Columbus Public Schools Acting Internal Auditor Philip Watson’s 7-page summary and report explains why Columbus School Board member William Moss pounded his shoe on the table disrupting the February 4, 2003 Columbus School Board meeting.

An assessment of the mainstream press’ news and commentary surrounding Moss’ imitation of Nikita Khrushchev suggests that only the Columbus Dispatch’s Bill Bush looked past Moss’ tactics to the substance of his complaint. Columbus Dispatch columnist Barbara Carmen, despite the availability of the Watson’s 7-page report, completely ignored its contents, as did The Other Paper’s News Editor Dan Williamson and Alive columnist Jeff Winbush.

Moss told the Free Press in an interview that his outburst was motivated by what he saw as "collusion" between accounting and consulting firm KPMG and Computer Science Corporation (CSC). Moss points out that as former head of the School Board’s Technology Committee, he recommended pulling the CSC contract from the agenda.

Insider info for bid

As Bush states, "Moss provided copies of a 7-page summary of an internal district investigation that alleges that CSC’s proposal repeated errors that appeared to come from draft versions of bid specifications that were never made public, implying that CSC had the information before competing firms got to see it."

While Bush should be given credit for this paragraph summary of Moss’ complaint, Watson’s 7-page summary is even more revealing. The document notes that, "Nine consulting firms bid on the contract and CSC was selected by the RFP [Request for Proposals] committee. The committee was facilitated by KPMG."

Thus, KPMG, the company suspected of giving inside information to CSC also selected CSC for the computer consultant contract despite the fact that its $985,000 bid was $500,000 more than the next highest bidder, PricewaterhouseCooper. Moss says that the nearly $1 million initial contract was a precursor for an additional $25 million in computer consulting fees. "By CSC getting that initial contract with what looks like insider information, it gave them the fast track for the other $25 million."

Why would the Columbus Public Schools accept a bid that was more than double the nearest bidder? Watson’s summary offers the answer: "CSC seemed to have the exact solution that Columbus Public Schools needed; therefore, the ERP committee voted that they receive the contract although they were double the price."

How would CSC receive insider information? Watson offers another obvious answer: "Mitch Coffman, the former Internal Auditor for Columbus Public Schools, used to have dinner meetings with KPMG until very late at night. . . . Tim Truman, from KPMG, spent significant amounts of time with Mitch, including time at Mitch’s house." Watson reveals that Mitch spent so much time at Coffman’s home that "Mitch’s kids called Tim, ‘Uncle Turtle.’"

Mitch gets the CSC hook-up

Moreover, Watson reports that Mitch left Columbus Public Schools to take a consulting job at a Fortune "200 or 500" company. Coffman refused to say which company it was and told Watson that "it was best he didn’t tell me" the name of the company. Coffman informed Watson that as a consultant he would be "starting a national k-12 technology practice" for the firm.

Watson’s summary points out that Coffman’s exit from the school district "parallels CSC’s entry into the k-12 technology practice." When Watson later questioned CSC’s Mark Feist about whether or not any former Columbus Public School employees were working at CSC, Feist initially asked him why he wanted to know.

Watson later confirmed his suspicions that Coffman was working as a consultant for CSC, and Coffman had in his possession when employed by the school district all of the insider information developed by KPMG relating to the RFP. This would explain why CSC’s bid contained the same typo "Students will be prepared for Algebra by the third grade" instead of the ninth grade, which is language that appeared only in private Columbus Public Schools internal documents.

$500,000 rip-off planned

Watson concluded that "This information might possibly have provided CSC with an unfair advantage over the other vendors. They could have had insider information that allowed them to craft what the ERP considered as the best proposal." This insider information cost the school system $500,000 since it was so superior to the next highest bid.

When Moss heard about the alleged deal-rigging, he had the contract pulled from the Board’s agenda, as the head of the School’s Technology Committee. Columbus School Board member Jeff Cabot followed Moss’ lead and later added his name to Moss’ request.

"I had that contract pulled. The Treasurer, Jerry Bucilla, called Cabot who added his name after the fact and told CSC’s Feist to lower his bid if he wanted the contract," Moss told the Free Press. Moss made similar allegations at the February 4 Board meeting. Cabot told the Dispatch that Moss’ allegations were "bogus."

What was Moss’ reward for saving the school district half a million dollars? Board President Stephanie Hightower eliminated his Technology Committee after Moss demanded the contract be pulled.

Hightower cover-up

Buried at the bottom of Bush’s article is the following statement: "Moss accused Hightower of disbanding his committee to keep the investigation from the public." Hightower insisted that since technology is part of district-wide operations it should be subsumed under the Finance and Operations Committee. Moss was out of town when Hightower eliminated his committee.

As Technology Committee Chair, Moss provided documentation to the Columbus Alive last year, including emails between Stephanie Hightower and WOSU Radio executives regarding private negotiations to hand over the school system’s nonprofit radio station WCBE to The Ohio State University.

The year before, Moss had exposed a secret arrangement between the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, a school contractor, and Columbus Public School’s newly hired Chief Operating Officer Don Haydon to pay his relocation fees to live outside the Columbus school district, in a Bexley mansion.

Moss’ history of whistle-blowing

Under former Columbus Public School Superintendent Rosa Smith, Moss exposed a $30 million dollar unbid computer contract between the school district with a company where the Superintendent’s son worked.

Lost amidst the turmoil of the February 4 shoe-banging was a resolution drafted by Moss creating an "investigative committee" to look into the CSC contract. Moss wanted an investigative committee since, as the resolution reads in part, ". . . the Ohio Ethics Commission may not have jurisdiction over the individuals whose actions appear to warrant further scrutiny." As Moss explains, "They know good and well that the Ohio Ethics Commission who they referred it to doesn’t have subpoena power and jurisdiction over private companies." This issue was raised by Watson in his summary under the heading, "Investigative Strategy." Watson writes, "Possibly turn over to outside agency with subpoena powers to request records and other documentation to show link. (Depends on the investigatory track the district wishes to take.)"

CPS’s Bonnie and Clyde?

"We know what track Ms. Hightower and Mr. Cabot took. It’s called cover-up. If people knew their history, they would understand why I banged my shoe," Moss insists.

The media coverage tended to overlook or offer counterfactual assertions concerning Cabot’s and Hightower’s past public ethical dilemmas. There was no mention of Hightower’s secret attempts to give WCBE, valued at up to $17 million to WOSU. Nor was their any mention of her highly-publicized problems in the early 1990’s when she was a Communications Officer at the Ohio Department of Mental Health. Then-Ohio Inspector General David Sturtz issued a report accusing Hightower of making

134 hours of personal long-distance phone calls while on the job. Hightower left the agency and agreed to reimburse for the phone calls. State Auditor Thomas E. Ferguson concluded that Hightower owed the state $419.44 for phone calls and $3,291.32 for 134 hours of missed work while on the phone.

Hightower, a Democrat, took a job with Mayor Greg Lashutka’s Republican administration. In 1999, Hightower suddenly decided to run as a Democrat for the Columbus Board of Education. Between June and the November election, she raised more than $133,000 from the city’s elite to run for a job which pays a maximum of $2,880 a year. Her nearest competitors, the well-connected Karen Schwarzwalder and Bob Teater, raised $20,610 and $20,551, respectively.

Larry James, a powerful corporate attorney and the city’s former Public Safety Director, served as her treasurer. James was appointed co-chair of the School’s Accountability Panel for a planned $1.6 billion school renovation and construction plan. Voters approved the first $400 million last November. A November 17, 2002 Dispatch editorial entitled "Here we go again" pointed out that James planned to "tweak" a draft of the ethics policy, particularly the part that forbid Accountability panel members or members of their families from being parties or beneficiaries of any contracts paid for with the construction bond money.

The Dispatch wrote: "In fact, a skeptic might say that his [James’] principle ‘qualification’ to lead the Accountability Panel is that he served as campaign treasurer for Stephanie Hightower, the School Board President. The notion of cutting corners on an ethics policy is ludicrous on its face." Cabot managed to get another lifelong friend, Paul Goggin, appointed as the other chair.

Mainstream media madness

Alive writer Jeff Winbush chastised Moss for "playing the angry black man" and asked "What will Wild Bill do next time? Go all the way and show up with an Uzi slung over his shoulder?" In Winbush’s superficial analysis, "Moss’ charges of racism don’t sound so legitimate with a black woman in braids [Hightower] sitting at the head of the table flanked by another black female superintendent." Gene Harris, the current superintendent, earlier left the district when she was a high-ranking administrator after placing her son in a private prep school. Hightower’s child was in private school prior to her running for the School Board.

Dispatch columnist Barbara Carmen has led the attack on Moss. She has also emerged as Cabot’s key apologist. Carmen writes, "I’ve known Cabot for a decade. He is man of decency and integrity." Cabot was forced out as Franklin County Administrator following two well-publicized scandals. Under his watch, a $2.2 million unbid contract was granted to the Voinovich Company, owned by then-Governor George Voinovich’s brother, to renovate the County jail. The final cost of construction ended up at $13 million. The Voinovich Company was sued in Jefferson County and lost for similar antics, and went bankrupt. Cabot was also the administrator when the county recruited Southern Air Transport (SAT) to Rickenbacker Airport. The CIA Inspector General later revealed 12 of SAT’s pilots were involved in cocaine and drug-running during the Iran-Contra affair. News reports from around the world had reported this prior to SAT’s recruitment to Franklin County.

The other Cleve

Willamson of the Other Paper told the tragic and pathetic tale of Moss "bullying" a parent, one Cleve Ricksecker. This stands out as the absolute worst coverage of the February 4 meeting. Williamson portrays Ricksecker as an innocent victim of an angry Bill Moss. "He was there threatening me," Ricksecker offered. In 1991, Ricksecker, then-director of the Columbus Arts Festival, threatened to "kick" this writer’s "ass" and he called me a "motherfucker" the first time I ever met him. After showing the real important mayoral candidates, Ben Espy and Lashutka, around the festival, he threatened to have me and Congressional candidate Tom Erney "arrested" for walking around and shaking hands with festival-goers. As the head of the Short North Business Association, Ricksecker was the only notable community figure to side with Battelle’s attempt to place a radioactive and toxic mixed-waste site on the floodplains of the Olentangy River.

The January 1994 Free Press reported that: "Ricksecker’s letter initially stunned the audience before leading to near open rebellion: ‘Who among us does not have hazardous waste stored at their house including gasoline, paint thinner, and weed killer?’" Ricksecker wrote. He asserted "That every car that travels on Fifth Avenue poses a bigger risk" than the uranium 235, 238, Cobalt 60 and various other radioactive isotopes stored at Battelle. While the suburban mentality of the Other Paper leads it to promote angry black man vs. frightened white parent, the actual transcript shows Ricksecker calling Moss names in three out of his first four comments. Here are the comments from Ricksecker to Moss: "You’re being a fool; you’re an embarrassment to the school district; sir, I’m a parent, I care about my kids. I don’t care about these antics from you; you’re unstable. Ricksecker goes on to call Moss a "bully." This is the Ricksecker I know.

It’s the research, stupid

Perhaps if Winbush, Carmen and Williamson had actually gone on their computers and done some research, they may have found some of the following: 1) That KPMG, the School’s consulting firm that chose CSC for the technology contract, works as an accountant for CSC in Singapore. 2) That CSC partners in France bought KPMG Peat Marwick Group in that country. 3) That KPMG and CSC worked in partnership on "tax harmonisation" in Europe. 4) That the CSC leads a team that includes KPMG, known as the Prime Alliance. They are working together on a $7.5 billion consulting contract for the IRS. This is an expected 10-15 years relationship that started in 1999. 5) That news reports refer to CSC as a key KMPG customer.

Bob Fitrakis’ radio show is 10-11am Saturdays on WVKO1580AM.