WTOC Investigates: Superintendent Lockamy responds to criticism

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Last week, WTOC brought you an investigation of the Savannah-Chatham School Board's choosing of a firm to handle the next five years of E-SPLOST construction money and projects.

At least one Savannah-Chatham County Public School System board member had questions about the transparency of the process, given the superintendent recommended a company that did not beat out another bidding firm, either technically or on price.

As you have probably already heard, the superintendent, Dr. Thomas Lockamy, was not happy with that report and felt it was an attack on his reputation. Even telling the school board he was ready to resign over it.

Before the school board voted to approve the same company, Parsons Infrastructure, that had the E-SPLOST management contract for the last five years, SCCPSS board member Connie Hall had a few serious concerns about its past performance.

"I want Parsons to understand that I feel there are several deficiencies in the program management that I'd like to see changed going forward. I'm just giving you a 'C' not a 'B' or an 'A'.  I feel a much higher degree of respect, trust, fiscal integrity, staffing decision, should go on between the prime and the subcontractor," said Hall.

Except for SCCPSS Board President Jolene Byrne, the board voted unanimously in favor of bringing Parsons back again.

Byrne's concern centered on the transparency - or lack thereof - of the whole contract process. And she made that clear to the board. She asked the superintendent for more detailed information about the scoring done by the special committee reviewing the bidding firms. Especially the number one rated firm, Cumming.

She admits she got a few documents, but not near the detail she asked for.

"Well, clearly I was frustrated at the time, I'm still frustrated. Transparency is really important. In fact, when the superintendent let us know he was going to recommend Parsons over the other company given that they didn't rank as the number one company, I said at the time, please be as transparent as possible. Make it clear to the public. Make it clear to us why you're making this recommendation. So, please give us as much documentation as possible," said Byrne.

After our story aired, Dr. Lockamy wasted no time in responding, sending this email out to the entire board including Byrne; saying in part, "I was portrayed as being unethical, untruthful and corrupt." He went on, "Yes, I am angry....but I will no longer tolerate the board president attacking my professional reputation publicly."

Lockamy may have been referring to more than this incident. Back in November of 2015, Lockamy recommended to the board they buy trash compactors for all school facilities instead of the dumpsters every other district in the Coastal Empire uses, at an additional cost of $4 million.

"I just feel that we would be better served as a district if we could save enough money to put back into classroom activities rather than putting this money into trash disposal," protested Byrne at the July 1, 2015, meeting. "It's a difference of about $300,000 a year. That's money that I think we could put towards like the twilight program that's been cut recently. There are better ways in my mind to spend this money than on trash."

This time around, Lockamy also warned the board about this kind of information getting out during a superintendent search, saying:

Prospective candidates read and view all of the news of the districts they are considering. They will quickly learn about the type of board they will be working with and make a choice.

As for the Byrne, she too was quick to respond to Lockamy's accusations that she was attacking his professional reputation. In an email response, Byrne wrote, "the public has the right to know what goes into the reasoning of their elected board members when they vote."

My request for that reasoning from each board member got me only two responses. Both only citing the superintendent's recommendation and his comments about why he steered away from Cumming, the number one rated company.

Ten days ago, Cumming issued a formal protest to the board over the process. The protest insisting, "the board voted to approve Parsons based on misleading and inaccurate information supplied by the superintendent."

Byrne also responded to Lockamy's anger over Byrne telling me she would not sign the contract with Parsons until the protest was resolved, saying; "…unless, of course, the protest process is simply a formality and has no real chance of changing the outcome of the award."

Tuesday, that protest was officially rejected by Lockamy.

The rejection making clear Lockamy simply wasn't satisfied with Cumming's responses during an interview. It also tried to make clear that Lockamy only makes these recommendations, that, "the Board of Education has the discretion to accept the recommendation or reject it."

Lockamy's offer to resign if the board had lost trust in him also came with the understanding that the board would pay off the remainder of his contract. That's actually against the law in the case of a resignation.

Something else that raised some eyebrows on the Parsons' contract, is that by choosing the number two ranked company, it cost taxpayers an extra $800,000.

As for the rejection of that protest by Cumming, the firm's president told WTOC Tuesday that through the entire bidding process Cumming knew it had to follow the rules to a tee. He does not believe the superintendent did the same.

The company is meeting with its attorneys this week to decide what their next step will be.

WTOC obtained a copy of Lockamy's email. You can read it in its entirety below:

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