Runcie says he only found out after the fact.
I didnt provide any authorization, I didnt have an opportunity to view any documents related to it, Runcie said. It just happened, which is why a lot of people are concerned.
The questions surrounding this project continued into March of this year, when Broward school district administrator Sam Bays sent a text message to Locke, the company president.
Who is your lobbyist? Bays asked.
FDLE investigators asked Bays, who for a time served as project manager, why he would be texting the companys president.
Bays brought his attorney for the sit-down with FDLE. Regarding the text message, Bays responded that he wrote it on behalf of a School Board member.
Which School Board member, specifically? Bays told investigators he couldnt recall, but that the board member wanted to avoid the lobbyist if they ran into each other during the annual legislative session in Tallahassee.
Bays told The Miami Herald he stands by that explanation and declined to comment further.
Runcie, meanwhile, said his delayed discovery of the payments shows that some internal processess need to be improved. He stopped short of calling it insubordination.
Still, the contract was one of the reasons he forced Lindner to resign. The Facilities and Construction department that Lindner oversaw is also being overhauled many mid-level management positions have been eliminated. The district plans to hire a for-profit management company to assume the construction oversight duties that were previously handled in-house.
Lindner denies doing anything wrong, and he said Runcies chief of staff was included in discussions before the second check went out. After Royal Concrete got its buildings certified by the state, Broward was legally on the hook to pay for them, he said.
That really was the leverage that we had, Lindner said. It really kind of put us on the defensive.
The legal wrangling over the project comes as the district is trying to distance itself from past construction problems.
A 2011 state grand jury report criticized Broward for reckless spending of taxpayer money, and two former School Board members have been arrested on corruption charges in recent years.
Since those arrests, Broward has a new superintendent, and a mostly new School Board. The district argues that it has installed new safeguards to make its conduct more ethical and financially responsible.
With Broward in desperate need of additional capital improvement dollars the ceiling at Oakland Parks Northeast High School caved in earlier this year the districts ability to show such progress has become more urgent.
To raise the money it needs for school repairs, officials are considering asking county voters to approve either a bond issue or sales tax increase. To succeed, school district leaders would have to convince voters they can be trusted stewards of the $1 billion or more such a campaign would raise.
Count parent Nick Sakhnovsky among the skeptics. As a longtime member of the school systems Facilities Task Force, Sakhnovsky is deeply familiar with the Royal Concrete project. Sakhnovsky said its long list of problems, including questionable payments, and worrisome behavior by district staff, makes him doubt that Broward has earned voters trust.
If it cant be done right when theres very few projects, it scares me to think how much can go wrong when they have even more money to play with, Sakhnovsky said.
Although Lindner resigned, other district employees involved in the deal were promoted.
Bays, who signed off on paying out $1 million, was promoted to maintenance director. Lindners replacement as construction chief, Shelley Meloni, also signed off on the payments. Meloni has received two pay raises in the past year jumping from $106,883 to $129,328 annually.
I certainly work hard on a day-to-day basis ... Sams a hard worker, hes done tremendous work, Meloni said of her and Bays. I think we have served the district well.
Runcie emphasized that the district has made significant internal changes amid the Royal Concrete controversy, and he said the district is willing to fight the company in court.
Were going to go through a process to make sure that we can identify and validate that work was done and/or services received for every dollar that we paid out, Runcie said. Anything that does not fit that, were going to contest it and challenge it and try to protect the districts funds.