Do the words "conflict of interest" mean anything in the David Douglas School District?
Apparently not for this week's rogues, District Superintendent Barbara Rommel and the east Portland district's school board .
At issue: a potential $2 million payday at taxpayers' expense for Rommel Architectural Partnership, which is headed by the superintendent's husband, Terry. In 2005, a committee of three school board members and two district employees awarded Rommel Architectural a contract in a competitive bidding process, says district spokesman Dan McCue. The firm edged out two others because its low bid was 6.5 percent of construction value—and because of its greater familiarity with the district. The latter was a slam dunk.
"The Rommel firm has a 25-year history with David Douglas, going back long before Barbara Rommel became superintendent," McCue says.
OK. But here's the problem: Barbara Rommel is the district's most powerful and highest-paid employee, making $133,740 a year. She's also, as far as she and school board chair Annette Mattson know, the only one married to somebody who enjoys a lucrative contract with David Douglas.
The issue has surfaced because of City Commissioner Erik Sten's proposal to shift $20 million to $30 million of urban renewal money from the River District to fund a new elementary school and community center in the David Douglas district (see "PDX's Robin Hood Tale," WW , Sept. 26, 2007).
Terry Rommel's firm has done preliminary design and permitting for the planned elementary. If Sten's plan proceeds, Rommel Architectural could make up to $1.95 million in fees.
Mattson says the superintendent played no role in the "open and fair" process won by Rommel Architectural. Mattson and Rommel both say they're open to a different architect if David Douglas gets the city money.
That's good, because one Rommel family member drawing a big check from the district is enough.