Lange resigns from board after 13 years
CHARLESTON - Nearly 13-year state School Building Authority board member Tom Lange, who butted heads with both SBA executive directors that Republican Gov. Jim Justice appointed, has resigned, citing a “philosophical” difference with the direction he said he sees the SBA heading.
Lange submitted a resignation letter Wednesday, and Justice’s office distributed a news release Thursday afternoon that included what Lange wrote in his resignation, included a rebuttal from SBA board Chairman Brian Abraham (who is also Justice’s general counsel) and didn’t include Justice thanking Lange for his service.
“I have thought a great deal on the changes you have been directed to make and philosophically believe the changes aren’t in the best interest of West Virginia taxpayers,” Lange wrote in an email to current SBA Executive Director David Roach, according to the governor’s release.
“If he is referring to continuing the decades-long practice of backroom deals and private meetings that have taken place,” Abraham wrote in the governor’s release, “instead of an open, fair and transparent process we are now putting into effect so that every county receives the same treatment and consideration, then we will just have to agree to disagree.”
“For Abraham, who’s only been on the board for less than a year and is talking about backroom deals, I don’t know what he’s referring to,” Lange said Thursday.
Lange said he doesn’t know of any instance in which a majority of SBA board members has met outside of open meetings, either simultaneously or through a series of one-on-one meetings, to decide on funding a school construction or renovation project. The SBA funds such projects statewide, and county school systems compete for grants.
When asked what he meant by “backroom deals,” Abraham said he doesn’t personally know of any open meetings law violations.
He said he was more referencing that “individual board members have no authority to bind a board and therefore they should not be out negotiating or recommending things to school systems to put in their proposals with the impression that it will be looked upon favorably, or unfavorably if those recommendations aren’t followed.”
SBA Executive Assistant Tammy Brewer said Roach “stated that he did not feel that it would be appropriate for him to comment on Mr. Lange’s resignation.”
In a letter dated June 14 to SBA board members, Roach asked “that all communication cease between” SBA board members and school system employees “regarding projects up for consideration of SBA funding.”
Lange said then that he didn’t plan to cease contact, saying the board distributes tens of millions of dollars per year, and superintendents sometimes want more time “to educate us” than they’ve been given in the past when they present publicly to the board. He said he questions counties’ proposals and proposes alternatives.
He said Thursday that after Roach’s letter and a similar one he said Roach sent county schools superintendents, “I thought and thought and thought and said, ‘Well, let them appoint someone now.’”
Lange also expressed concerns with the SBA’s direction beyond Roach’s letters. He said he thinks the Governor’s Office and Abraham are pushing the SBA to give more power to architects, construction companies and school systems.
“Our staff put the policies together to protect the taxpayer dollar and get the best bang for the buck, and now the changes they’re trying to make is loosening up those kind of regulations and giving more power to the architects,” Lange said.
Abraham said currently proposed policies reducing some of the agency’s regulation of the projects it funds push more power to counties, saying if counties “don’t do the right thing, their projects will be evaluated accordingly.”
Abraham said the SBA’s past practice, while Lange was on the board, of assigning two construction management firms to oversee SBA-funded projects in several counties “was contrary to the best interest of the taxpayer.”
Former SBA official Scott Raines said, under grilling from Abraham, that SBA written policy wasn’t followed in the advertisement process for seeking bids from these firms. One company alone had been awarded contracts at least surpassing $2 million.