It sounded pretty cut and dried at the Broward School Board's December 11 audit committee meeting. Audit committee member and veteran activist Charlotte Greenbarg asked the board's chief building officer, Ronald Morgan, about the status of his state license.
Morgan, who oversees a $3 billion construction budget, has never passed the state test required to be an administrator. That's right, the public official overseeing our school buildings -- who makes in excess of $100,000 a year -- is unlicensed to lead. So the board is often forced to have another school board employee and an outside consultant (Wayne Smith) do Morgan's job for him.
It's a disgrace on its face, but Morgan assured Greenbarg and everyone else at the meeting that he'd passed the tests required and it was a matter of "paperwork." Here are Morgan's exact words, according to school board minutes from the December 11 meeting:
"I took two tests, the Technical and the Legal Management. I failed the Legal the first time. When I took the test the second time, the problem was that too much time had lapsed. They allow three years in between. So I took the tests again and passed. I sent out the paperwork."
Greenbarg remarked that the state database indicated that he was only exam eligible. Morgan again assured her: "You are exam eligible even if you passed the exam until they have a Board Meeting. They have Board Meetings every two months."
Get it? It was Morgan's version of "the check is in the mail."
But that isn't the case. I contacted the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation and asked if he'd indeed passed the tests required to get his CBO license. DBPR spokeswoman Alexis Antonacci emailed: "At this time, there is no indication in our system that Ronald Morgan has taken or passed the test."
Unbelievable, not only has the school board's construction chief failed to get his required license, but he lied about it. Or so it seems. Morgan admits that what he said at that meeting was bogus, but he tells me he was just confused at the meeting and thought he was telling the truth.
He says he took both tests more than three years ago and passed the tehnical portion, but failed the legal part. He says he took the legal portion of the test again last year and passed it.
He says he thought that was all he needed to do, but then learned that he had to take the legal test again because of the elapsed time. He also pointed out that nobody had made any allegations that he'd done anything illegal.
"It's a mess and I am personally responsible for this ... but I when I spoke there at the meeting I firmly believed that I had done what I needed to do," he says.
Sorry, but that excuse doesn't wash. He clearly knew about the time lapse issue when he addressed the committee (he mentioned it) and he also clearly said he had taken and passed both tests, in the plural. Hence the man was lying. Morgan's boss, Deputy Superintendent Donnie Carter, didn't respond to my call for comment.
I had also been told that Morgan wrongfully signed off on two $40 million elementary schools -- in Sunrise and Parkland -- without the required license. "I'm 90 percent sure I didsn't sign off on those schools," he told me. "I might have done the planning review and signed off on them, but I didn't sign off on the building permit."
He called me later and apologized. He'd learned that he had, indeed, wrongfully signed off on the schools on July 9, 2008 -- more than three months after his provisional license (which he never earned in the first place) went kaput. He said he learned he was unlicensed shortly after that and that he would get the consultant to redo those permits to make them legal.
It's not so surprising listening to all this that Morgan's department has been the subject of a steady stream of critical audits that revealed, among other things, that about 500 classrooms at 30 different schools around the county were were signed off on by unlicensed engineers working for school contractor PBS&J. That mess, which also occurred under Morgan's watch, still hasn't been fixed.
This is an embarrassment. This is the kind of leadership we have at the school board over a $3 billion construction budget? I don't blame Morgan. This goes all the way up the chain and is part and parcel of a corrupt department that has long been run by the big-month contractors, architects, and consultants. Competence is something the fat cats can't afford.
School board members: You're on notice. This is ultimately your responsibility. While you are beholden more to lobbyists like Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller, the safety of our schools is in jeopardy. Do something.
(Transcript of Greenbarg-Morgan exchange comes after the jump).
Ms. Greenbarg asked "Did you take a test for the building code administrator?"
Mr. Morgan stated "I took two tests, the Technical and the Legal Management. I failed the Legal the first time. When I took the test the second time, the problem was that too much time had lapsed. They allow three years in between. So I took the tests again and passed. I sent out the paperwork."
Ms. Greenbarg stated "After the tenth, it says you were eligible for the exam."
Mr. Morgan stated "You are exam eligible even if you passed the exam until they have a Board Meeting. They have Board Meetings every two months."
Ms. Greenbarg stated "When you get your building code administrator license, would you let us know?"
Mr. Morgan stated "Yes I will."
Ms. Greenbarg stated "In the meantime, who has been signing off on projects?"
Mr. Morgan stated "A person on my staff Maria Rouco; she is a Building Official and has a license and Wayne Smith. Eugene Adach was until he resigned."
Ms. Greenbarg asked "They have licenses with the State?"
Mr. Morgan replied "Yes."
Ms. Greenbarg stated "How long has this been going on? Three years?"
Mr. Morgan stated "No it was not three years. I became aware of it in March or April when the state notified me. I applied and took the test."
Ms. Greenbarg asked "How long have you been working with the District as Building Code Administrator?"
Mr. Morgan stated "When I was working with the District I had my provisional license for three years."