Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Selection of small minority law firm explained

If you are short on time, the explanation is at the bottom of this article.

When I heard a second bond lawyer introduced at the September 10th school board meeting, I wondered what was up. And when I watched the re-run of the meeting on the school district's YouTube, I watched the face of Board Chair Manning carefully.

When Attorney Frannie Heizer, of Burr & Forman, was introduced, Mr. Manning nodded at her. Obviously, he recognized her name and her, because Burr & Forman created the documents for the April 11th sale of $26,000,000 in Bond Anticipation Notes. Recall that it was the two additional certifications to those documents that had resulted in the resignation of Lindsay Agostini from her position as Board Secretary.

When the superintendent introduced a second lawyer, Tameika Isaac Devine, I watched Manning's face carefully through several re-runs of the YouTube recording. He didn't nod; he didn't smile. He didn't seem to know who she was. (I immediately thought, "I'm never playing poker with James Manning!" (And this is a compliment.))

Looking back through Minutes of Board meetings, I came to the January 22, 2019 meeting, where I found one line that began to explain things. In Item 10.1 there was a Motion "To authorize the issuance and sale of general obligation bonds not exceeding $468,406,000 and to authorize the superintendent or his designee to determine matters relating to the bonds and notes as outlined in the resolution."

The Motion was made by Shadd, seconded by Elkins-Johnson. There were six Yes votes, zero No votes, and one Abstain (by Agostini).

Naturally, I wondered what was in the resolution which, conveniently, was not attached to the Minutes. So I requested a copy of the resolution.

The resolution is ten pages and has to be a $1,000 document by itself; maybe more. On the one hand, for a large bond-oriented law firm or section thereof, much of it is probably a boiler-plate document. It wasn't created from scratch for that sale. But it had to be careful read and edited, and I'll bet it is more like a $10,000 document; maybe a lot more.

Basically, it grants full authority to the (office of) superintendent for anything and everything pertaining to the $468MM bond issue that voters approved in November 2018.

And, when you read all the way to the end, in Section 21 there is one sentence that explains the addition of a small, Columbia law firm with no apparent experience in multi-million dollar bond work. That sentence reads, "Burr Forman McNair is authorized to associate co-counsel at the direction of the superintendent for purposes of achieving diversity in the legal team."

And that, folks, is a crock. Burr & Forman (the correct name since January) probably said, "What the hell?" But they will do what the superintendent tells them to do (and pays for them to do).

Look at the areas of practice of Jabber & Isaac, P.A. You'll find them listed on their website. You'll read "real estate; business law; Social Security disability; workers' compensation; automobile accidents and personal injury; family law; governmental relations."

Bond law is a full-time job, requiring expertise, study, knowledge, training. Why should Richland 2 pay a small "diverse" law firm to learn how to practice in the area of bond law?

How much money will Richland 2 School District waste because of 23 words tossed unnecessarily into the resolution?