School Construction Chief Tried to Steer Extra Work to Nephew's Firm

Deputy Superintendent Michael Garretson, who oversees the Broward County School Board's construction department, personally interceded in an attempt to add $184,000 worth of work to a school cafeteria project being done by a company that employed his nephew, according to School Board records.

Garretson last year instructed the School Board project manager overseeing a $12 million renovation of the cafeteria at Village Elementary in Sunrise to add a paint job for the entire school to the contract. The company holding that contract was the Weitz Co., which at the time employed Garretson's nephew, Mike Mallory, as an assistant project manager. Mallory was also in business at the time with Weitz's  painting subcontractor on the Village job.

On August 22, 2008, School Board Project Manager Scott Gillen wrote Garretson:

"As per your request, please find attached Construction Change Directive for the painting of exteriors of all buildings on the existing [Village Elementary] campus. Please review and approve if acceptable."

Adding intrigue to Garretson's request is the fact that his nephew was listed as a co-owner in a painting company, Rainbow Decorating, that subcontracted with

Weitz on the Village Elementary renovation job. Mallory partnered with Rainbow Decorating owner Maurice "Duke" Kotchek in a company called Rainbow Construction Services. That company at one point attempted to prequalify at the School Board. You can read the details about that here.

Two sources in the board's construction department told the Pulp that Garretson personally ordered Gillen to add the school paint job to the cafeteria project. When contacted, Gillen refused to elaborate on the circumstances, though he did confirm that Garretson asked him to add the paint job -- which Weitz valued at $184,000 -- to the project. 

In addition to the apparent conflict of interest, the request from Garretson appears to violate school district rules since it would have added scope to an existing project approved by the board.

On top of that, the $184,000 bid submitted by Weitz was demonstrably bloated. After receiving the Weitz cost estimate, Gillen received another one from the School Board's maintenance that was substantially cheaper. Gillen wrote Enoc Pallango, the Weitz project manager for the Village Elementary work, a note about it on August 28.

"I received notification back from the cost estimator that confirms the quote that you provided for the re-paint of Village El. exterior is excessive," Gillen wrote. "Please provide independent cost estimates from three separate painting contractors for the same scope of work for further review/evaluation/approval. Your original cost estimate of $184,000 is being rejected."

Interestingly, Pallango was a third partner in Rainbow Construction Services, along with Garretson's nephew and Duke Kotchek.

It's not known whether Weitz ever came back with three separate bids from subcontractors. What is clear is that Gillen had the maintenance department do the job, which came in at $140,000, about 25 percent cheaper than Weitz said it would cost.

"Garretson ended up being foiled in the end," said one veteran school construction manager.


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