Allegations Of Nepotism & Featherbedding Arise Over SPS Official's Actions
Last year, a company called All In One Cleaning Services in Fennville that had provided custodial services to Saugatuck Public Schools (SPS) since 2003 had its contract terminated via a one-page letter dated July 21, 2015.
That letter was written by Elizabeth Broderick, director of the school district’s Business, Transportation and HR Services, and sent to the owner of All In One Cleaning, Becky Carten-Crandell.
The termination came as a shock to not only Carten-Crandell, but several administrators, staff and teachers who said they had come to know Carten-Crandell and her staff for what they termed the quality work the company’s employees performed each day for Saugatuck High, Middle and Elementary schools.
The company had routinely year-in and year-out received kudos and great recommendations from school officials for its performance in handling the cleaning duties of the school district, including from Broderick, in written reports and emails.
Despite those glowing reviews, Broderick, in a July 29, 2015 notice to SPS staff, stated the reason for terminating All In One Cleaning Services after so many years of quality service was because the school district was forming “a regionalized approach to our custodial cleaning” and was hiring the firm Aramark as a replacement.
In what appeared to be an effort to quell staff unrest over the move, Broderick informed school personnel in that notice that SPS would be saving substantial dollars with the switch – including $18,000 per year in cleaning supply costs – due to Aramark’s ability “as a global company” to purchase cleaning products, equipment and supplies at a much lower cost.
SPS Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman has for several years been warning district officials and the public about the impact of dwindling state funding to run public schools, including in Saugatuck, and noted he is constantly looking for ways to save money.
An extensive review of SPS records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, however, raises several serious questions about exactly why All In One Cleaning Services was terminated and the facts surrounding it have even piqued the interest of officials with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).
First, there was no official request for proposals (RFPs) made by SPS officials for the school district’s cleaning contract to all outside vendors each time All In One Cleaning’s contract term expired and needed to be renewed.
No RFPs were let by the school district despite the fact the contracts would be worth in excess of almost $100,00 to $200,000 in public funds depending on the year.
SPS Board Chair Jeff Myers said there are no state or local board rules requiring that custodial services contract - or any school-related services contract - be put out for public bids.
Several state MDE and Michigan Attorney General’s Office officials in Lansing said while there is no law requiring such public bids for local school districts, they believe it often is in the best interest of taxpayers that such requests for proposals be let to attract the best possible financial and contract terms for any given publicly funded service.
Those state officials asked to remain unnamed saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about the SPS issue and because their respective offices may have to formally review the issues surrounding the SPS matter at some future date.
Curiously – and little reported at the time – All In One Cleaning Services was first told in early 2015 that because of the Saugatuck School District’s tightening fiscal issues, Broderick wanted Carten-Crandell to come up with some possible cost cuts in her contract for 2015-2016.
Carten-Crandell, through email correspondence with Broderick, then provided several suggestions for those requested cost cuts.
It wasn’t until later - and before Carten-Crandell had an opportunity to present a formal contract proposal to Broderick, that she was told the district was going to hire another cleaning company called Aramark to handle the district’s custodial services.
All In One Cleaning had informally presented Broderick proposed terms of a new contract for 2015-2016 to provide labor-only services for the year that would cost SPS $129,602. In comparison, Aramark’s proposed contract bid for labor-only services (cleaning supply costs additional) was for $186,579, a higher bid by $56,977 over All In One Cleaning’s informal proposal.
Broderick never put the custodial services contract out to bid, never responded to All In One Cleanings’ informal proposal and never asked All In One’s Carten-Crandell to submit a formal bid for the custodial work.
Aramark’s then-proposed and later accepted contract also did not provide any more cleaning personnel than All In One’s proposal did, the records show.
Carten-Crandall maintains her proposed contract would have been substantially cheaper for the school district over the fiscal year.
All In One Cleaning Service’s and Aramark’s contracts and other related documents obtained by The Local Observer appear to support Carten-Crandell’s claims.
Despite the cost differential and potential savings of staying with All In One Cleaning, and with no public bids required by the SPS Board of Education, Aramark was awarded the SPS cleaning contract. Since that time, the district also has purchased a new cleaning machine recommended by Aramark as part of its cleaning regimen that cost the district thousands of additional dollars on top of Aramark’s fees for providing custodial labor and supplies.
If SPS’, Aramark’s and All In One Cleaning Services records show All In One Cleaning Service’s overall costs to the school district would have been substantially less than if replaced by Aramark – and Broderick and other schools officials had annually given the All In One high marks for quality and service – why then would SPS officials make that switch?
Carton-Crandall says she has the answer and points to what she calls “inappropriate, unethical and possibly illegal actions by Broderick” as the driving force behind the move to get rid of her company as SPS’ custodians.
Broderick’s Nepotism, Self-Interest Costs Taxpayers & SPS, Charges Carten-Crandell
Carten-Crandell says Broderick in 2011 contacted her saying she wanted the cleaning company to put two SPS student summer workers on her payroll as All In One Cleaning employees and that the school district would reimburse and pay her for their work after SPS was provided an invoice each month for heir services.
One of those two young men was Broderick’s own son, Joey. The other was Kolin Kazen, the son of the SPS Basketball Coach Tom Kazen.
Later, Broderick said she wanted Carten-Crandell to hire another two young men - one being Wes Webbert, the son of Betsy Webbert, the school district’s top teachers’ union official, and also another son of the basketball coach - Dakota Kazen.
In both cases, Broderick never posted those summer season work positions for the school district within the school system or in the community to let other students or their parents know those paying, public jobs were available.
When recently asked why those summer seasonal positions for those specific young people were never posted in the school or in the community so everyone would have a fair chance to apply for those jobs, SPS officials - including SPS Board Chair Jeff Myers - responded that they weren’t legally obligated to do so.
Asked whether anyone in the community – including taxpayers – might think Broderick’s quietly getting All In One Cleaning to hire her own son and the sons of other school officials for those positions, was a case of nepotism or feather-bedding so she and the others and their families could benefit financially from the deal, district officials – including Broderick and SPS Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman - did not respond directly to that question.
Timmerman, in an earlier interview, did concede that under his own superintendent’s contract with the school district, he is not permitted to hire or employ any of his family members with SPS.
Asked why that restriction did not apply to Broderick or other SPS administrative personnel, Timmerman responded, “That’s a good question. I don’t know. Maybe that’s something we have to take a look at.”
Board Chair Myers, when asked the same question, said he did not know why that rule had never been discussed or implemented when it came to other SPS administrators.
When questioned about the propriety and legality of Broderick asking Carten-Crandell to put her (Broderick’s) son and the other three school officials’ sons on her (All In One Cleaning’s) payroll as employees, Carton-Crandell said she neither wanted nor needed the four SPS boys as her employees.
Asked why she agreed to hire them, she said, “I was afraid I’d lose the (SPS cleaning) contract if I didn’t hire them, especially since one of the kids was Broderick’s own son. I knew it wasn’t right what she was doing, but I had employees to consider who would be out of work if I didn’t go along with it and honestly the company would lose a lot of money if she pulled it (the contract) from us.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m saying Broderick engaged in nepotism by making sure her own son would get a publicly paid job with the school district and never let any other student know they could apply for those openings,” said Carten-Crandell. “Broderick kept it all quiet and made sure all the school officials’ kids were taken care of, especially her own son.”
In one email from Broderick to Carten-Crandell obtained by The Local Observer, Broderick stated one reason for her request to Carten-Crandell to have All In One Cleaning hire the four SPS boys in this way was – instead of the school district hiring them as its own employees – was so the school district would not have to directly fund and pay for each of the young men’s retirement packages as mandated by law.
Additionally, according to the SPS records obtained by The Local Observer – including a series of emails between Broderick and Carten-Crandell - despite the fact that the four SPS students were officially and legally employees of All In One Cleaning Services, Broderick over the years dictated the amount of hourly wages the boys were to be paid, when they were to receive pay raises, and even occasionally when they should work and be allowed to take time off.
According to the records, there was even one instance when Broderick and Timmerman both approved telling All In One Cleaning to pay Joey Broderick and Kolin Kazen for an eight-hour work day, even though they gave their permission that the young men could attend and all-day golf outing being put on by another SPS vendor.
When asked whether he realized state law does not permit public funds to be used for paying school employees or employees such as the young men being paid with public, taxpayers’ money for work they did not perform, Timmerman responded, “I didn’t think of that at the time.”
Broderick did not answer the same question when it was posed to her in writing.
When asked by The Local Observer about Carten-Crandell’s allegations of Broderick having her put the four boys – including her own son Joey – on All In One’s payroll as employees, and yet still dictating their salaries, time schedules, etc., as revealed in the SPS records, Broderick replied, “They (All In One Cleaning) were just the billing company. They only handled billing for that.”
When asked again to respond to the fact that All In One Cleaning Services is a cleaning company, not a billing company, Broderick did not respond.
Additionally, at the time Broderick had Carten-Crandell place her son and the other three school officials’ sons on All In One Cleaning’s payroll, the school district was – and still is today - contractually affiliated with a company called Edustaff in Grand Rapids that handles billing and other related staffing responsibilities for SPS and certain non-teaching employees.
If Edustaff was available – and was then being used by SPS to handle these employees and their billing requirements – why did Broderick have them put on All In One Cleaning’s books as employees? Broderick has refused to answer that question.
All the behind-the-scene’s dealings with Broderick getting her son – and the other three SPS officials’ son – placed on All In One’s payroll, ties into the real reason Carten-Crandell said she believes her company lost the SPS cleaning contract last year.
In early 2015, according to SPS and All In One Cleaning records, Broderick asked her to come up with a list of ideas for cutting the district’s cleaning costs.
Included in the list she drew up, said Carten-Crandell, “was getting rid of those boys – including Broderick’s son - as my employees and not have the school district paying for them.
“Those boys were simply not needed for that work,” said Carten-Crandell. “There were already employees being paid to do what they did. They were merely giving those kids ‘busy work’ so Broderick’s son and those other school officials’ kids could make some money. It was a joke. So when (Broderick) asked me for ways to cut costs, I told her to take them off my payroll and stop having the school district pay for them.”
Records obtained by The Local Observer reveal Carten-Crandell did create such a list with the recommendation to get rid of the summer seasonal work positions created for Broderick’s son and the others and sent it to Broderick.
Within two weeks of sending that document, Broderick notified Carten-Crandell that the SPS district would not be renewing her custodial services contract, according to records obtained by The Local Observer.
“There is no a doubt in my mind why we lost that contract with SPS,” said Cartdn-Crandell. “Broderick wasn’t about to let us get rid of her son and the other boys. She was obviously frustrated we suggested they weren’t needed and their jobs should be eliminated. She was taking care of her kid on the back of Saugatuck’s taxpayers!”
Other SPS records and correspondence between Broderick and Aramark – the company that later was awarded the school district’s cleaning contract – seem to give credence to Carten-Crandell’s claims.
In correspondence between Broderick and Aramark officials obtained by The Local Observer, during contract negotiations with Aramark, Broderick makes it very clear she wanted to retain all decision-making control over those summer seasonal positions involving her son and the other young men, including their employment, pay, raises, etc.
Aramark officials allowed Broderick to do that, even though it was their company that was responsible for all the custodial cleaning work at the local schools. After accepting Broderick’s demand to keep control of SPS summer seasonal workers (including her son’s job) Aramark was then awarded the school contract, the records show.
“If anyone reads those communications between Broderick and Aramark, it becomes crystal clear that she was again making sure her son kept that job that in reality was not needed. That’s nepotism and that’s just wrong. She’s using her position to guarantee her son an unneeded job at taxpayers’ expense. You can’t tell me that’s legal or at the very least that it’s not unethical!” said Carten-Crandell.
Several written questions were provided Broderick by The Local Observer about her requesting All In One Cleaning to hire her son (and the other young men): what formal school board and/or legal review was done to determine if that was proper; why was her son’s and the the three other young men’s pay billed to the school district instead of the school district hiring them directly as employees, etc. Broderick did not respond to those questions.
(For the complete set of written questions provided Broderick from The Local Observer, and the response provided the newspaper by the school district (not Broderick directly), see Page 10 & 11 in this week’s Observer).
Legality Of Contract Extensions Questioned
In another legally questionable action by Broderick, according to Carten-Crandell, whenever an SPS contract with her company expired, Broderick would simply initial the front page of the previous written contract saying it was being extended.
“These (extended) contracts never were voted on or approved by the board (SPS Board of Education) during the years we worked for them. She (Broderick) simply kept extending them with a little handwritten notation on the past contract. I always knew that could be a big problem, but that’s just the way she did things,” said Carten-Crandell.
“It was my understanding the (SPS) Board of Education had to approve contracts over a certain amount of money, which my contracts always were, but that never happened,” said Carten-Crandell. “We’re talking contracts well over a hundred and two hundred thousand dollars a year in some cases.”
Carten-Crandell also said Broderick ignored her request in 2015 to have the SPS Board of Education be a part of the review process when it came to her contract proposal, but said Broderick told her “The Board of Education does not deal with the day-to-day functions of the school, including approving outside vendor contracts.”
Michigan Department of Education (MDE) officials were questioned by The Local Observer if SPS officials – the Board of Education – was required to vote on school contracts involving that amount of money.
MDE officials said it is up to each local school board to set its own policies when it comes to voting directly on district contracts or having its administrators handle that duty.
Many school district boards do require direct votes on contracts over a specific dollar amount and that is an extra step to ensure accountability, said the MDE officials, but it’s not mandated by law.
When SPS Superintendent Rolfe Timmerman was shown SPS documents and asked about how Broderick had secured a job for her son and the other school officials’ sons with the school district, how Broderick had a school contractor put the boys on their payroll as employees, and why no other students or members of the public were ever alerted to the fact these public jobs were available, he responded:
“Those are very good questions,” said Timmerman. “I think we need to look at how all this has been handled and maybe look at changing some things.”