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"The current board members who seem to be affiliated with Freedom have personal agendas," says Sandy Sexton, a Ruskin High School graduate and an office manager for the Ruskin Heights Homes Association, who is running for the board. "Some of those have to do with not necessarily educating children but controlling the business aspect of things."
Holliday contends that Freedom Inc.'s membership is composed largely of elected officials, not local business owners. But some companies that have received no-bid contracts from the Hickman Mills board have connections to the political club.
Last year, the board suddenly dismissed its longtime insurance broker, Charlesworth & Associates, and replaced it with the McDaniel Hazley Group without a competitive bid. Former Kansas City Councilman Charles Hazley was a key partner in the company and a member of Freedom Inc.'s three-person leadership committee (along with Holliday and Sen. Curls) until his death late last year.
Anderson tells The Pitch that the McDaniel Hazley Group was brought in because board members were concerned that the district's insurance policies were not financially realistic. He acknowledges that there was no competitive bidding for the contract, but he sees no problem with it.
"I don't think it needed to be bid," Anderson says. "It was a change of broker. It was not a bid issue. I think it comes up next year to be bid."
The district had put its insurance-brokerage business out to bid in the past, but Charlesworth & Associates was the one chosen for nearly two decades.
The board's policy is to competitively bid any contract exceeding $5,000. While state law does not require a school district to bid most contracts (construction projects and certain banking services are the exceptions), it is considered good business practice to bid large contracts, both to save taxpayer money and to avoid cronyism.
The state audit is expected to show that the school board routinely waived that policy.
Anderson tells The Pitch that during the 2011–12 school year alone, the year before he became board president, the board awarded $2.3 million in contracts without competitive bids. (The district disputes some of that figure.)
Missouri state Rep. Bonnaye Mims served as board president from 2008 to 2012. Freedom Inc. endorsed Mims, who still serves on the board, in her Statehouse campaign. Mims now appears to be distancing herself from the club.
The practice of awarding no-bid contracts continued after Anderson first became board president in 2012.
The Pitch filed open-records requests with the Hickman Mills School District for contracts and bid documents associated with Gallagher Benefit Services, the Holman Schiavone law firm and the McDaniel Hazley Group. None of those contracts were competitively bid, even though each exceeded the $5,000 threshold.
The board can waive the bidding of contracts if it believes that no other company can reasonably provide those services. That doesn't appear to be the case with some of the no-bid contracts awarded by the Hickman Mills district.
The board hired Gallagher Benefit Services with what was supposed to have been a flat-fee $30,000 no-bid contract to search for a replacement for superintendent Marjorie Williams, who retired in 2012 after more than 20 years of working in the district. Gallagher Benefit Services found current superintendent Dennis Carpenter, but not before the company's contract was increased to a $36,400 payout.
Finding headhunters, especially those specializing in school-district personnel, isn't difficult. The Missouri School Board Association conducts superintendent searches. For a district of Hickman Mills' size, the MSBA would do a search in return for 8 percent of the new superintendent's salary. Carpenter makes $180,000, so MSBA's search would have cost $14,400.