Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Custodial Contract Disputed in Special District

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Custodial Contract Disputed in Special District

Article excerpt

In a series of contractual twists that could prove costly in court, the Special School District apparently hired, fired and rehired a private custodial firm to do jobs done by the district's union workers.

Now, a legal dispute over the on-again, off-again contract could cost the financially strapped district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The private firm, Mitch Merch Maintenance Management, or 4M, of St. Louis, went to court Wednesday asking for $400,000 in damages, alleging breach of contract. The contract in question starts Saturday and pays 4M almost $4 million over three years.

It's unclear who will be providing custodial services beginning Saturday.

The company filed suit the same day that the man hired to be superintendent sued the district for $315,000, alleging breach of contract for having demoted him to assistant superintendent.

Concerning the custodial contract, Darold E. Crotzer Jr., an attorney for the district, wrote 4M on April 19: "I have been asked to inform you that the district doesn't wish to continue its present relationship with your firm." Friday, after seeing 4M's suit, Crotzer suggested settling with "emergency mediation."

Paul E. Kovacs, 4M's attorney, says it's unreasonable to expect 4M to start work as soon as Saturday after notifying the company two months ago that the deal was off.

"This isn't a clean carpet company with a Stanley Steemer in the back trunk," said Kovacs. "This is a massive contract that requires a massive undertaking. You just can't turn around and say to someone `Now perform' after you said `Don't perform.' "

The board had voted in March to hire 4M. That was before the April 4 election that changed the board's majority.

Board members Mary Burst and Julie Walker said last week that they had been unaware 4M was fired, and they argued that Crotzer had acted without board authority.

The new board voted April 11, in closed session, to ask for a legal opinion on the validity of hiring an outside firm to do custodial services. Walker said the resolution barred an attorney from "committing the district in any way. . . ." She said that despite requests for information, she never heard any more about the legal opinion.

Neither acting Superintendent Ronald W. Rebore nor board President Jerry Eichholz could be reached for comment Friday. But a spokesman said other board members interpreted the instructions differently.

The spokesman read the resolution which said, in part: "I move that the administration be directed not to execute any document or commit the district in any way in connection with a proposed transfer of the current functions of providing food or custodial services through means of district employees to a commercial business venture."

The spokesman said that the board's majority believed the resolution directed that:

If the contract with 4M had not been executed, it should not be. …

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