School board breaks with Harrison Planning Group

Published October 18, 2016 by justicewg

Board members Douglass, Palmisciano, Super Culp, Evans, Tres. Collier, Truett, Pres. Brannan did not attend.

The school board set up a short notice special meeting at 8:15 in the morning on October 18th, and announced the immediate end of the relationship with Harrison Planning Group, citing “unprofessional behavior and attacks on board and task force members” (according to member Truett), and claiming that HPG did not want to continue working with the board.

The board picked Harrison Planning Group in January of this year, signing a $67K contract to do facility assessment (with an option for $27K more for further service), produce documentation of facility replacement costs, facilitate meetings with the public to explain those documents, and recommendations for directions the school could take in upgrading the schools. HPG attended the first facility meeting with the public on Aug. 24, and presented the findings on the school facilities.

The board’s explanation for the break with HPG

Board member Jessie Truett, on the facility committee, spend most of the 8:15 AM meeting explaining why the board is ending its relationship with HPG.

Truett said HPG was keeping some documents confidential, and didn’t live up to the “transparency” requested by the board (the word transparency is a favorite of Truett, he used it at least 15 times in the meeting).

This is an odd complaint from the board, were they saying that HPG was keeping some documents secretly, and not releasing them to the board? Because the only group that can release documents is the board, HPG was not expected to release them to the public (consultants release documents to the people who pay them).

Truett said HPG was making specific options for the facility process, and labeling them with dollar numbers. Apparently the board wanted something less specific, and was afraid the cost estimates would be used as hard figures.

The way you get exactly what you want from a consultant is to specify expected documents and the scope of the work to be done. If this doesn’t work as expected, is it a fault of the contractor? Or the board which was supposed to give good project scope instructions, and supervise the work output?

Finally, HPG was hired with the condition that they would not be eligible for any facility or architectural work done in the future at the school, in order to prevent any possibility that HPG might be self-dealing future contracts. This was acceptable to HPG. However, HPG was using sub-contractors who might be eligible for work at the school in the future.

According to Truett, when the board asked Kevin Harrison to not use any contractor who might bid on future work, “he took our request personally, responding in an unprofessional manner, verbally attacked members of the task force and the board of education, and responded that he didn’t want to work with us any more.”

Again, this points to a deficiency in the contract and scope of planning with HPG, if the board didn’t want sub-contracters with eligibility for future work, they should have said so. I’ve been told that the pool of firms which might do this sub-contracting is small, and finding any who would do the work with the stipulation of no future contracts would be nearly impossible.

Truett said that HPG had been paid for the work they had done, and was in possession of all documents that were created by HPG up to this point, and that the board would end the relationship with no financial entanglements.

This is questionable – as the creator of the facility documents that are the basis of the process, HPG was uniquely able to answer questions about how those assessments and projections were created. Any successor that will be facilitating the process from now on will be struggling to catch up. Is HPG expected to pass off the work product for free, and not be paid for any consultation with the new company?

What is HPG’s side of the story?

I don’t expect Kevin Harrison of HPG will do any responding for requests for his side of the story. It doesn’t help to re-litigate a bad ending.

We can guess how this might have gone down from his perspective. He might say he was given poor instructions, and he was simply doing what he has done in all the past work with schools.

Harrison Planning group list 33 years of experience in consulting and facilities construction, and a few of the local schools who have used the company are Miami-Trace Local Schools, Washington Courthouse, New Albany – Plain Local School District, New Albany, Dayton Regional Stem School , and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC).

If he was a difficult person to work with, I don’t think his resume would be this large. I’m guessing the problem was the board members who pushed for an outcome that was obviously what they wanted from the beginning – a recommendation to tear down and build new schools. A consultant who had integrity would resist this meddling with the process, and when pushed, tell them to shove it.

The facilities process continues

The Facility Task force will be meeting next week, and will be working to find a new firm to continue the Facility process with the community. Too bad you can’t attend and ask them what they think of the HPG mess – Superintendent Culp again said that the Task force is a closed group, and you can’t attend meetings.

So much for transparency

There were 13 community members that attended the morning meeting, much to the shock of the board (most morning meetings have no one but the board). Two of the attendees pointed out the poor action of the board in sneaking this bad news into a special morning session, when the board had a regular meeting at 7PM in the same day. They said the board is hiding its failure with HPG by making the announcement at a meeting that would have no attendees (message to clueless board members, word always gets out in a small town). The board tried to give a lame excuse that the facilities business was not on the regular meeting agenda, but plenty of regular meetings have revised agendas. And they did have time to announce a special morning meeting – they could have tacked it on to the evening, no issues at all.

(Later) Now that I have reviewed the video (posted below), I’m getting more ticked off at the way Truett handled this meeting. His response to the appropriate and not at all insulting questions about the morning meetings was for Truett to start talking about decorum at the board meeting, and how he doesn’t want to get in a discussion questioning if the board is making appropriate choices.

Superintendent Culp, sprouting a week’s worth of beard from a vacation that ended Monday, claimed he was responsible for the morning meeting. How lame can you get.

After the break, the video of the Board meeting.

I’m really not understanding why that Truett and the board had to be so insulting with calling out Kevin Harrison over this break. Maybe it was true – but it doesn’t help the reputation of either party to go public with this level of insult. Most breaks between companies and schools use the old “we decided that we could not see eye to eye, so we decided it was best for both to go our own ways”.

I really hope that Truett has documentation for what he said about HPG, because if this is just Truett and the board giving a “screw that guy” ending, because they didn’t like him standing up to the pressure to give them a “tear the old school down” recommendation, they just opened the school up to a substantial lawsuit.

Truett comments on the number of people attending, and says “maybe we should do all our meetings at this hour,” and someone in the room snaps back “NO”.

A community member asks to speak, and points out that it was a terrible idea as far as openness with the public to hold this meeting about a vital part of the facility process as a short notice special morning meeting, especially when there was a evening board meeting scheduled the same day.

The board sits in silence for a while, then Truett starts talking about decorum at the board meeting, and how he doesn’t want to get in a discussion questioning if the board is making appropriate choices.

A second member of the public speaks to support the first speaker, and expresses questions about why the subject of this morning meeting couldn’t be discussed in the evening regular meeting.

Check out board member Evans comment at about the half-way point in this vid. She was just given very serious news that potentially could sink the facility process, and her response is “I was just. .. I just think … we will be in an OK position, right? Not ideal, but Ok, right?

Did we elect a child to the board, who needs to be reassured that “everything will be OK, Ms. Evans, don’t worry your little head”?

If Culp was out of town until late in the evening the day before the meeting, he had nothing to do with scheduling this morning board meeting. His craven covering for the board members who were responsible for trying to pull a sneak meeting might be expected for a Grandview superintendent who knows his job is to fall on the sword, but it stinks, and the board sitting there and letting him take the heat for their crap stinks too.

(Later) Maybe you are reading about this break with HPG and thinking, “so what, the board can just hire someone else, and continue”. What you are not getting – the number of consultants who do this kind of work is small, and they talk to each other. HPG was one of the most respected consultants, he knows everyone, and any consultant who might try to take this job will talk to him. If he can show that the Grandview board has some jerks who were impossible to work with – and he doesn’t need to do this in public, just private conversations – nobody with self respect and who isn’t an inexperienced flake who is desperate for money will take the job.

No, Ms. Evans, it’s not going to be OK.

Board refuses to answer questions from local media

(Later) It looks like it was a good thing to record the board meeting, the board is now refusing to comment on why they broke with Harrison Planning.

This makes no sense – if they went public with accusations of poor performance during the board meeting, why are they now refusing to answer to questions from the media? The only reason I can come up with is that they were in a mood to lash out at Kevin Harrison at the meeting, but after they thought about it, they decided a “no comment” was a better reply. So for the average Grandview resident who doesn’t follow the social media commentary, and depends on the newspaper, the ending of the relationship with HPG will be a mystery.

And the board will continue to claim “we are honest and open with the public”.

(Update on videos – I moved them to a new YT channel for videos that will be featured on this blog, the view count is reset to zero. The original part #1 had more than 190 hits before the move.)

2 comments on “School board breaks with Harrison Planning Group

  • Ask for the group’s letter from when they quit. Public record. This is about a single board member being inappropriate. Not about HPG. They have a great reputation.

  • Wow, this is quite a story. Well written and very informative. Thank you very much for doing this.

    I suspect that the “attacks on board and task force members” is just the school board’s way of saying that HPG wasn’t going to ram the construction of new buildings down the community’s throats.

    Jesse Truett better watch what he says here. HPG has a rather stellar reputation – unlike Jesse – and Jesse could find himself and/or GHCS getting sued if he misrepresents things between HPG and the board. HPG’s reputation is important for their livelihood, meaning they can sue for damages.

    Not that Jesse would have the mental capacity to think beyond “just do whatever Grant tells me to do.”

    I think the board has been very angry about the high turnout for the facilities meetings. I think they were hoping that only Debbie’s and Stephanie’s husbands would show up and thank them for their awesome work on showing us that we need new buildings. Instead, lots of people have attended and voiced their opinion that they want the old buildings fixed up.

    And if HPG made any mention of the fact that it would be possible to fix up the old buildings, I could easily see the board getting very angry. That would represent quite an attach on the school board.

    I could be mistaken, but I really don’t think Grant Douglass wants to be or would be selected to construct the new schools. I think that would be a bigger job than Grant and his company would be able to perform. I instead think that Grant wants to be remembered 50 years from now as the visionary/leader who stepped up and bravely led GHCS to the promised land. It’s all ego for this guy.

    In reality, Grant’s company would be a much better fit to just fix up the existing facilities. But there’s not much glory in putting a new roof on an old dumpy school building.

    I’ve read this before, and I don’t have trouble buying into it: Grant Douglass wants the new high school named after him. Does anybody really believe that an unnamed group of Grandview residents came forward and asked the board to rename the middle school after Larry Larson? Nothing at all against Larry Larson, but such a movement doesn’t happen until Larry passes away, if it even happens then. (Again, I wish Larry nothing but the best.) Grant initiated the movement to rename the middle school in order to get Grandview folks softened up to the idea of naming the schools after local heroes.

    This is going to be an interesting campaign…

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