For quite a while, I’ve wanted to write a blog about the district’s legal issues, specifically the Heery case. I have not previously written anything because I did not want to damage the court case for DeKalb taxpayers. I’ve heard recent speculation that the Heery case is going to be settled soon. No one would be happier about that than I, provided the settlement is good for the taxpayers of DeKalb. This case has been conflated with the mess regarding a former superintendent and COO. That’s unfortunate as the cases are two different things. The Heery case is also complicated and not easily distilled into sound bites.
When I joined the board in 2009, the Heery case was already underway. The District parted ways with Heery because of concerns about their management and billing for various construction projects. Heery sued the district for terminating their contract. The suit the District brought is a counter-suit for improper, overbilling. Over the years I was presented with evidence documenting Heery’s overbilling practices. It looked like the taxpayer got a raw deal and as their representative I was obligated to try and recover this loss. Inevitably lawyers for Heery want to link their case with the proceedings against the former superintendent and COO. These are separate issues but it makes for good political theater to comingle these matters. Then there were the all the delays despite the district asking to proceed to trial.
Now we may be on the eve of settling this case. If the taxpayers will be recouping a good portion of what they were over-charged, I say good. Unfortunately, I’m hearing that the settlement amount might be less than $10 million. That amount does not make the district whole or address the overbilling. Just this year, at the request of the court, a “special master” was brought in to review the claims brought by Heery and DeKalb. On April 2nd, the special master, Judge Stanley Birch, eliminated the majority of Heery’s claim against the district and dismissed the idea that the Heery case was related to the pending matters of Dr. Lewis and Ms. Reid. Judge Birch later reduced DeKalb’s claims to $33.5 million. The district still has a substantial amount to gain but Heery’s claims were gutted. Heery cannot afford to lose a court case because that affects their ability to do more business with public entities. That is important leverage for the district. The district should get more than a $5-$10 million settlement given Judge Birch’s findings.
I am aware that the public’s patience for this case has grown thin. Mine has too. As this BOE is negotiating a settlement, keep in mind that one current board member has received contributions from a partner at the law firm that represents Heery. The board member also sits on a community advisory board with a vice-president of Heery International. I am concerned about the conflict of interests these relationships bring to the discussion. I want this case to settle in the best interests of the taxpayer and we need to demand that our interests are the ones being considered, not those of friends and contributors.