BOE mulls legal services, change order issues

Published Jul 15, 2017 at 4:00pm

A shortened agreement for a legal firm’s services in order to seek a possible alternative, and a tabled resolution on construction project change-order expenses, are unresolved items among procedures annually set by the Board of Education.

The topics were debated during the board’s annual reorganization meeting last week. The school district’s 2017-18 fiscal year began July 1, and concludes June 30, 2018.

• The board voted 6-3 to amend a resolution that called for the Ferrara Fiorenza P.C. firm of East Syracuse to continue as the school district’s legal counsel of record for another year; the amendment shortened the term to three months. The board then voted 6-3 to approve the three-month term. Board members suggested seeking bids for the legal counsel agreement, after some questioned the expenses that have been involved.

Voting against the amendments and against the revised resolution were board President Paul Fitzpatrick, Vice President Paul Hagerty and Clerk Timothy Safin.

Among board members questioning the existing agreement were John Leonard and Joseph Mellace. Both wondered whether less costly rates might be available through other firms.

The district spends about $90,000-$100,000 annually on retainer fees, said Superintendent Peter C. Blake, plus there are additional expenses for services billed by the hour as needed. The district also uses some local attorney services, but “very rarely,” Blake noted. The district spends about $300,000-$400,000 overall on legal expenses.

The Ferrara firm has been the district’s legal counsel of record for several years.

• The board voted 7-2 to table a resolution to allow the superintendent and board president to sign construction project change-orders for up to $10,000 per order without prior board approval.

Board members wanted to review the resolution to determine if it could be revised and clarified. Member John Leonard expressed concern that a contractor could get approvals for what actually is a larger expense category by dividing related construction stages into smaller expense items; for such instances, he wanted to ensure that contractors “don’t break it off separately...break it up...Put it in under different things.”

Voting against the tabling were Hagerty and Fitzpatrick. Hagerty said the existing approval system has been “never a problem.” Fitzpatrick said it is “under the heading of trust.”

However, Leonard emphasized the need to “trust and verify.” He said he was concerned about a boiler sizing issue for the Joy Elementary School renovation that was completed last year; the board last month tabled two change-orders for an additional $45,540 expense to cover the cost difference for two larger boilers needed. The sizing issue was due to errors in the project’s design phase, and some board members say the cost difference should be borne by businesses responsible for the error.

The boiler topic later was discussed during the board’s regular meeting portion, including a brief exchange between Hagerty and Mellace. When it was suggested that representatives of the March Associates architectural firm and the Sack & Associates company appear at a board buildings and grounds committee meeting to discuss the boilers, Mellace questioned whether they would appear or if an attorney would advise them not to. Hagerty cited a “good working relationship,” and said Mellace was “impugning people” that Hagerty has a “good deal of respect for.” Mellace replied he was not impugning them, and said if he was their attorney, he would advise them not to appear. Mellace is an attorney with a private practice.

During the reorganizational meeting, the board voted 6-3 to appoint March Associates to continue serving as the school district’s architect of record. Voting against it were Leonard, Safin and Lawrence Posselt.