Incompetence 101

The school board policy forbade former school construction chief Ray de la Feuilliez from using his insider status to improperly drum up contracts for a new employer. The policy was promptly broken.

The construction firm of Church and Tower, founded by the late Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa, may as well have been branded with a scarlet letter b.

For bad, as in bad news.

Even though the firm was a financial success, the press was terrible, and its reputation suffered. In early 1999 Broward County sheriff Ken Jenne was pounding the company for delays and poor workmanship in building a $25 million jail in Pompano Beach. In Miami-Dade, Church and Tower was embroiled in a paving scandal that, even though no wrongdoing was proved against the firm, shredded its public image with allegations.

So it came as no surprise that, during this swirl of bad publicity, the School Board of Broward County rushed to fire Church and Tower in March 1999, terminating its contracts to build middle schools in Weston and Coconut Creek that were budgeted for a total of $37 million. The decision, made at a hastily called special meeting and ostensibly prompted by serious delays in construction, meant that a minimum of about $3 million in site work, architectural design, and actual construction, would be lost. Foundations and walls already built in Weston would be torn down, and a new contractor would come in and start all over again. Beyond the waste of time and money, a costly lawsuit revolving around the firing of Church and Tower was all but certain.

Missed in the highly charged, almost moblike atmosphere was the fact that there wasn't legal cause to terminate the contracts with Church and Tower. Lost in the rush to judgment was the fact that the school board's own construction manager and an outside firm agreed that the projects could have been completed on time. The delays, 120 days' worth, weren't critical, and school board staff members readily concede that some were caused by the school board itself. The decision to fire the firm was so ill-advised that the board's own Construction Overview Committee (COC), made up of respected building experts, disbanded and quit in disgust after the vote. The COC was outraged at the blatant waste of taxpayers' money. "They made that decision based on emotion and politics," says former COC chairman Tom Miller. "Good business had nothing to do with it."

Now, Church and Tower's attorney, Henry Adorno, is demanding $8.7 million from the school board, including claims of $3.9 million for work done and $4.8 million in lost profits, according to legal correspondence obtained by New Times. Adorno seems to be holding the cards. The school board's own in-house lawyer, after all, gave an on-the-record warning to the school board that firing Church and Tower was hard to justify and would invite litigation.

But Adorno also posits an intriguing reason for the quick decision; he argues that the board was moved to act by "outside, yet interested, players." The players: James Cummings, a school builder and major political contributor, and Ray de la Feuilliez, the oft-investigated, politically connected power broker who quit as school board construction chief last year to join Cummings' firm and help bring in government contracts. Both men count close friends on the school board and wield mighty influence, Cummings as a wealthy political benefactor and de la Feuilliez as a board insider with unparalleled knowledge of and access to its construction department.

Adorno argues that this potent duo convinced friends on the school board to dump Church and Tower and then award the lucrative contracts to build the schools to Cummings without competitive bids. He also claims that de la Feuilliez and school board members broke a new policy -- written in reaction to de la Feuilliez's defection -- that forbids former school board employees from lobbying the board within a year of ending their employment. The reason for the policy: The board wanted to make sure that de la Feuilliez didn't use his former position and his connections to wield undue influence on behalf of the Cummings firm.

New Times has found that three board members -- Bob Parks, Lois Wexler, and Paul Eichner -- likely were a party to breaking the policy by speaking to de la Feuilliez about Church and Tower. The conversations appear to have been part of an aggressive, behind-the-scenes campaign by Cummings to convince school board members to terminate the contracts. When asked if he lobbied board members on firing Church and Tower and handing the jobs to Cummings, de la Feuilliez says, "I talk to a lot of school board members about a lot of things." He denies wrongdoing. "I don't lobby. Mr. Cummings lobbies. I give advice."

At the time he was giving that "advice," he was technically still an employee of the school board. Though de la Feuilliez says he wasn't an employee, school board records show that he was classified as a "transitional employee" through July 1, 1999, as part of the board's "Retirement Achievement Program" and was paid $14,000 and received free health and life insurance. De la Feuilliez counters that he wasn't an employee at all because he didn't physically work there. Cummings, who is on a three-week vacation in Montana, didn't return messages from New Times conveyed to him by his staff.  

Many school board insiders -- while acknowledging other factors, like the bad publicity and complex board politics -- believe that the central role played by Cummings and de la Feuilliez in the termination of Church and Tower tipped the scales in the process and led to the fiscally disastrous decision.

"I know it was a fix," says Dan Lewis, a member of the board's Consultant Review Commission, which evaluates and rates builders and architects. "Church and Tower was like the wounded deer at the back of the herd -- and then the wolves pounced."

A week after Church and Tower was fired, the board voted to award the new contracts for the middle schools to the construction firm of James A. Cummings, Inc. So, for Cummings and de la Feuilliez at least, Church and Tower finally brought some good news.

Broward taxpayers, meanwhile, will have to pay for it.

At the school board meeting on April 7, 1998, James Cummings was, as one school board member puts it, "hostile" -- and he had reason to be. He was about to be passed over by the board on a contract to build an $18 million middle school in Coconut Creek. The firm standing in his way was Church and Tower, which had never before built a school. Not only that, but on that day the board was giving Church and Tower contracts to build two schools. The 1900-capacity schools in Weston and Coconut Creek, which were badly needed to house new students and relieve critical overcrowding, represented nearly $40 million worth of business.

Cummings, a 54-year-old multimillionaire who owns a Harley and isn't known to mince words, stepped up to the microphone to make a last-ditch effort at persuading the board to give him the Coconut Creek contract. He was standing on familiar ground. His wife was a school board member for eight years, and his political contributions and fundraisers had helped put most of the board members sitting before him in office. He gave about $4000 to school board candidates last year alone -- and that's counting just the winners.

"We have a proven track record of completed school work for the district, as you have heard, of approximately $110 million," Cummings told them. "The board has learned that there is a very limited pool of qualified contractors capable of building schools without problems. Now people have said, 'Cummings, you're greedy, you've already got a lot of work.' I don't think this is being greedy."

Cummings went so far as to predict Church and Tower would fail in the projects and promised that he could build the Coconut Creek School for $80,000 less than Church and Tower and get it done quicker. This was important: The public was clamoring for the schools, and the board was determined to have them up and running for the 2000-2001 school year.

Standing in Cummings' way, however, was a school board staff led by Cummings' future rainmaker, de la Feuilliez, then the associate superintendent over the facilities and construction department. De la Feuilliez's staff claimed that giving both jobs to Church and Tower would save the board $1 million. Until that point de la Feuilliez had rarely been accused of saving taxpayers money. While he oversaw $1.3 billion worth of school construction from 1986 through 1999, a state grand jury report came out placing considerable blame on de la Feuilliez -- as the top man in the department -- for millions of dollars in wasted school board money. It noted that entire sheets of stucco were falling off new schools, mold and mildew were threatening new schools, and leaks and faulty roofs plagued new schools. Another investigation, by the Construction Alliance of Broward, found some $55 million in waste in the department.

Corruption complaints filed against de la Feuilliez were numerous in both the grand jury investigation and the school board's own Special Investigative Unit (SIU) probe that concluded in 1996. He was accused of favoring certain builders and inflating profits of some companies at the expense of the taxpayers. Colleagues also accused de la Feuilliez was of conflicts of interest, including serving as something of a pitchman in a promotional video for architect Michael Schiff, who did millions of dollars' worth of work for the school board. In the video de la Feuilliez praises a design that was actually a dire failure. The grand jury's comments echo in the Church and Tower affair: "It might appear ridiculous to state what is so obvious to your Grand Jury: Public employees should not be permitted to endorse a private individual who seeks business with the same public agency."  

De la Feuilliez was often criticized -- and investigated -- for using his school board position to play politics. One allegation noted in the Miami Herald stated that de la Feuilliez arranged for contractors, including Cummings, to contribute to the 1992 state senate campaign of his close friend, Ken Jenne. The SIU, according to published reports, also investigated a complaint that de la Feuilliez leaked school board information to lobbyist George Platt, who was representing a school builder at the time. Both the SIU and the grand jury investigated the sale of an $800,000 piece of school board land to the City of Deerfield Beach for $200,000. The alleged reason for this sweetheart deal: De la Feuilliez wanted to appease Amadeo Trinchitella, a commissioner in that city and a controller of thousands of votes in Century Village. Trinchitella, according to the complaint, gave his support to board member Parks in return. All of these accusations were met with vehement denials by the parties involved and were never proved.

SIU investigators did, however, determine that de la Feuilliez had mismanaged the building department and had improperly hired friends to work for the school board. It was officially recommended that de la Feuilliez be fired. Coming to his rescue was Jenne, who agreed to defend him in school board hearings. Jenne, in published reports, called his defense of de la Feuilliez a "personal mission" for a "loyal soldier." Cummings also came out publicly in support of de la Feuilliez. In the political maelstrom that ensued over the issue, school board members -- including Parks and Wexler -- also eventually came to de la Feuilliez's defense. He ended up getting a ten-day suspension.

The grand jury described de la Feuilliez as a "nice guy" but added that a "person who can fairly and efficiently manage a construction program that produces sound, cost-effective schools is far more desirable. It is not whether one's friends and political allies will support a public administrator under fire for mismanagement that is important." Among those "friends and political allies" are county commissioners, union bosses, high-ranking school board officials, and, of course, Cummings.

On April 7, 1998, however, Cummings probably didn't think of de la Feuilliez as much of a friend. The construction staff remained steadfast in its recommendation to hire Church and Tower for both jobs. The board's senior construction manager, Ron Grossman, investigated Church and Tower and found that the jail in Pompano Beach, contrary to newspaper reports, was built well. The delays, Grossman reported, were due in large part to the county's failure to empty a warehouse on the site, which needed to be torn down to complete construction. Church and Tower was certainly financially sound, and its projects were bonded. Grossman's report was attacked by some school board members as one-sided. It was. Grossman admits that he relied solely on Church and Tower to compile the report. Jenne certainly had some legitimate complaints against the company, but to put it in perspective, repairs at the jail will cost a total of $300,000 -- a small fraction of what the school board stands to lose.

The board awarded both school contracts to Church and Tower. Before the vote, then-board member Abe Fischler, who didn't appreciate Cummings' hard sell, said, "This is not a Cummings issue…. This has nothing to do, in my mind, with Cummings."

Fischler was wrong. It was a Cummings issue then, and it remains one today. "Jim Cummings was very, very upset," Wexler recalls. "He showed his frustration and hostility at that juncture." Less than three months later, de la Feuilliez announced that he was leaving the school board and was heading to Cummings' construction firm. Now de la Feuilliez would be on the other side.

In response to Church and Tower's demand for $8.7 million following the firing, Malcolm Cunningham, a private attorney representing the school board, offered just $1.1 million. In his written reply to Church and Tower, Cunningham refuted Adorno's claims that Cummings and de la Feuilliez corrupted the process.

"Contrary to your conspiracy theory, the events giving rise to the [board's] decision to terminate occurred well before its consideration of Cummings to construct the projects," Cunningham wrote, adding that "whatever motives Mr. de la Feuilliez privately held cannot impart any inappropriate motives to school board members and it is quite a leap to suggest otherwise."

The facts, however, indicate that Cummings and de la Feuilliez were campaigning for the Coconut Creek job long before the decision to terminate was made -- and that de la Feuilliez's motives weren't exactly "privately held."  

On June 11, 1998, just a few months after Church and Tower was awarded the jobs, Cummings threw a fundraiser for board member Lois Wexler at his construction company office in Fort Lauderdale. Several of Cummings' favored subcontractors were there, all with checkbooks. De la Feuilliez wasn't there -- he wouldn't retire from the school board and take a job with Cummings until the end of the month. The topic of discussion: Church and Tower. Wexler says Cummings and his subcontractors -- as they sipped wine and munched on pretzels, potato chips, and hors d'oeuvres -- warned that Church and Tower would fail.

"There was frustration," Wexler says. "They said that the board made a mistake giving two schools at once to Church and Tower and that [Church and Tower] wasn't going to be able to deliver the schools, that they didn't have the experience to do the jobs."

Wexler remembers leaving the fundraiser with five or six thousand dollars in campaign contributions.

After de la Feuilliez joined Cummings, Wexler says she spoke to her old school board colleague about Church and Tower, as well. At the time de la Feuilliez, of course, was representing Cummings and was part of the Cummings' anti-Church and Tower campaign. While this would seem to be a violation of the new school board policy -- which Wexler herself originated -- she says, "That would depend on how you define lobbying." She says all talks she had with de la Feuilliez were "low-profile" or "only in passing." Later she says that she wasn't lobbied by de la Feuilliez but "only received information" from him. She says she may have even contacted him.

She remembers sitting down with de la Feuilliez for dinner or drinks in Tampa at a Florida School Board Association conference, where Cummings sponsored a reception and tried to generate business for the construction firm. But she believes it was sometime after that that she talked with de la Feuilliez about Church and Tower.

"I actually asked him what was involved in assuming liability for what was already there [at the Weston school site] and what was the cost for ripping things out," Wexler says, noting that she'd looked to de la Feuilliez for guidance on construction issues for years while he worked for the board.

Wexler says she doesn't see anything wrong with this -- even though she knew that Cummings, and now de la Feuilliez, were gunning for the Church and Tower jobs and had been engaged in a public campaign to discredit the company. She says that de la Feuilliez didn't try to tell her what to do and that Cummings' money didn't buy her vote -- only her "ear."

"Ray de la Feuilliez knows that the way to proceed with me is to soft-sell," she says. "Give me the information, and let me make that decision."

Then on August 21, school board member Bob Parks felt the icy stares of a roomful of construction subcontractors at another of Cummings' campaign fundraisers, which are usually warm occasions, Parks says. Not this time.

"If you could have felt those cold stares coming at me…" Parks recalls, as if still affected by them. "The subcontractors were pissed that we would give two schools to Church and Tower. Right upfront I told them the truth. I said I felt like I was instrumental in getting the initial award to Church and Tower. It was the main issue. It was a lobbying thing."

Did he promise them that he'd undo the contracts if he could?

"I don't recall saying I would not support it anymore," he says.

But he was changing his mind. After showing Parks their wrath, the subcontractors pulled out their checkbooks and donated $2200 to his campaign. Cummings had already personally given him $500. Like a father who spanks his child for misbehaving and then gives a hug, Cummings had sent Parks a strong signal.

Parks also admits that he later took a phone call from de la Feuilliez -- he says he doesn't remember exactly when -- and listened as de la Feuilliez talked about Church and Tower. "But it wasn't like, 'This is the strategy,' or anything like that," Parks says. "He just told me that if they folded that [Cummings' firm] would be next in line for the jobs. That's the only thing Ray said. He said [that] Cummings is next in line." Did Parks remember the new lobbying policy aimed at de la Feuilliez? "I didn't think about it. I should have thought about it," he says. "That was my fault."  

Curiously Parks says Church and Tower was "killing" him in Coconut Creek, because the firm was late in starting construction there. Marilyn Gerber, the mayor of Coconut Creek, had complained to him about it. What Parks seems oblivious to is the fact that construction wasn't scheduled to start there until April 1998 -- a month after Church and Tower was fired.

While Parks won reelection, board chairman Don Samuels, who was the chief supporter of Church and Tower, was defeated by Kraft, who is the only sitting board member who has never received any money from Cummings. Kraft had her own reasons for distrusting Church and Tower: In her campaign she'd exposed Samuels' own potential conflict of interest in the matter. Samuels was politically aligned with the Becker and Poliakoff law firm, and Church and Tower's lobbyist, Bernie Friedman, was a member of the firm. At the same time, Becker and Poliakoff also represented the school board's construction department -- but is forbidden, because of its conflict, to assist the board in its current situation with Church and Tower.

On January 29 of this year, interim superintendent Dorothy Orr wrote a memo to board members warning them that a quarterly construction report had found that the Weston middle school had been delayed 120 days. What school board members weren't told in the report was that those delays were caused by both sides -- and in some cases were certainly the board's fault. The board's project manager, Mark Roe, says that most of the delays were caused by complicated architectural design negotiations and that there was "shared responsibility" for them. "But they showed good progress once they got started [building]," Roe says. "It appeared to us that if they maintained that schedule that there was a good possibility they could have finished on time." The company had until the summer of year 2000 to finish both schools. Some school board members -- including Wexler and Kraft -- say they now partly blame the staff's bungling of information for their later decision to fire Church and Tower.

Paul Eichner, a new school board member who represents Weston, took that memo about delays to heart -- and began a fevered campaign to get rid of Church and Tower. When asked if Cummings had anything to do with his crusade, Eichner only says he was in contact with him. When de la Feuilliez's name is brought up, Eichner says he "may" have spoken with him. He says that, as a new board member, he was not aware of the lobbying policy until after he spoke with de la Feuilliez. As for the details of the conversation, Eichner has a memory problem.

"I'm sure I did, but I can't remember," Eichner says of whether or not he spoke with de la Feuilliez about Church and Tower. "I just can't remember. I'm not denying it, and I want that to be made very clear."

In the middle of February, Kraft says she found out what Eichner was up to from none other than Cummings, who called her on the phone. Kraft recalls Cummings saying, "You can terminate for convenience without any cause. If you have no cause, it's a way of walking away without cause. There's no risk."

In a way Cummings was right -- there was an extreme risk for taxpayers, but there was none for Cummings himself.

"Then he said that Church and Tower was going to agree to it," Kraft continues. "Paul [Eichner] was going to talk to [Church and Tower lobbyist] Bernie Friedman, who was a good friend of Paul's from law school, and they might agree to it. He said Church and Tower would agree to keep [the Weston school] and they would give away the [Coconut Creek school]."

Then Cummings told her, "You know, we should have had that school to begin with. The whole process was bad."

Cummings also told Kraft that, after Church and Tower was out of the way, the job could be given to his construction firm without competitive bids and mentioned that de la Feuilliez was talking to other school board members about it. Kraft says she remains very uncomfortable about Cummings' influence in the entire process.

In late February board member Darla Carter also got a call from Cummings.

"What do you think about Church and Tower?" Cummings asked.

"What about it?"

Cummings told Carter he was furious about Church and Tower's performance on the jobs and asked her if she would consider "someone else" to build the school in Coconut Creek.

"Yes, I would," said Carter, who opposed Church and Tower. "Why?"

"Paul Eichner might bring it up at the next meeting," Cummings answered.  

After they hung up, Carter wondered what was afoot. Why was Eichner going after Church and Tower? She knew, of course, that the "someone else" to build the schools meant Cummings himself.

Meanwhile Church and Tower and school board staff began writing letters back and forth arguing about whose fault the delays were. At the same time, Church and Tower was making strides on the Weston school. A company called PBS&J Construction Services, which was hired by the school board to assess Church and Tower's work, reported on February 24 -- just two weeks before the firing -- that foundations and walls were up on several buildings and concluded: "Based on current progress to date… it appears feasible that [Church and Tower] can complete the project by the specified completion date."

This report seemed to have no effect on the school board. (Kraft says the staff never even gave it to her.)

Eichner made public his desire to get rid of Church and Tower at a school board meeting on March 2. He would soon lose control over the campaign he'd started, and in the end he actually voted against it. Eichner, a lawyer, says it became increasingly clear that the school board was risking millions in a lawsuit if it fired the firm without legal cause. "It took on a life of its own," he says with a note of regret.

"I am basically mad as heck, and I'm not going to take it anymore," Eichner said of Church and Tower at the March 2 meeting, with Cummings looking on in the audience. Eichner came armed with information on how to get rid of Church and Tower, but he rejected one possibility out of hand: Using the termination-for-convenience clause in the contract to fire the firm. While it appeared to be a catchall, risk-free way to fire a company, Eichner told the board it was fraught with danger. "That, inevitably, will invite litigation, and that does not benefit… the children, the school board, parents, or the community," he remarked. He didn't want a lawsuit for obvious reasons -- huge legal fees and also the possibility of a big judgment against the board, which had already lost millions in the past decade in similar situations.

The board, which has a $2.3 billion annual budget largely funded with property taxes, did seem ready and willing to part with the money already spent on the two schools. Church and Tower had already been paid $1.6 million, which amounted to money wasted. The school board was informed that a buyout would cost anywhere from another $1 million to more than $4 million. More waste. The cost to demolish the walls in Weston was $125,000. Still more waste.

Eichner told board members that he was "under the impression" that "we can turn around and award the bid to another company that has previously qualified. There are two companies that I am aware of that built other middle schools."

One, of course, was Cummings'. The other was the Haskell Company. Rather than go out for competitive bids -- which would take time and guarantee that the schools wouldn't open on schedule -- the board decided to get proposals from only those two companies. Haskell, however, was out of favor because of what were perceived to be excessive change orders at the middle school they built. Everything was falling into place for Cummings.

"My understanding of [the termination for convenience clause] as it was explained to me was that that would preclude litigation," Kraft said, echoing Cummings' words.

But Kraft also showed that she was concerned about Cummings' manipulation of the events. She wanted to make sure that the board was acting aboveboard. "If how we do business in general is to go through a bid process and award a contract, is this not a way of getting around that process?" she asked. Board attorney Ed Marko told her it wasn't and then explained that the termination-for-convenience clause was designed only for instances in which an entire project is cancelled -- not in order to fire one builder and install another. The board couldn't terminate Church and Tower for default because there was no pattern of failure.

Marko said, "I believe that there is a potential where [Church and Tower] could come in and claim that you really wanted to terminate them for default, and since you didn't have sufficient grounds, you used that as a subterfuge, and it was not for your convenience at all." Marko had just laid out half of Church and Tower's case for the board. And he knew what he was talking about -- he'd helped design the termination-for-convenience clause in the contract.

As the discussion came to a close, it was decided that Eichner would try to work out an agreement in which Church and Tower would accept a buyout on the jobs. Eichner failed to strike an agreement before the March 9 special meeting, which by all standards was a debacle full of misinformation, bickering, crossed wires, and confusion. Wexler recalls that it "was a very cumbersome, unclear, convoluted situation," adding that the construction staff was "unable to provide the leadership for what decision we should make." Be that as it may, the board had ample warning of the consequences of its actions.  

Attorney Cunningham kicked off the meeting by contradicting Marko and said the termination-for-convenience clause was a viable option. Adorno answered that the board would take that option at its own risk and added that the board would be liable for lost profits.

"I think, based on what the attorneys have said, termination for convenience is in order," Parks said later, adding that the wasted money would be made up in the "good will" the board would receive from the community when the schools were finished on time by another contractor.

Judie Budnick, a "dear" friend of de la Feuilliez's who'd been outspoken in favor of terminating Church and Tower, was now changing her mind and worrying that a lawsuit would cost millions. Budnick, who received campaign contributions from both de la Feuilliez and Cummings last year, read a transcript of Marko's previous warning. It fell on deaf ears.

Board member Carole Andrews, who is a close friend of Cummings and his wife and received $1500 in campaign contributions from them last year, wasn't budging. Andrews took the hard line at the meeting. "If we can't reach an agreement with [Church and Tower]," she said, "we'll just see them in court." Though she now refuses to comment on Church and Tower because of a possible lawsuit, Andrews did tell New Times, unequivocally, that she was never lobbied by either Cummings or de la Feuilliez.

As the meeting progressed, Adorno sheared millions from his proposed settlement offer, saying that little more than $2 million would be sufficient as a payout, so long as work stopped immediately. But he added that the board would have to hold the firm harmless from its subcontractors who would be out of work. It was a deal-breaker, as the board wasn't willing to risk lawsuits from subcontractors.

Finally Miller, the head of the board's Construction Overview Committee, addressed board members.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked them almost pleadingly. "I have not heard why you want to terminate these people. I do see they are a little behind schedule in some things, but until I understand why you want to terminate them, I am not sure I can make a recommendation." Then Miller asked how the board could justify wasting so much money. It made no business sense. "Is that money that is just going to be wasted?… I can't understand it myself."

Nobody answered him. Later Miller warned against the inevitable lawsuit.

"If you get in a fight [with Church and Tower], I can guarantee the number is going to be two and three and four times [the cost of a settlement] in the cost of attorneys," he said. He now says a figure came into his mind: The board would probably lose about $7 million if it went forward with a termination for convenience. Before sitting down he urged the board not to make a decision yet, to take its time and proceed with caution. That advice wasn't taken.

Kraft called a motion to terminate for convenience. After some debate Kraft, Andrews, Parks, Miriam Oliphant, Carter, and Wexler voted to terminate for convenience, and the motion carried. In dissent were Budnick, Diana Wasserman, and Eichner.

Parks, it turns out, didn't even know exactly what he was voting on. He says he thought the board and Church and Tower had struck an agreement. "Are you sure?" he asked when told that wasn't the case.

At the next meeting, when Cummings was awarded the contracts, Wexler said: "I'm concerned that I didn't do the right thing last week." Kraft wonders if the entire board as a whole didn't terminate Church and Tower for the "wrong reasons," that is, because of pressure from Cummings and de la Feuilliez.

"I don't know whether they orchestrated it or they just jumped in when the time was right," Kraft says. "I was afraid that this might look like the board was specifically doing this to give the work to Cummings, and I wondered if it was really happening."

Budnick is still fuming over the vote and says she believes the school board will end up doling out a multimillion-dollar settlement. "We didn't have enough time to make a decision," she says. "There was so much money and liability being bandied about…. It's like we gave away the ball in the fourth quarter, and now we're going to lose the game."  

As for her friendship with de la Feuilliez, Budnick says, "I'd rather give him clean money from new projects than dirty money from old ones."

Charlotte Greenbarg, who represents Independent Voices For Better Education and the Broward Coalition, spoke of money -- clean or dirty -- at the meeting of April 7, 1998, when Church and Tower was awarded the contracts. She doesn't take issue with the termination of Church and Tower. What she said, however, loudly resonates in light of what was to come.

"It is all about money," an outraged Greenbarg said, "which is why both of our organizations recommend that this obscene process stop! That this abuse of taxpayers and board members and children and teachers stop! That you get out of the building business because the discussion obviously shows that you don't know what you're talking about for the most part, that you're not competent no matter who does the building."

It didn't take long for James A. Cummings, Inc., to get some more "clean" money. In May his company was awarded a $43.5 million contract to renovate Dillard High School. In less than a year since de la Feuilliez joined his firm, Cummings has gotten $80 million worth of business from the school board -- bringing his grand total over the past decade to nearly $200 million.

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