From the Seattle Times and boy, these reporters pull no punches after they explain how Bush offered 3 times the money ($9.7M leased or $3.75 purchased) as First AME church who offered $2.4M (mostly in taxpayer dollars). The reporters lay out the oddities:
• The district staff changed the way it handled and evaluated offers for the building, which pushed the church's proposal to the head of the pack.
• Then-Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson shot down The Bush School's high offer, at the same time urging voters to pass a $48 million levy.
• One former district employee told The Seattle Times that her boss, Fred Stephens, director of the district's property division and an influential First AME congregant, was determined as early as 2007 to help the church get the school property.
• The district did little to investigate the accuracy of the church's proposal — while closely scrutinizing and ultimately rejecting a similar, competing bid from another community group.
Meanwhile, First AME made grand claims about its plans for the 1.9-acre site.
The story goes on to explain that even 7 months after the sale, First AME has just one tenant. They have no summer school program in place, just a summer day-care program run by another agency. The church is also backpedaling over neighborhood use of the playground, citing liability concerns.
I didn't know this but in spring 209, the Legislature had put aside $1M for a nonprofit to buy the school. At that point, the district opened up the bidding process.
The article also brings up issues surrounding former Facilities head, Fred Stephens.
In early 2007, months after the school was shut, Stephens called a meeting with two employees, telling them, "We have to get that property into the hands of the church," according to Eleanor Trainor, a former capital-projects community liaison who was at the meeting.
(I remember Eleanor and she was a smart cookie. It was loss when she left the district.)
Another familiar player comes into the mix - facilities legal counsel, Ron English. He says he verbally asked Fred Stephens to recuse himself because of Fred's long-time ties to First AME. Naturally, there is no record because it was face-to-face. You would have thought English might think to do this in writing and cc someone.
English also did something the district had never done before:
In an unprecedented move, English posted the bids online for anyone to see. English then invited all the bidders to "refine" their proposals.
CCC made no changes, but First AME beefed up its proposal. It eventually included cooking classes and a computer lab, which mirrored CCC's proposal.
The CCC (Citizens for a Community Center) noted that by then several e-mails had been cc'ed to Fred Stephens. English said the info in those emails was public so it was okay. (If Fred was out of the loop, he should have been out of the loop and HE could find the info himself. I'd bet that the conversation between Fred and Ron included the words from Fred, "keep me informed.")
Here's where it gets interesting for Mr. English:
The next month, English concluded that CCC and First AME, as low bidders, did not meet the requirement to provide 50 percent of the space for youth programs or social services. Therefore, The Bush School's high bid was the best choice, according to a draft analysis, which he prepared.
But Bush never got the building. English said he can't remember why.
He can't remember why? It's his job to know why.
Then, in spring 2010, another legislator, Adam Kline, along with two others, secured another $1.5M for a non-profit to buy MLK. So it went back to bidding except English changed the formula.
This time, however, English went by a different formula and determined that First AME's proposal offered the most support for youth education, even though the church was the lowest bidder.
Asked by The Times how he made that call, English said some of his analysis involved guesswork. He couldn't explain how he verified the accuracy of the groups' claims of support for youth education.
Yet, English challenged the CCC proposal and held it to different standards. For example, he questioned the group about some youth programs it planned to offer — and disqualified one that included helping adults. English acknowledged he did not fact-check key components of the First AME proposal.
And this as well:
The sales agreement requires the owner to use half the property to support youth education for 40 years or risk financial penalties. English said the district does not keep tabs on property owners, such as First AME, to see if they use the buildings as promised.
What!? If these requirements are key to the sale, and to a sale at a lower amount than the market will pay, the district should be keeping track of what happens.
This is real money. I can't believe the Board lets this stuff happen.
The story has over 100 comments which is a large number for any story
Thank you to Stu for this alert.