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 user 2010-03-15 at 11:21:32 am Views: 35
  • #23740

    mississippi :Overcharging, favoritism alleged in
    Jefferson Parish schools copier contract

    controversy involving photocopy machines in Jefferson Parish schools has
    School Board members accusing vendors of cheating the public out of
    hundreds of thousands of dollars and some vendors saying board members
    are unfairly excluding them from the school market.”The school system is
    getting fleeced by these copy people,” board member Mark Morgan said,
    referring to what school officials estimate is more than $600,000 in
    copy machine overcharges over the past five years.

    Vendors took
    offense, saying they are doing nothing wrong and that the board’s
    decision in November to name Bell Office Machines of Metairie as the
    school system’s sole copy machine vendor excludes them from competing
    for business.”You didn’t give us an opportunity; we are a legitimate
    company,” said Tracey Mutz, sales manager of Unicopy, which supplied
    copy machines to Catherine Strehle Elementary School in Avondale until
    the board decided to go with Bell.

    St. Pierre Ray.jpgRay. St.
    PierreThe board named Bell as its sole vendor after board member Ray St.
    Pierre — a friend of Bell owner John Poole — complained of
    overcharges stemming from a practice that let individual principals sign
    their own contracts for copy machine leases. Instead of principals
    working out their own deals, the new policy requires all schools to work
    through Bell Office Machines, which already supplies copy machines to
    the Jefferson school system’s central office and is on the state copy
    machine vendor contract, which means it has been approved as a low

    The controversy came to a head at Thursday’s School Board
    meeting, where St. Pierre acknowledged his relationship with Poole and
    said the two have played golf together at Timberlane Country Club since
    2004 when St. Pierre joined the Gretna club.But he denied charges that
    his proposal for a sole vendor was politically motivated. Referring to
    an e-mail he said was sent by an unnamed vendor to every board member
    but him, he said, “My character has been attacked as to some type of
    insider dealing. … No one is paying for me to play golf at Timberlane
    or any other place.”

    St. Pierre said it wasn’t until last year
    that he learned of Poole’s connection to the school system, knowledge
    about copy machine vendors and dealings with principals.”My interest was
    stirred by what he began to tell me, and I became very knowledgeable,”
    St. Pierre said. “And it didn’t take me long to figure out that
    education money was being taken from the kids right at the school
    sites.”St. Pierre said three schools in his district — Ella C. Pittman
    Elementary in Harvey and Miller Wall Elementary and Ruppel Academy for
    Advanced Studies in Marrero — were overcharged almost $20,000, and in
    the case of Wall, 60 percent over what is allowed under state
    contract.”There is not a single contract out there that has been signed
    properly,” St. Pierre said.

    Board attorney Michael Fanning said
    no principal is authorized to sign a contract, yet “they’ve been doing
    it for years.” He said he plans to look into each contract to determine
    the extent of overcharging and whether any “fraud” was involved.Morgan
    defended St. Pierre, saying he is pleased the issue has come to the
    forefront: “It’s absolutely unbelievable that Mr. St. Pierre exposes
    this type of fleecing and is accused of engaging in political behavior
    for his own golf game.”But some board members said they want to ensure
    that other legitimate businesses are being treated fairly.”I thought we
    would be served by more than one vendor,” board member Cedric Floyd
    said. “I intend to revisit and learn about this and make sure that we
    are getting the best deal.”