News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ohio Construction Ruling Overturned on Appeal

An Ohio appeals court last week overturned a judge's ruling on a $6.1 million school contract, but supported her overall concerns about how a state school commission awarded $2 billion in school construction contracts.

The three-member 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals, in Franklin County, unanimously overturned a May ruling by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer L. Brunner. She had ruled that Randall A. Fischer, then the executive director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, had overstepped his authority in approving a construction contract for the 800-student Tri-Village district in western Ohio. Mr. Fischer supported Tri-Village's decision to reject the lowest bidder, Cincinnati-based Monarch Construction Co.

The state appellate court ruled that Tri-Village's decision was not arbitrary, and that "the contract at issue ... does not require a signature" from the school facilities commission, according to court documents.

Judge Brunner wrote in her decision that because the three-member commission had given Mr. Fischer the authority to approve contracts without a full meeting of the board, the state's competitive-bid process was a "sham," calling into question some 1,800 contracts Mr. Fischer had approved.

The appellate court replied that the commission "arguably" had failed to properly approve those contracts, but that because the commission had retroactively awarded them after the Judge Brunner's ruling in May, the contracts were valid.

Mr. Fischer, who had taken office with the commission's creation in 1997, resigned last summer amid allegations of having violated state ethics laws. He could not be reached for comment last week.

"It's a huge burden off my shoulders," said Mr. Fischer, who now consults districts on school planning and construction. "It's a very large win. It reaffirms what the commission is doing, that it's policies and procedures were fine."

—Rhea R. Borja

Siegelman Acknowledges Defeat In Tight Alabama Governor's Race

Gov. Don Siegelman

Almost two weeks after voters went to the polls to choose a governor in Alabama, incumbent Gov. Donald Siegelman last week abandoned his hopes for a statewide recount and conceded defeat to his Republican opponent.

The Democrat had declared victory on election night until officials in Baldwin County, a Republican stronghold, reported a computer problem had overstated nearly 7,000 votes for the governor out of the roughly 1.3 million cast. Gov.- elect Bob Riley, a three-term U.S. representative, then jumped ahead by a slim margin. The next day, each man declared himself governor.

Mr. Siegelman, who has championed the cause of increased school funding during his one term, initially demanded a statewide recount.

But without a specific recount law in Alabama, election officials could not agree on a course of action. The state's Republican attorney general ruled that without a court order, a recount would be illegal. A Tuscaloosa County judge ruled against a recount request from the Siegelman campaign.

"It would hurt Alabama more to put Alabama through this divisive time," Gov. Siegelman said at a Nov. 18 news briefing to announce his concession.

—John Gehring

Georgia Board Voids Contracts Approved by State Schools Chief

The Georgia board of education has voted to void more than $500,000 in contracts that members say outgoing state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko authorized without their approval.

The money went to various Georgia contractors for educational software for deaf and gifted students.

Board members argue that the services were unnecessary, that the contracts had not been out for competitive bids, and that Ms. Schrenko had sidestepped a law requiring board approval for contracts over $50,000.

While each of the 11 contracts was under that amount, they totaled $531,894, and all went to companies owned by the same small group of business people.

In an e-mail she sent to a local television reporter in October, Ms. Schrenko called the expenditures her "parting gift" to students, saying that they had not received spending increases from the legislature during her two terms.

Ms. Schrenko, a Republican who lost a bid in August for the Republican nomination for governor, will leave office in January. She could not be reached for comment.

Merle Temple, a deputy superintendent in the state education department, said the board "cannot void contracts to which it is not a party," and called the board's action "a last-gasp effort by bitter, partisan Democrats who because of the November elections, will be out of power in January."

Democratic Gov. Roy E. Barnes, who lost his re-election bid earlier this month, appointed the members of the school board.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 22, Issue 13, Page 18

Published in Print: November 27, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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