Scottsdale Schools, Hunt & Caraway reach settlement

SUSD Governing Board members Sandy Kravetz, Allyson Beckham, Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

The Scottsdale Unified School District has reached a settlement with Hunt & Caraway Architects after legal wrongdoings emerged late last year.

The settlement — which the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board unanimously approved Thursday, Dec. 20 at a special meeting after an executive session — stipulates the district will pay $350,815 to the Phoenix-based architect firm for services rendered on the Hopi and Pima school projects as well as the Sports Fields Project.

The special meeting was held at Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road, Scottsdale.

More specifically, $260,565 are for the Hopi Elementary School Project; $85,000 are for the Pima Elementary School Project; and $5,250 for the Sports Fields Project.

In return, the firm will refund $16,485.63 to the district for the Central Kitchen Project. It will also waive outstanding fees, totaling $105,427.50, on the Hohokam Elementary School Project.

Furthermore, both parties claimed through the agreement that the settlement does not constitute “an admission of liability or wrongdoing by any party” in the agreement.

“The parties desire to resolve the disputes in an amicable fashion and have entered into this agreement in good faith and with the desire to forever compromise and settle the disputes,” the agreement stated.

Hunt & Caraway was part of the controversy that racked the district for more than a year, leading to an Arizona Attorney General investigation and the dismissal of former superintendent Denise Birdwell.

Brian Robichaux

Hunt & Caraway Architects then-Principal Brian Robichaux had been leading the charge on the Hopi Elementary redesign. Documents show the firm was first hired by the district in April 2016 to work on a “facilities master plan” prior to the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board approving the bond ballot initiative.

District documents, Arizona Corporation Commission files and procurement records show that Hunt & Caraway didn’t go through a public SUSD procurement process, but rather were approved through a Phoenix-based national cooperative, 1 Government Procurement Alliance in 2016.

Court records show Mr. Robichaux was charged with felony theft in 1998, and a final judgment was signed on 2004, Independent archives show.

In State of Arizona v. Brian A. Robichaux, Arizona Superior Court records show Mr. Robichaux obtained $125,653 from the Arizona Department of Transportation for the purpose of building a home for Flora Mae Baptisto Phillips, but used the money for other, unauthorized purposes.

Mr. Robichaux plead guilty to count one, theft, a class 4 felony.

On Dec. 19, 2017, Ms. Segal told district leaders that she found no evidence of wrongdoing in SUSD procurement practices, while she did acknowledge wrongdoings and evidence of over-charging by Hunt & Caraway.

Dr. Denise Birdwell (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

On March 20, the Governing Board voted unanimously that a statement of charges — if proven to be true — constituted cause for Dr. Birdwell’s dismissal.

The statement of charges obtained by the Independent outlined allegations of 14 broken Governing Board policies, violation of Arizona code and a narrative of allegations including Dr. Birdwell, Mr. Robichaux and a third district employee, Louis Hartwell.

Violations in the district’s statement of charges include allegations of violating district policies that pertain to staff ethics, conduct, conflict of interest, financial accounting and procurement procedures.

The charges the district alleged at the time include:

•Dr. Birdwell failed to disclose a substantial personal interest related to Hunt & Caraway Architects at the time she recommended and later approved purchase orders for the district to hire the firm;

•At no time did Dr. Birdwell notify formally or informally the Governing Board, general counsel or anyone representing the district that she was previously employed by, performing services for or otherwise being paid by Hunt & Caraway;

•The district learned of checks signed by Brian Robichaux reflecting payment from Hunt & Caraway to Dr. Birdwell in significant amounts during 2015;

•During the time that Dr. Birdwell was negotiating her employment with the district, Hunt & Caraway issued a check to her for $15,000, dated Jan. 4, 2016, signed by Mr. Robichaux; the check was deposited on Jan. 15, 2016;

•Hunt & Caraway issued payment to “Individual C” dated April 1, 2016, signed by Mr. Robichaux for $15,000; and

•The check was deposited into a joint account held by Dr. Birdwell and “Individual C.”

This Governing Board’s decision to settle with Hunt & Caraway was part of a special meeting that also included the decision to extend acting superintendent John Kriekard’s temporary contract.

The Governing Board is slated to meet again in January when Patty Beckman and Jann-Michael Greenburg will replace Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann on the board.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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