Oakland Unified School District officials are struggling to explain why there is no conflict of interest in hiring Lance Jackson as the interim chief of the district’s bond-funded construction projects and that Jackson’s $30,000 a month salary is not excessive.
Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville Group Inc. (SGI), which has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects. He was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.
Jackson is being paid out of school bond funds for what the district estimates is 75 percent of the work for which Tim White was responsible and is earning more than double what White earned.
“There’s been quite a lot of press about the selection of the individual who is from the main project management company (that works for OUSD) to be in that position on an interim basis. There are some concerns that I have, and I think some others have, that (this) poses a conflict of interest and also some concerns for the amount of money that’s being paid to that individual,” said Patricia Williams, vice chair of the district’s Measures A, B, and J Independent Citizens’ School Facilities Bond Oversight Committee, speaking at the committee’s April 1 meeting.
According to local attorney Dan Siegel, formerly a Oakland Board of Education member and also formerly general counsel for the school district, Jackson “clearly has a classical conflict of interest” in holding a position in OUSD where he oversees a company for which he is an executive.
“(For example), if a consultant who works for his company does something wrong or that is inappropriate, he is going to feel reluctant to take any action because he’s going to have his company’s interests as well as OUSD’s (in mind). He is supposed to be loyal to the school district,” said Siegel, explaining that potential conflict issues are not limited to billing and the signing of invoices.
Defending the district’s position at the April 1 meeting of the bond oversight committee, District General Counsel Jacqueline Minor described how she decided that Jackson should earn $30,000 per month. She said his pay rate is $200 an hour, he receives no benefits, and he is expected to be working for the district at least 12 hours a day.
She said that Jackson is being paid out of the district’s bond funds. Seventy-five percent of Tim (White’s) salary was paid out of the bond, she said, and the other 25 percent from the general fund to cover his responsibilities for day-to-day operations, custodial services and buildings and grounds.
“(However), all the work we’ve asked Lance to do is bond-related work,” said Minor.
“He’s been the principle lead for SGI in our district for some time,” she said. “He knows the district, he knows the team, he knows the work, he knows the projects.”
As for potential conflicts of interest, Minor said, Seville Group is subject to the district’s general conflict of interest policies. “The superintendent and I talked, and we decided…the way we would handle (it),” she said.
None of the invoices and other financial decisions related to SGI will come across Jackson’s desk, Minor said. Instead, Senior Business Officer Vernon Hal will have overall responsibility for all of the finances related to SGI.
“Lance is not approving invoices, purchase orders, contract extensions,” Minor said.
Minor said the district originally planned to send a contract for Jackson to the board but rescinded it when she decided it was not necessary.
“The work that Lance is doing is already covered by the SGI contract,” Minor said. “And I decided – it was my decision –(that) it didn’t make sense for the board to approve an amendment when there was already a contract that had sufficient funds in it to cover this additional work.”
“It’s my opinion that that the work Lance and SGI (are doing) is permissible under the (conflict of interest) law,” she said.
Another member of the bond oversight committee, Ariel Bierbaum, said she was concerned of how Jackson’s position would affect staff in the Facilities Department, “now that Mr. Jackson is serving as both consultant and client.”
Renee Swayne, chair of the bond oversight committee, told Minor that she was concerned that when the district hired Jackson, it released a statement saying that he was the only person in the “whole department who has the knowledge, skills or the ability” to do the job.
“I personally think the superintendent owes the employees in that department an apology,” said Swayne, adding that what Wilson said was “demeaning” to the OUSD staff.
In response to questions from the Post, district spokesman Troy Flint clarified how Jackson is being paid.
“OUSD is not paying any additional monies to SGI or to Lance beyond the contract with SGI , which predates Lance’s appointment as interim head of the facilities department,” said Flint. “Any money Lance receives would come out of the existing $10.89 million contract with SGI, and it would be up to SGI to determine how to distribute that money.”
Jackson has not taken a leave of absence from his company to work for the district, Flint said.
“Lance is still employed by SGI. His current work for OUSD is a function of his long-term employment at SGI, so there’s no reason he would take a leave of absence.”