowed for the double dipping which enabled Cole to pocket most of that money unlike most small businesses are able to do because a good portion of work invoiced for goes to paying for overhead.

So, in essence, when you take into account the overhead expenses GCS took care of on behalf of Cole, he and his company were paid far more than the $1.4 million invoiced for.

If you don't believe me, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) and the North Carolina Employment Security Commission (NCESC) and ask them what they think.

Then there were the two consultants that LaRowe hired; the Planning Alliance of New Orleans, under its "president" Sue Robertson (who is no stranger to controversy) and his former employer StudioJAED, where LaRowe served as a business unit manager.  The first thing that jumps out is that neither of these firms are North Carolina-based firms.  In fairness, it doesn't mean that they should not have gotten the work.  However, by the tone of LaRowe's interview, one could infer there wasn't even an attempt to identify a North Carolina-based firm.

Both were people/firms that he already knew and had professional relationships with.  While this isn't the worst thing in the world, how is it not fair that the opportunity to bid on that work didn't exist for any kind of potential firms here in the Triad?

As pointed out by The Rhino:

LaRowe said that none of the work given to Planning Alliance, StudioJAED or CCA was put out for bid, which would have let the school system know if there were companies who could do the same work for less money , or as a request for proposals (RFP).

The kicker to all this, Planning Alliance was suppose to complete an annual report on the bond program - but as reported by The Rhino after spending a lengthy interview with LaRowe on Monday, July 25th, the Planning Alliance (aka Sue Robertson) NEVER finished the reports for which GCS PAID her $300,744.

As justification for this, the only "brilliant" answer LaRowe could come up with is "he planned to save the information gathered by the company [Planning Alliance] for a summary report at the end of the $457 million, 27-project construction program."

Are you kidding me?  What about that answer is NOT stupid?

So let me get this right. An ANNUAL (this means "EVERY YEAR" LaRowe) report is due on the bond program and LaRowe is going to "save the information gathered" and make a summary report available once the program is done!  How does the program benefit and allow the board and GCS management to assess the progress of the program along the way without the value of being able to reference an annual report?

Oh, let me guess.  They just have to trust LaRowe and take his word that the program is going just fine, allowing him to make-up crap up as he goes along at his leisure while continuing to screw up the program through his continued incompetence and gross mismanagement.

I'm sorry, but this man is truly an idiot and needs to leave Guilford County Schools as COO!

Or better yet, maybe taxpayers and parents just need to sue Guilford County Schools for gross misappropriation of funds, or maybe the State Superintendent's office needs to come in and shake things up until GCS can get it's act together.

By LaRowe's own admission, the scope of work included that the Planning Alliance do an annual report on the bond program!

So, therefore, LaRowe can just change the rules, or the scope of work in this case, whenever he gets ready and still pay an out-of-state consultant over $300,000 without any accountability and without having to complete the work paid for by us - the Tax Payers!

And how is this fair?  How does this prove that LaRowe is competent and capable of managing his responsibilities as an Executive Director of Facilities, let alone as a COO?

LaRowe may be a joke, but he - and all his cronies - are the ones laughing all the way to the bank.  Can you blame them?

With the lack of accountability apparently by the school board and his own bosses - Mo Green and Sharon Ozment- clearly LaRowe has the green light -the wink and the nod - to do whatever the hell he wants.

Oh well, I guess LaRowe will continue to be allowed to run amok and do whatever he feels like.

What are you prepared to do Guilford County?  Anything?

Or does it even matter and I'm just bumping my head against the wall?

Maybe we should just expect lack of fairness and accountability is the name of the game and lying and cheating is just the way real business is done at Guilford County Schools.

What an example to set for our children.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

News & Record: Is Guilford County Schools Suffering from "Gross Mismanagement"?

Well, duh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finally, someone in this town besides The Rhino is getting a clue and is beginning to give this story some ink - some legs.

Now, I'm wondering how long it will take the local lame-stream broadcast media to get the same clue?  WFMY; WXII, MyFOX8, News 14, does it matter to you what is happening right under our noses as a community?

The News & Record has decided to begin covering the issue on the blog of its education reporter Morgan Josey Glover.  While she takes issue with some of my facts, at least she and the N&R are starting to take issue!

With all due respect to Ms. Glover, I'm doing more than just going over a bunch of paper.  I'm talking to people who have been dying to talk.  Last I checked, that's the makings of a good reporter.  While I am not a formal reporter, I do know how to get information.  And guess what?  Folks see what's going on and they can't wait to give it up because those who work for or with GCS are tax payers too!

I appreciate Ms. Glover clarifying the process as she does in her blog post.  If she and Guilford County Schools had been a bit more forthcoming about the process for choosing a contractor like Dennis Cole, maybe there wouldn't be a blog.  Oh!  Wait.  Never mind.  There would still be a blog.

Wake up Greensboro!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do you realize the Guilford County Schools is the only local entity allowed to manage three-quarters of a BILLION dollars with inept oversight and without audit requirements!  Hell, even the infamous federal stimulus package has audit requirements.

What is up with the apathy in this town?

I DID NOT want to do this!  I'm busy with other stuff.

I'm a plain, run-of-the-mill blogger.  The media - except for The Rhino of course - has been slow to pick up on this story.

I have the same records from Guilford County Schools - as a result of North Carolina's Freedom of Information Act - as The Rhino and the News & Record.  There are a LOT of documents. 

And while I respect the tough job journalists are pressured to do, it is why blogs like this take life.  The whole country is on the verge of financial collapse and we have a screwed up financial management system at GCS run by a bunch of yahoos who are unskilled in protecting the financial interest of the Guilford County tax payer.

I don't know about you, but if I get wind that someone may be misappropriating three-quarters of a BILLION dollars of my money, I'm going to do some investigating.  I have that right. 

And guess what?  So do you!

Those controlling the "fiefdom" known as Guilford County Schools have seem to have forgotten that they work for us!

I voted for those damn school bonds because I want our children to have access to a quality environment for a quality education as other quality school districts across the country.  I can't afford to send my kids to private school. So, voting for the bonds seemed like a good idea at the time.

But, as with so many other things, GCS - with this bond program under the management of Andy "I'm God" LaRowe - sucks at making this work the way it should.

O.K. Greensboro bloggers.  Where are you on this?  Roch101; Ed ConeGuarino

Even the Carolina Journal needs to step it up on this one.

I want accountability and quality productivity.  Period.  I don't want my children in schools that are falling apart because folks in charge are too stupid to do their job and should have never been hired in the first place.

So, now GCS School Board and Guilford County Tax payers; what are you prepared to do?

This is far from over.  I want justice for my children...NOW!