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Was it a conflict of interest?

School districts awarded contract to architect who was doing work on home of top official.

Click on picture to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Was it a conflict of interest for two school districts to award major contracts to an architectural firm that was also doing work on the home of a top official with those districts?

Prosecutors with the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office are investigating the school boards' decisions to choose CJW Architecture as project architect for two major construction projects in the Woodside and Portola Valley school districts at the same time that CJW was remodeling the house of district official Tim Hanretty.

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Carter Warr, the principal architect at CJW Architecture in Portola Valley, told the Almanac that prosecutors in February requested documents concerning: a $12 million rebuild of Woodside Elementary School during 2006-07, when Mr. Hanretty was the school district's chief financial officer; a $2 million installation of solar-panel arrays at Corte Madera and Ormondale schools in the Portola Valley School District in 2011, when Mr. Hanretty was that school district's superintendent and financial officer; and remodeling projects for the Hanretty home taking place concurrently with both school projects.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed the investigation in an email. "At this point, since the case is under investigation, all we are saying is that our investigation (is) into the conduct of Mr. Hanretty," he wrote. "Our rule is that we will confirm whether we are investigating a matter, but we do not go into details."

Mr. Hanretty resigned his Portola Valley post in January when allegations were made public of financial improprieties during his tenure in Woodside. Prosecutors have since charged him with three felonies, including misappropriation of government funds in connection with loans made to the Woodside district for more money than the school board authorized. A preliminary hearing is set for Thursday, May 24.

As for the concurrent work, it was "well known" to the boards of both districts that CJW was already engaged in residential work for Mr. Hanretty, Mr. Warr said. "It was fully disclosed," he said in an interview.

Mr. Warr and Mr. Hanretty are personal friends, said Michael Markowitz, Mr. Hanretty's defense attorney. The boards learned of the concurrent work when Mr. Hanretty disclosed the facts, but he "took no part in the decision making" in the boards' choosing an architect, Mr. Markowitz said.

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Asked to comment, Portola Valley district board president Scott Parker, who came to the board in late 2009, disagreed. "I do not recall Mr. Hanretty sharing with the board that Mr. Warr was involved in his home's remodel," he said in an email. "Mr. Warr did not share this with the board."

The Almanac requested comment from Woodside Elementary board member Bettina Pike, who was on the board at the time of the decision to choose Mr. Warr as the architect of record for the school rebuilding project, but Ms. Pike had not responded by press time.

"There is no inherent legal problem" with concurrent work, said John Beiers, head of the county counsel's office, which represents public school districts in court. "Employees sometimes recommend vendors or consultants that they have personal, or professional experience with. ... It might raise questions for the board of the extent and basis of the relationship which could have some influence on whether a vendor is ultimately selected."

An employee runs afoul of conflict-of-interest regulations established by the Political Reform Act of 1974 only if the employee, through the making or influencing of a contract, realizes a personal financial benefit, Mr. Beiers said.

The basic guidelines on conflicts of interest, per government code section 18700, read as follows: "No public official at any level of state or local government may make, participate in making or in any way use or attempt to use his/her official position to influence a governmental decision in which he/she knows or has reason to know he/she has a disqualifying conflict of interest. A public official has a conflict of interest if the decision will have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on one or more of his/her economic interests, unless the public official can establish either: (1) that the effect is indistinguishable from the effect on the public generally, or (2) a public official's participation is legally required."

Tara Stock of the Fair Political Practices Committee declined to comment on a specific situation. But on its face, a generic situation like the one between Mr. Hanretty and Mr. Warr, including the full disclosures, did not seem problematic from the FPPC's point of view, she said.

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Was it a conflict of interest?

School districts awarded contract to architect who was doing work on home of top official.

Uploaded: Tue, May 22, 2012, 7:20 am

Click on picture to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Was it a conflict of interest for two school districts to award major contracts to an architectural firm that was also doing work on the home of a top official with those districts?

Prosecutors with the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office are investigating the school boards' decisions to choose CJW Architecture as project architect for two major construction projects in the Woodside and Portola Valley school districts at the same time that CJW was remodeling the house of district official Tim Hanretty.

Carter Warr, the principal architect at CJW Architecture in Portola Valley, told the Almanac that prosecutors in February requested documents concerning: a $12 million rebuild of Woodside Elementary School during 2006-07, when Mr. Hanretty was the school district's chief financial officer; a $2 million installation of solar-panel arrays at Corte Madera and Ormondale schools in the Portola Valley School District in 2011, when Mr. Hanretty was that school district's superintendent and financial officer; and remodeling projects for the Hanretty home taking place concurrently with both school projects.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed the investigation in an email. "At this point, since the case is under investigation, all we are saying is that our investigation (is) into the conduct of Mr. Hanretty," he wrote. "Our rule is that we will confirm whether we are investigating a matter, but we do not go into details."

Mr. Hanretty resigned his Portola Valley post in January when allegations were made public of financial improprieties during his tenure in Woodside. Prosecutors have since charged him with three felonies, including misappropriation of government funds in connection with loans made to the Woodside district for more money than the school board authorized. A preliminary hearing is set for Thursday, May 24.

As for the concurrent work, it was "well known" to the boards of both districts that CJW was already engaged in residential work for Mr. Hanretty, Mr. Warr said. "It was fully disclosed," he said in an interview.

Mr. Warr and Mr. Hanretty are personal friends, said Michael Markowitz, Mr. Hanretty's defense attorney. The boards learned of the concurrent work when Mr. Hanretty disclosed the facts, but he "took no part in the decision making" in the boards' choosing an architect, Mr. Markowitz said.

Asked to comment, Portola Valley district board president Scott Parker, who came to the board in late 2009, disagreed. "I do not recall Mr. Hanretty sharing with the board that Mr. Warr was involved in his home's remodel," he said in an email. "Mr. Warr did not share this with the board."

The Almanac requested comment from Woodside Elementary board member Bettina Pike, who was on the board at the time of the decision to choose Mr. Warr as the architect of record for the school rebuilding project, but Ms. Pike had not responded by press time.

"There is no inherent legal problem" with concurrent work, said John Beiers, head of the county counsel's office, which represents public school districts in court. "Employees sometimes recommend vendors or consultants that they have personal, or professional experience with. ... It might raise questions for the board of the extent and basis of the relationship which could have some influence on whether a vendor is ultimately selected."

An employee runs afoul of conflict-of-interest regulations established by the Political Reform Act of 1974 only if the employee, through the making or influencing of a contract, realizes a personal financial benefit, Mr. Beiers said.

The basic guidelines on conflicts of interest, per government code section 18700, read as follows: "No public official at any level of state or local government may make, participate in making or in any way use or attempt to use his/her official position to influence a governmental decision in which he/she knows or has reason to know he/she has a disqualifying conflict of interest. A public official has a conflict of interest if the decision will have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on one or more of his/her economic interests, unless the public official can establish either: (1) that the effect is indistinguishable from the effect on the public generally, or (2) a public official's participation is legally required."

Tara Stock of the Fair Political Practices Committee declined to comment on a specific situation. But on its face, a generic situation like the one between Mr. Hanretty and Mr. Warr, including the full disclosures, did not seem problematic from the FPPC's point of view, she said.

Comments

Joseph E. Davis
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 22, 2012 at 10:44 am
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

Let's see. Enormous amounts of taxpayer money. Relative lack of accountability and oversight, due to isolation from market forces. Fraud, waste, and corruption results.

Who could ever have predicted such an outcome?


Ann
another community
on May 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm
Ann, another community
on May 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Are building contracts awarded through open bidding? If not, why not?


PV Resident
Portola Valley: Westridge
on May 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Westridge
on May 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Why or why do two distrcits with such qualified parents and boards allow one man so much feedom financially? Where were the checks and balances to supervise this con?


Resident
Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm
Resident, Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm

The bigger question is why are there two school districts for a total of 3 or 4 schools? Menlo Park is the same way with MP School and Los Lomitas districts for a total of 6 schools. Do we really need three school districts with all the over paid Superintendents and support staffs costing tax payers millions of dollars a year. If the districts combined imagine the annual cost savings while probably performing at a higher level.
I am tired of bond measures for these school districts.. If they would just manage their money, we would save millions.


Conflicts
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on May 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm
Conflicts, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on May 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I would think the work of MarinIT would be of concern as well. They were the preferred technology company of Mr. Hanretty at both districts, involved in lucrative and possibly bid-free technology purchases, consultations, and service contracts.

The motives may be murky - could be personal favor or economic gain - but the practices seem to reveal more mismanagement and incompetence.

Why does a district serving 700-800 students (Portola Valley) need a 10-11 million dollar a year budget, and not be able to balance a budget even given those relative extremes in funding?

One factor may be preference to Portola Valley residents. The joke is often heard that PVSD is really the "Portola Valley Employment Agency"- hiring admin, staff, and contractors from within the Valley, often regardless of qualifications. This kind of public-private pork might be good for building connections and influence but seems bad for efficiency.


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Almanac staff writer
on May 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm
Dave Boyce, Almanac staff writer
Registered user
on May 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Re: the comment on an "open bid" process.

When seeking bids, a public agency commonly uses a request for proposals. When seeking professional services such as architecture, an agency tends to use a request for qualifications.

Mr. Hanretty's attorney, Michael Markowitz, told the Almanac that for both of these projects, the choice of architect was based on qualifications.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm

There is a difference between something being legal and something being right. It is unlikely that the reported actions will be found sufficient for prosecution but one would hope that our educators and elected officials would demonstrate a higher standard than the legal minimum - isn't that what education is all about?


PV Resident
Portola Valley: other
on May 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: other
on May 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Please be careful when posting judgemental statements without having facts. I have had the pleasure to work with Mr. Hanretty for many years and have always found him to be honorable, objective and he believed in full disclosure. What has happened to the doctrine of "innocent until proven guilty"? Our societal standards continue to sink lower and lower. Let's try to reserve judgement until the facts are known.


Joseph E. Davis
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm

It is clear that public education is about doing the minimum amount of work for the maximum amount of corruptly obtained taxpayer wealth.


Hmmm
another community
on May 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm
Hmmm, another community
on May 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

"Innocent until proven guilty" is the burden placed on prosecutors, not on the public. Having had good, honest experiences w/an official may or may not indicate guilt. But the question being asked is "Was it a conflict of interest." Mr. Davis used his "leetle gray cells" to lead him to one possible conclusion. Others may come to different conclusions, but the question that article asks still needs to be asked.


Loyden
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on May 23, 2012 at 6:54 am
Loyden, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on May 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

The question of oversight and accountability comes over and over again. What did the school boards know at Woodside and Portola Valley? What are the roles of the previous Superintendents in this affair? It is important to scrutinize what happened in light that Ann Campbell, the previous Superintendent at Portola Valley and now Superintendent of Education of San Mateo County, recommended Tim Hanretty for his post in Portola Valley? Was it incompetence or collusion?


Joe
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 23, 2012 at 9:04 am
Joe, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 23, 2012 at 9:04 am

Ignoring or otherwise disavowing the concept of "innocent until proven guilty," referring to it as a burden for the prosecution and not the public, strikes me as a medieval attitude at best.

The crowd is free to be ignorant, even proud of its ignorance. This is what's so demoralizing about the simplified version of reality proclaimed by the Tea Party.

It's a long tradition in this country, pride in ignorance. I'm reminded of it every time a cheer goes up at the phrase "land of the free" in the anthem. "We have no limitations! We are the exception! We are number 1."

Thoughtful intelligent people are what we want as citizenry, not drones out of a Monty Python movie.


Hmmm
another community
on May 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Hmmm, another community
on May 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I get equally tired of hearing people exclaiming "Innocent until proven guilty" as if that's the responsibility of each member of the public reading an article when it isn't. Everyone will come to their own conclusions no matter how much or how little evidence is presented in the news. Again, the question the headline asks is "Was it a conflict of interest?" Every time issues like these arise, the administrators look bad & it seems that even the possibility of conflict of interest is pretty easily avoided.

The question that Resident asks is a good one:
"The bigger question is why are there two school districts for a total of 3 or 4 schools? Menlo Park is the same way with MP School and Los Lomitas districts for a total of 6 schools. Do we really need three school districts with all the over paid Superintendents and support staffs costing tax payers millions of dollars a year. If the districts combined imagine the annual cost savings while probably performing at a higher level."

I recall my parents asking that question for years when I was growing up. It's a good time to revisit that question, given the problems w/Hanretty.


WES Parent
Woodside School
on May 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm
WES Parent, Woodside School
on May 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I'd like to comment on this article, as I was a parent at the Woodside Elementary School during the years being investigated.
I do not know if Mr. Hanretty is guilty or not, but I can share my experiences as a parent there.

First, Mr. Hanretty came to Woodside School I believe originally as a the person to run the IT of the school. He was (is) young, professional and interestingly (to many of us parents) always wore a coat and tie. WES is typically a pretty casual place. He then made a metoric rise quickly through the ranks with promotions. (Inside joke was it was because of the coat and tie. Nobody (parents)really knew anything about him.)

Throughout his tenure, once his status elevated to a certain level, he was part of the WES board and attended all the meetings. As a parent, my fellow parents and I had concerns about issues at the school (nothing related to this one - we didn't know about it) and would try to go to the board meetings. Our experience with attending board meetings to listen and to have a voice was not positive. The board was completely adverse to parental input and clearly uncomfortable when we attended. There is always a small time slot in the beginning of the meetings for comments from the public but it was unjust as we never had enough time alloted. (The agendas stated 15 minutes, but usually we were only given 5, hence stifling any opportunity for open discussion.)

What happened at the meetings is the last part (and clearly stated on the agendas) was not open for public attendance. So the board meetings would go at max 15 minutes and then kick out the "public" for the rest of the meeting. The meetings lasted at minimum an hour.

There was no transparency. A small number of people are making all the decisions regarding every aspect of the school.

The only exception I can remember, is when the board had decided to install 2 artificial turf fields. This created concerns but the board had made the decisions and wouldn't yield. So some parents then went online and started a petition to halt the fields for discussion. The petition had a significant number of people in support and was taken to a board meeting that was happening that week. To ensure that the board address the petition, the Almanac was notified of the meeting and the petition. The Almanac sent a reporter to the meeting and wrote about it. If the Almanac hadn't been present with the parents, we don't believe the board would have considered it. As a result a compromise was struck. One field was done in turf, the other left grass.

Due to the lack of transparency at the Woodside Elementary School board meetings, there is no way for us to know how decisions are made and where money is going. Only the board members know where that money went. If they don't, than they weren't doing their job. They kept the rest of us in the dark.


Susan Smith
Woodside: other
on May 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm
Susan Smith, Woodside: other
on May 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm

WES Parent: you are so correct. AT the Town of Woodside and County level the meetings are exactly the same. For example, Never was there time for the public to comment on the $3.5 million liver transplant the residents of San Mateo County had to pay out (after approval of the County BoS)for for an individual with over $100K in 401k monies...oh no, no time for public input because the issue was shoved to the back of the agenda in the sneaky way people do these things.....) this happens all the time. Thanks for pointing it out: this is our money and these people are elected by us: lets have some sunshine and transparency in public dealings, please, and better attendance which is encourages. Additionally, holding meetings at hours working people can not attend is eggregious, as well..


Matt R.
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on May 26, 2012 at 9:32 am
Matt R., Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on May 26, 2012 at 9:32 am

It might or might not be a conflict of interest. I would hope that there were competitive bidding on these large projects. If the awards were granted based on an open bid process, that's fine. But if not....

I've been trying to dig into PVSD expenditures, and I'm finding it difficult, at best. While there is lots of paper out there for review, there is litte detail (for PVSD) by project.


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