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Warning On Missed Funds Unheeded

Ex-School Projects Manager Says He Pointed Out 'Oversight' To Building Commitee In 2011

Jenna Carlesso

April 02, 2013

A former Diggs Construction employee and city resident said he notified the Hartford School Building Committee and a member of the city council in 2011 that Diggs and city officials had failed to recoup millions of dollars in state reimbursements for school construction projects.

Jose Rendon, a city resident who was in charge of certified payrolls for Diggs until he left the company in 2010, said he knew the company had failed to properly submit paperwork in seeking the reimbursements. Diggs was the program manager for the school projects from 2003 to 2010.

Rendon, who lives in Hartford's South End, told the school building committee during a public comment session in April 2011 about the problems. He also submitted a letter to the committee chairman at the time, John Motley.

"As the city is looking at consolidation of services, staff reductions and other cost-cutting measures, I am concerned that this potential funding gap has not been factored in budget conversations," Rendon wrote in the letter, referring to the reimbursements. "I am bringing this issue to the Hartford School Building Committee to ensure that you are aware of the issue, but more importantly, to ask that this glaring oversight not be placed at the feet of city taxpayers."

The city has hired a consultant to try to recover as much as $27 million in state reimbursements for the projects, some of which date back to 2003 and earlier.

Paperwork submitted to the state for reimbursement -- for projects overseen by Diggs Construction, the board of education and Pinnacle One -- was incomplete or incorrect, city officials have said.

When the state warned city and school officials about the paperwork problems, they either did not respond or did not take the appropriate action to resolve them, state officials said.

Motley said Monday that after he received Rendon's letter, he passed along the information to the new program manager, ARCADIS/O&G, and to city officials, such as then-Chief Operating Officer David Panagore and James A. Keaney Jr., director of capital projects at the time, who began to look into the issues.

"Something this big is not something someone in authority would ignore," Motley said. "It's a huge issue."

The city so far has been paid about 95 percent of the total amount that the state will reimburse, or about $550 million, city officials said. The $27 million represents the final 5 percent, and was delayed because of issues with change orders on the projects, city officials said.

In an effort to recoup the money -- at a time when the city is facing a $9.4 million budget deficit this year and an estimated $70 million shortfall in the next -- the city hired Christopher M. Roof of Phoenix Architectural Management LLC in Hartford. Roof and city employees have reached out to members of the board of education at the time, the construction companies and others to get paperwork and signatures.

The $27 million stems from 20 projects performed at 18 different city schools, mostly renovations meant to bring the schools up to building and safety codes.

The school building committee has formed a subcommittee that deals with change orders for school construction projects, Motley pointed out. It meets monthly, he said. If no issues arise, the subcommittee recommends approval of the change orders to the school building committee.

Rendon said that later in 2011, he also discussed the reimbursement issues with city Councilman Larry Deutsch and forwarded him the letter.

Reached by phone Monday, Deutsch said he recalled that Rendon expressed concerns, but couldn't remember the substance of the conversation. He said he could not recall if he conducted any follow-up.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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