(Originally published December 26, 2006.)
Individually, Diana Gott and W.D. Gott Construction have both been good for the Hesperia Unified School District. Together, there’s a problem.
Gott has been the district’s director of facilities planning for more than 15 years, overseeing the construction of new schools in the booming school district.
Upland-based W.D. Gott Construction has built a number of those schools, including Ranchero Middle School, Mojave High School and Mesquite Trails Elementary School.
But the company will not be building Mission Crest Elementary School, set to open during the 2007-2008 school year, despite turning in the lowest bid for the project this fall.
Two years ago, Diana married Terry Gott, the vice-president of W.D. Gott Construction. As a result, she cannot oversee contracts between the district and her husband’s construction company without violating state conflict of interest laws, according to school board members.
In a special session last Tuesday, the Hesperia Unified School District school board voted 5-0 to throw out the bid for Mission Crest Elementary School and to begin soliciting new bids. The W.D. Gott Construction bid, at $14,272,000, was $11,000 cheaper than the next lowest bid, from Riverside-based ASR Constructors.
“My concern,” said school board president Bruce Minton during the meeting, “Is if we have bids submitted by Gott Construction, can we repeatedly have her recuse herself from the projects? ”On a repeated basis, that might be a lot to impose on other members of our staff.”
“They’ve done fine work, there’s no question of the quality of work,” board member Hardy Black said Thursday. “It’s just a conflict of interest.”
Although all the construction bids for Mission Crest were sealed, Gott will supervise the construction process once the contract is awarded.
“It’s not practical for her to be isolated, being in the position she’s in,” Black said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation all around, it’s kind of a bad thing.
“Well, we’ve been told that the district won’t accept bids from us as long as Diana is there,” Mike Gott, the president of W.D. Gott Construction, and Diana’s brother-in-law, said Friday.
Legal counsel for the district had previously told school officials that Diana could stay in her current position without violating state law. According to her brother-in-law, Diana had offered to take different jobs, both in the HUSD and in another school district, to avoid the problem, but had been told by officials that she should stay on as the director of facilities planning.
District plans currently call for Mission Crest Elementary School to open during the 2007-2008 school year and to serve approximately 900 students.
“From our point of view, the district’s point of view, this delays the project,” Black said. How much of a delay, though, remains to be seen. “If we have good weather and can get the bids back in by the end of January, it shouldn’t affect it.”
“They’re not going to make that date, I don’t think,” Gott said. He estimates the school will be delayed two or three months. And further, “it’s quite possible that this contract will come in several hundred thousand dollars more expensive.”
Although the difference between the bids by Gott Construction and ASR Constructors was only $11,000, the next-lowest bid was $703,000 more expensive than ASR. With Gott Construction out of the picture, Mike Gott said, he expects the new bids to come in closer to the $14,989,000 bid from Rossetti Construction.
“I feel the district was more concerned about appearances than really doing their job,” said Mike Gott. “You should be concerned with getting your constituents the best deal you can, because you are the keepers of the taxpayers’ money.”
Board members “shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for the staff, but the staff had already implemented the procedures by which Diana could stay in her job,” Gott said. Independent bodies do much of the project oversight, he said, including outside architects, state reviewers and outside engineers.
Black said Diana Gott’s situation is a problem that the previous school board should have resolved two years ago.
“It’s terrible we inherited this problem and had to take care of it,” Black said, “And I can’t believe it wasn’t picked up earlier.”
“I just never dreamed that the board would take the action it took,” Mike Gott said.
In other matters on Tuesday, board member Robert Kirk directed staff to look into retaining Riverside law firm Wagner & Pelayes as district counsel.
The firm’s name might be familiar to High Desert residents: Partner Dennis Wagner was appointed to serve as interim counsel for San Bernardino County by Supervisor Bill Postmus earlier this year. The firm also represents City Councilman Tad Honeycutt as well as other individuals named in the 2005 audit of the California Charter Academy, a Victorville-based chain of charter schools that went under in 2004 amidst allegations of misusing $23 million in taxpayer funds.
Black also announced his intention to look into revising several board bylaws at a future meeting.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.