Tuesday, May 17, 2016 || Originally Published: The Forest Park Review || By Matthew Hendrickson
Several Proviso School District 209 board members have targeted board Vice President Dan Adams over a contract agreement he approved in 2014, which they say happened without approval from the board.
Members Claudia Medina, Ned Wagner and Theresa Kelly wrote the district’s state appointed Financial Oversight Panel, May 10, asking for their assistance in drafting a plan for the district that would prevent a board president from entering into such agreements in the future without board approval. Additionally, the letter asks the FOP to consider removing Adams from the school board.
Wagner stopped short of agreeing that the letter explicitly called for Adam’s removal. He and other board members want advice on what sort of consequences the FOP would recommend for Adams under the circumstances, he said.
Adams, who was the board’s president in 2014, approved a contract signed by Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart on May 22, 2014 to hire Restore Construction to renovate 10 rooms at Proviso East High School after they were damaged by an electrical fire on May 10, 2014.
The contract was not voted on by the school board for approval.
Adams said Monday he approved the no-bid contract with Restore as an emergency measure to get the work done before the school reopened for the 2014-2015 school year.
“Nothing was done maliciously,” Adams said. “Our main concern was to get the school open by September.”
Adams also approved an amended agreement with Restore Construction nine weeks later on Aug. 12, 2014, which agreed that the district would pay the company for any work not covered by the district’s insurance provider, as well as any attorney fees Restore might incur if they brought the district to court over payment. It also gave Restore Construction power of attorney to approve documents without board approval.
In their letter to the FOP, the three board members claim that by approving the amended agreement without the board’s consent, Adams violated his oath of office as president. Additionally, they wrote, the agreement Adams signed opened the district up to more than $1.8 million in liability plus interest that may not be covered by the district’s insurer, as well as legal fees.
Adams said he does not recall approving the amended agreement.
“Sometimes it’s late and you’re just signing things because you want to go home,” he said, adding that all members of the board are equally to blame, as well as district staff, for the terms of the amended agreement.
“You expect the people that work for you to do their job and look these over,” he said.
Adams said he could not remember if he asked anyone in the district, including the district’s attorneys, to review the document before he signed it. He said he asked the district’s current counsel if the agreement had been reviewed and was told it wasn’t.
“I think there is plenty of blame to go around for everyone,” he said.
He believed other board members were aware of the contract and agreement at the time it was approved although it was not on the board’s agenda that night.
The district’s insurer, Travelers Indemnity Company, claimed Restore’s original estimate for the work was $4.2 million. A memo written by Travelers’ attorney in June last year claimed they paid out more than $5.5 million to Restore for the work before it was stopped when renovations were still not completed a year after the fire.
Further, Travelers claimed that Restore could only provide documentation for a third of the money they said they were owed.
The attorney wrote: “Given that Restore has failed to provide documentation … we can only conclude that Restore has willfully withheld documentation and purposefully misled Travelers.”
Restore sued District 209 in October last year for breach of contract and claimed they were owed more than $7.2 million for the job. Because of the amended agreement, Restore claimed the district was required to pay $1.8 million for the difference, as well as interest and attorney’s fees.
The district filed a motion to dismiss the suit in January, claiming the board never voted to approve the agreement. Because the board never voted, the district claims the contract is null and void.
Adams said that because he could not recall approving the amended agreement, he could not remember why the amended agreement was brought to him in the first place.
“How did that contract get in front of him?” Wagner asked. “Amending [the contract] in August is no longer an emergency. Why was this not brought before the board? Why was it not reviewed? It’s beyond fishy.”
The Cook County Chronicle reported that Restore Construction donated more than $10,000 to former Proviso Board President Chris Welch and gave $16,000 over 11 years to Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico.
Adams is employed by the village of Melrose Park and was appointed to the president’s seat in 2013 when Welch stepped down to become state representative for Illinois 7th District.
Adams denied that political pressure contributed to his approval of the contract and the subsequent amended agreement with Restore.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Adams said. “I had no clue who Restore Construction was.”
Adams said the letter sent to the FOP was a “political stunt” and added that he has a low opinion of the board members who signed it.
“Honestly, I think they’re a bunch of morons, so I don’t care what they do,” he said, adding that the letter is retribution for his vote at a May 6 special board meeting where Adams, Brian Cross, Teresa McKelvy and Kevin McDermott voted to change a board policy that reduced the president’s term from two years to one year. The board then voted to hold a board election where McKelvy was named president and Adams was named vice president.
The move was harshly criticized by Kelly, Medina and Wagner, as well as members of the public, as a blatant political move to remove Kelly and Medina as the board’s president and vice president midway through their terms without giving justification.
Wagner said the letter to the FOP had nothing to do with Adams’ votes that led to unseating Kelly. In fact, he said, he and Medina have been asking questions about how a multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract could ever have been approved without a board vote, much less how that contract was amended with such unfavorable terms. Medina and Wagner were elected to the board in 2015.
“The public needs to know about this,” Wagner said. “Our school district has a horrible reputation in the community for looking corrupt. When you look at something like this, it gives the impression that it was done on purpose.”
Wagner and Medina attended the FOP’s April 26 meeting to request their guidance on the lawsuit and asked for a joint FOP and board of education meeting within a week to discuss it. When no joint meeting was scheduled two weeks later, Wagner said the letter was drafted to show the FOP they were serious.
“Where was the FOP when this contract was signed?” Wagner said. “Where were they when the amended agreement was approved? They’re supposed to be overseeing us and we want oversight on this.” VFP