Sedona Oak-Creek School District has admitted to not following policy while procuring the services of the Kur Carr Group public relations firm.
“A SOCSD administrative review of the vendor procurement process to secure vendor services showed that a recent application was not followed according to district policy,” the district stated in a press release Dec. 21. “The review was in response to questions raised about the procurement process in obtaining the services of The Kur Carr Group to provide public relations services.”
Three out of four vendors that SOCSD Finance Director Colleen Toscano claims she contacted according to an “Oral/Written Quote Form” did not recall talking to any representative of SOCSD during the alleged procurement process conducted Aug. 6 and 10.
When asked if the individuals Toscano listed would confirm the conversations took place, Toscano explicitly told the Sedona Red Rock News, “I would imagine, yeah, I contacted all of them.”
Yet the only vendor to confirm hearing from SOCSD was Kur Carr Group president Steve Carr, whose firm was ultimately awarded the $20,000 contract. The other three vendors said they never spoke to Toscano, nor any SOCSD representative, nor anyone from Sedona.
“Although the financial level of the procurement in question permitted the district business office to obtain verbal quotes rather than issue a full Request for Proposal, the review found that all of the required verbal quotes were not obtained before issuing the purchase order for the vendor,” the press release continued. “District Finance Director Colleen Toscano acknowledged and has apologized for the departure from the district policy, attributing the oversight to the press of district finance and accounting business at the beginning of the school year.
“SOCSD Superintendent David Lykins said that although the delay in obtaining competitive quotes would not have affected the ultimate awarding of the contract to the Kur Carr Group, the agency has offered to resign the account and the district will cancel the existing contract.”
Lykins did not indicate how the contract would have been awarded to the Kur Carr Group if the other firms never had the opportunity to submit any bids. Lykins also did not state from what source, if any, Toscano relied on to generate the false data and make it appear Kur Carr Group would be the lowest bid.
“Lykins said that stricter procurement oversight policies have been put in place and that the district has not determined whether to revisit the process to retain a public relations agency,” the release stated.
While the Kur Carr Group’s contract has allegedly been canceled, Carr himself generated the Dec. 21 press release. It is not known whether this action was taken prior to or following the cancelation of the Kur Carr Group’s contract.
SOCSD Governing Board member Bobbie Surber praised the district for admitting fault, but questioned Lykins’ defense of hiring the Kur Carr Group without obtaining competing quotes.
“The press release stated it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it should have,” Surber said Dec. 29.
According to Surber, Lykins called the board members prior to sending out the press release, assuring them that he had been working with the district’s attorney, C. Benson Hufford, during the administrative review process. Surber added that in all likelihood the board would meet in executive session during its January meeting to discuss Toscano’s actions and any resulting disciplinary measures. By law, personnel issues are discussed privately among the board and its attorney.
Regardless, Surber said that she will be asking for a discussion of the procurement process to be added to the January agenda. Surber explained that although Toscano’s actions are “now something that can’t be discussed in public,” there are still unanswered questions as to why the district felt the need to hire a public relations firm in August — a decision, according to Surber, the board had not been privy to.
“That’s why I still want to talk about the process in public,” Surber added. “I don’t understand the whole sequence of events.”
On Dec. 29, SOCSD Governing Board member Zachary Richardson said that Toscano has been “crucified” for a minor misstep.
“This is a dedicated employee who goes above and beyond,” Richardson said, recounting a period during the 2014-15 school year when Toscano worked full time during her planned maternity leave. According to Richardson, state budget cuts over the last decade have gutted the district office staff, which went from approximately 15 employees to four — with, Richardson added, no reduction in staff members’ combined responsibility.
However, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, falsifying information on an oral quote form could result in major legal consequences for SOCSD. If an audit reveals suspicion and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office reports it to the Auditor General, the Arizona State Board of Education could recommend withholding 10 percent of all state aid to the district.
“She’s got so much to do, something’s going to fall through the cracks,” Richardson said of Toscano. “I don’t blame her at all …. She didn’t profit from this. It was a mistake.”
According to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, there is no provision in state law exempting a school district or an employee from penalties in falsifying official public records.
Lykins and SOCSD Governing Board President Tommy Stovall did not respond to inquiry by press time. BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS