Ron Collier, former chief financial officer of the Bibb County school system, is asking a judge to block a lease he claims illegally obligates the school board for the next decade.
Colliers attorney, Jerry Lumley, noted Tuesday that the person who signed the lease -- then-school board President Tommy Barnes -- is no longer serving on the board.
The lease obligates the system to pay $5.75 million over a decade for the Promise Center in the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School on Anthony Road. The system already has paid $1 million for renovations to the property, and the school board agreed to pay another $3.25 million to the buildings landlord, the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development.
This weeks legal action is a revised version of the lawsuit Collier filed against the school system Dec. 20. Collier claims hes being penalized for asking questions of Superintendent Romain Dallemand about the deals. The revised lawsuit includes four different revisions of an invoice for the $1 million payment.
It also alleges that the district violated the states whistle-blower law by placing him under investigation in December and later changing his job title to director of capital assets and contracts.
Despite the job title change, Collier continues to receive an annual salary of $130,000, the same pay he received as the districts chief financial officer.
Through his lawsuit, Collier is seeking reinstatement as chief financial officer, attorneys fees, court costs and other damages.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 1 before Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis.
Lumley, who previously worked as the Bibb school systems attorney, said state law is clear that multi-year leases such as the one signed by Barnes cant commit the school board to future payments. Among the exceptions would be bonds approved by voters.
You cant obligate the taxpayers, as a general rule, unless the taxpayers approve it, Lumley said Tuesday.
Colliers lawsuit asks the court to void the lease agreement and declare that the school system has no obligation to pay for rent, improvements, utilities or repairs.
The July 2012 lease agreement runs from July 2013 through June 2023. Macon officials applied for a federal Promise Neighborhoods grant, hoping it would cover costs, but the school system committed to the building regardless of whether it won the grant. Macon recently learned the first attempt to secure the $28.5 million grant failed.
Bibb County school spokesman Donnie Porter said in an e-mail Tuesday that the district is not in a position to comment or provide details about Colliers lawsuit because of the pending litigation. The school system repeatedly has refused to comment on Promise Neighborhood or Colliers claims, citing Colliers lawsuit.
The grant that didnt pan out was going to fund wrap-around services for children from the area, such as tutoring, psychological counseling, and health and safety services. Many of those services would be provided from the Promise Center at 1780 Anthony Road, where construction is well under way.
That construction is fueled by a $4.61 million bond issued through the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority for the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development. The landlord plans to use the school systems rent money to cover the bond costs.
Colliers revised lawsuit also makes more claims about how Dallemand pressured him to pay the $1 million invoice a week before the lease agreement had been signed. Collier claims Dallemand made a phone call to Colliers home in an effort to get Collier to pay the money.
Dallemand also told Collier that the school board president wanted to know why the first invoice had not been paid and asked Collier whether Dr. Dallemand needed to get another Chief Financial Officer to write the check, according to the lawsuit.
Federal guidelines for the Promise Neighborhood program say school officials needed to say where the matching money would come from, but did not need to have it in hand. But at the same time Dallemand and Collier were exchanging letters about the payment, the Urban Development Authority was authorizing the bonds and Dallemand was signing an agreement pledging $19.3 million in school system support over a decade for the Promise Neighborhood program.
Just a month earlier, the school board authorized Dallemand to use up to $1 million a year over 10 years for the Promise Neighborhood, roughly half the amount that Dallemand pledged.
Some school board members say they didnt know about the lease agreement until months later, when they voted Oct. 18 on an agreement with the landlord. Colliers revised lawsuit claims he also was kept in the dark.
While Collier was still the districts CFO when Barnes signed the lease in July, Mr. Collier knew nothing about the Lease Agreement until after the Board of Education met on October 18, 2012, according to the lawsuit.
Almost two months later, Collier received a Dec. 10 letter notifying him he would be an administrator on special assignment while the district investigated his department.
From Dec. 11 onward, Collier worked out of the systems warehouse, instead of his office at the districts central office, according to the litigation.
Collier has most recently been working in the school systems central office again, according to the revised lawsuit. After three working days as the director of capital assets and contracts, he was taken from the warehouse to a new workplace. While the revised lawsuit doesnt specify which day that was, Collier assumed his new job duties Jan. 7.
On Dec. 19, in-house attorney Randy Howard told The Telegraph the district had completed its investigation of Collier. Responding Friday to a Telegraph open records request, Howard didnt release any information from the investigation.
At the present time, there is no summary or report in existence relating to the investigation of Mr. Collier or his department. In addition, I have no personal knowledge of any notes relating to the investigation, Howard wrote in an e-mailed response.
Colliers revised lawsuit claims he hasnt been told about the results of that investigation.
School board members voted to change Colliers job title from chief financial officer to director of capital assets and contracts at a Dec. 20 board meeting, hours after his initial lawsuit was filed and hand-delivered to the schools in-house attorney, according to the revised lawsuit. Board members did not publicly discuss the transfer before voting.
Collier claims he didnt receive notice of the transfer from Dallemand, school board members or other school system representatives. That news came from a newspaper reporter, the lawsuit states.
School records also show Colliers director position wasnt created until December, and the post bears the title of manager.
The school system transferred Collier in retaliation for Mr. Collier objecting to and refusing to participate in an activity of the School District that Mr. Collier had reasonable cause to believe was in violation of or noncompliance with a law, rule, or regulation, according to the revised lawsuit.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.