Tuesday, May 21, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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THE PUBLIC ASKS: Do gift cards donated to ABSS schools by mold remediation vendor create a conflict of interest?


QUESTION: The company that has been awarded nearly $20 million in contracts to do mold remediation in Alamance-Burlington schools has since offered to donate $29,500 worth of gift cards to 31 ABSS schools. Isn’t that a conflict of interest for a vendor that has an active contract with the school system?

ANSWER: No, according to Crista Cuccaro, an expert in government law, finance, and contracting with the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“These are gifts to the unit [of local government] rather than to an individual person,” Cuccaro explained Monday in an interview with The Alamance News. “If the gift cards were for the superintendent, or the person who handles procurement, that would be a violation of the laws that govern gift-giving in North Carolina.”

However, some of the gifts require school board approvals but have not yet been presented for a vote, as specified under an ABSS policy that governs gifts and bequests. That policy authorizes the superintendent, or his designee, to accept any gifts up to $1,000 but to recommend for school board approval any gifts exceeding $1,000.

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ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler forwarded an email, sharing the news about the gifts, to Alamance County government officials last Wednesday, which the county subsequently furnished in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.

Builder Services has been awarded contracts to perform mold remediation at approximately 31 of 33 ABSS schools where mold has been confirmed. (Mold remediation was performed by Sasser Companies at the first two schools where mold was confirmed, Andrews and Newlin elementary schools.) It is unclear whether Builder Services is also doing mold remediation at the school system’s Central Office on Vaughn Road, where the presence of mold was confirmed last Tuesday.

Ben Bass, executive vice president of Builder Services, initially sent the email to Butler and three of his top assistants in the ABSS administration: deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers; chief operations officer Greg Hook; and public information officer Les Atkins.

Ben Bass, executive vice president of Builder Services, during a recent meeting of the county commissioners

Bass stated that he would be donating a gift card to every ABSS school, with amounts varying, based on grade level. Six ABSS high schools – excluding the newest, Southeast, which opened last month and was unaffected by mold – were each to receive a $1,200 gift card. The seven middle schools were each to receive a $1,000 gift card; and 18 elementary schools were to get an $850 gift card, Bass outlined in his email.

Bass wrote, “I am hoping you are able to get a little more rest than the past 2 to 3 weeks has allowed you. I understand the stress, time away from your families, and the anguish this entire mold issue has caused parents/staff/community.

“Builder Services is a local company that is based here in NC, our families are here, and our kids attend school here in NC,” Bass continued. “Our team always believes teachers are the leaders/trainers/role models for the next generation for the future. Based on this belief, we are going to donate to each school in a gift card for them to buy candy, drinks, snacks, or whatever they would like.

“[We] will go to every school that Builder Services worked in to present the gift card to the principal starting tomorrow morning,” Bass added. “Our plan should allow us to get to every school Thursday and Friday…It has been a true honor to be a small part of the ABSS team through this difficult situation.”

THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

If it’s a topic in the public domain — a matter of public record, including issues of government, courts, etc. — we’ll try to find the answer and print it in ‘The Public Asks’ column. (Please furnish as much complete and specific information as possible.)

Note: Issues regarding businesses — including salaries, policies, and practices — are usually not matters of public record, unless they are the subject of governmental or regulatory action, a court suit, or law enforcement activity.

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