Adverse Impact on Taxpayers and Youngest Students
The Rush to a Bond Referendum Peril Was Foreseen
Opposition to the Referendum Was “Positive”
Second in a Series of Three Articles
By Ira Kaylin
There are three factors that are primarily responsible for the Mt Daniel delay. These factors are related to governance, process and decision making weaknesses of the School Board and City Council. These weaknesses must be addressed if we are to efficiently and effectively manage upcoming projects.
The Three Fundamental Errors
- The “original sin” was the hurried submission and subsequent approval of the 2014 Referendum vote authorizing borrowing for the Mt. Daniel project. The School Board has pursued overly optimistic construction guidelines leading to a “ready, fire, aim” approach to project approval and execution.
- The second error was to borrow approximately $11 million without having received “proof,” i.e., factual documentation, that the Fairfax Planning Commission HAD APPROVED the project.
- The third error, which is related to the above, was to accept the School Board’s verbal assurance that approval was certain.
EDITOR’S COMMENT PICK:
Dale Walton writes:
Thank you, Ira, for writing and continuing to expose this mess. No one else is going to cover it. I would have more respect for those officials involved if they made a public statement to taxpayers and parents acknowledging the very poor execution and oversight of this project, and that improvements will be made going forward. Effective leadership includes admitting mistakes. Instead, they prefer to brush it all aside. Officials involved do not deserve to continue to manage this and other capital projects. Their credibility with the public is “shot” to speak. But, they want to continue to manage such projects including the much larger middle and high school rebuild. If any of these folks worked and managed projects where many of us worked, given their track record on this project their role going would be minimized. This is government so it is difficult to get rid of these folks, short of voting them out of office and forcing a change in school superintendent. So we are stuck with them but taxpayers should insist on some new players, like the newer members of the school board and others for example, so that the involvement of the current cast is reduced.
“Positive” Opposition to the Referendum
A number of citizens recognized the risks associated with the rush to Referendum. These citizens expressed major concerns about the viability of the project and opposed the Referendum.
The opposition was NOT related to the need for Mt. Daniel rehabilitation and expansion. It was generally accepted that Mt. Daniel renovation was needed. The issue/opposition was based on the untested assumptions regarding the size of the expansion, the unverified cost estimates and lack of independent review (other than the engineering firm Arcadis ) of the proposal.
Uninformed and Dangerous Decisions
The City Manager and City Council not only failed to require “proof” of approval, the City Manager rushed to judgment (that is issued City debt) based on the assumption that interest rates were about to rise. However, interest rates have not risen.
The premature debt issuance is particularly concerning.
Anticipating financial market movement is called “Market Timing,” which is one of the most dangerous forms of financial management. It is a form of gambling that should never be done with public/taxpayer money.
The lessons we learn from the Mt. Daniel can be and should be applied to the upcoming George Mason project. The Mt. Daniel experience has exposed an array of governance, procedural and financial weaknesses.
We cannot repeat mistakes going forward—the very existence of the City is at risk.
Next: Debacle Illustrates the Need for Candid and Forthright Citizen Involvement