Board blocks school officer

Business official, ending suspension, faces unsure future

Duties are reassigned

Power is stripped after his approval of questionable deals

June 30, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

A senior city education official who handed out no-bid consulting work and vacationed with a contractor has been stripped of his power to award millions of dollars in school contracts.

Wilbur C. Giles Jr., the school business officer, is in the final days of a four-week suspension for his part in a contracting controversy. Giles is to return to work Monday, but in the meantime, the school board has restructured his job, raising questions about his future.

Determined to improve the way city schools do business, the school board decided this week to remove contracting and purchasing from Giles' control, making them an independent operation that will report directly to the chief financial officer.

The move, recommended by a recent state audit that found a potential for conflicts in Giles' job, effectively eliminates the need for the $96,000-a-year position he has held for 16 months.

Reached at home, Giles said he was unaware of the board's action. He also said he was unsure whether he would be back next week, when his suspension is over.

"You're the first one that's informed me," he said. "I don't know how to respond. I don't know anything about it."

Baltimore education chief Robert Booker said Giles would be put back on the school payroll Monday and would "continue to be the business services officer."

Booker, who is departing today at the end of his two-year tenure at the helm of the 103,000-student district, has written Giles a letter to that effect. He said Giles' duties will be the same as before his promotion to business officer in February 1999. Before then, Giles spent six years supervising school facilities, transportation and food services.

Uncertain duties

Several board members say they're uncertain what job Giles is returning to. The position of business officer was effectively abolished, they say, when the board voted Tuesday night to split off contracting responsibilities. And the school system has a facilities director.

The board action Tuesday didn't directly address Giles' future. Interviews later in the week showed school officials were still trying to answer that question.

`Process of evaluation'

Board President J. Tyson Tildon called the situation a dilemma and said he is waiting for the outcome of an investigation into the consulting deals that stemmed from a $12.3 million energy-savings program. He also said the new schools chief, Carmen V. Russo, might make other changes.

"We're still in the process of evaluation," Tildon said. "We don't want to be inappropriate in our actions. We want there to be a due process."

An outside auditor was hired to investigate a month ago after The Sun reported that two consultants had received no-bid deals that weren't approved in advance by the school board. They were hired to finance and manage the energy project that is being run by Giles.

One contract went to Columbia financial broker J.P. Grant, who borrowed money for the school district. He is making at least $1 million in fees, by the district's estimate, up to eight times the industry standard.

Grant and Giles are friends, and they went on a four-day golfing vacation in March at a luxury resort in Puerto Rico.

The other contract went to a Baltimore energy-planning firm, Carnegie Morgan Resource Management, which came up with the idea to lower utility costs. The company was chosen by Giles, without considering competitors, to manage the program under a $670,000 agreement that wasn't approved by the school board until seven months later.

The disclosures led to Giles' suspension and the resignation of the chief financial officer, Roger Reese. Reese, who was Giles' boss, handled the financing agreement and signed for Booker.

Regaining control

Troubled by learning belatedly about the consulting work, the school board has taken steps to tighten financial controls and has asked top officials to sign affidavits assuring that they don't have conflicts of interest.

New spending rules were put into effect Tuesday night requiring that virtually all contracts over $15,000 be competitively bid and approved in writing by the board. The board's new policies on consulting and other professional services are more stringent than state law.

Several changes had been recommended by an accounting firm hired by the state two months ago to review the schools' financial operations. At the time, the school system lacked formal spending rules, though it had been independent of City Hall for nearly three years.

One finding was that Giles' oversight of facilities and contracting "could interfere with the objectivity needed by the procurement department." That led to the board's action this week.

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