A judge ordered DeKalb County Schools to mediate its case with the international construction company Heery/Mitchell.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger ordered on March 22 that the two parties attend mediation to resolve their dispute, citing concerns for taxpayers; the school board has already paid an estimated $15.5 million in legal fees.
“Mediation has been requested by the judge, so we will go into mediation with the understanding that the taxpayers of DeKalb County need to be made whole,” said school spokesman Jeff Dickerson.
Heery also cited concerns for taxpayers and states that they welcome the court’s guidance and the opportunity to mediate.
“We believe that too much taxpayer money has already been diverted to pay legal fees instead of funding our children’s education,” said David Rubinger, a spokesman for Heery International.
The system and Heery were ordered into mediation in 2009 but it was unsuccessful.
Dickerson said that the school system wants to take the matter to trial, and, short of some settlement through mediation that would make the district whole again, they want to present the case to a jury as soon as possible.
“We want a trial by jury, that’s what we’re asking for and that’s what we asked for in court yesterday…the other side has created any number of delays to a trial but we want to present the evidence to a jury, that’s how strong the evidence is,” Dickerson said.
Heery managed the school SPLOST account from 2002-06. In 2006 the school system terminated the company citing overbilling and questionable work. Heery then sued DeKalb County School System for $400,000 that it said the system still owed them. The school system then countersued for $100 million, alleging fraud and claiming that the company mismanaged projects.
“We’re talking about time sheets that were allegedly falsified; we’re talking about projects that were changed from one to another…when their budget was exhausted on one project, they would simply switch time to another project which wasn’t allowed under their contract,” Dickerson said.
Heery denies those claims and contends that the real reason the company was fired was because then Chief Operations Officer Pat Pope wanted to award the contracts to people that she knew and had connections with. Pope is currently awaiting trial for racketeering and corruption charges for allegedly running a criminal enterprise with former superintendent Crawford Lewis and several other school officials.
“Heery International stands by its belief that the DeKalb County School System’s accusations are without merit,” Rubinger said.
However, Dickerson said that the issues they have with Heery came long before Pope was hired and they believe that when she was hired, she noticed the alleged discrepancies by Heery and took action.
“That’s Heery’s contention, [that Pope fired them to hire her friends]…but I don’t think it’s been proven in court. It’s an issue that the school system is contesting,” Dickerson said.
Both parties are required to find a mediator by April 4 and no court date has yet been set for the case.