Correction: The phrase Vital did say that the District saves approximately $21,000 per year over the former full-time communications specialist position… should read Vital did say that Erwin & Muir billed the District $21,000 last year, a net savings over a former full-time communications specialist position… Original article follows.
Responding to questions raised in last week’s article, Alameda Unified School District Superintendent Kirsten Vital says that political consultants hired to pass Measure H in 2008 were vital to developing the master plan approved by AUSD on February 23rd, which calls for a new, higher, parcel tax.
In last week’s article, we wrote that Vital had procured the services of political consultants Erwin & Muir, for $14,000, to “redesign and reprogram” AUSD’s website. Erwin & Muir, on their website, list the passage of Measure H, in 2008 – a controversial AUSD parcel tax ballot measure that is still the subject of litigation – as one of their successes.
In e-mails and a formal letter to Action Alameda News, Ms. Vital wrote, referring to Erwin & Muir’s work for the District, which included sitting on the Master Plan Advisory Group, that they have provided community outreach support that is “an essential component of the master plan and their work and advice in this regard has been very valuable.” Although Vital did say that Erwin & Muir have been providing services to the District since before Vital was hired, she did not provide a detailed response to our previous question asking how they were uniquely qualified to provide this support.
We also wrote that AUSD hired a webmaster – AUSD Board Trustee Mike McMahon’s daughter, Becky McMahon – to redesign the District’s website, at around the same time that Erwin & Muir began to “redesign and reprogram” the District’s website with the support of third-party contractors. Ms. Vital wrote to us:
We chose to ask Erwin and Muir to accomplish the redesign before we hired the webmaster and it took some time for the vendors they subcontracted with to deliver the work. The subcontractors were delayed in technical glitches and ended up working closely with our webmaster to get the final product up and running.
Vital says that the work with Erwin & Muir to redesign the website began “shortly after I arrived in the winter of 2009.” However, as previously reported, the invoice submitted by Erwin & Muir to the District cites work performed from May 2009 to August 2009. Further, Becky McMahon confirmed to us that her “effective start date for the webmaster/web communications position was July 1, 2009. You can check with the minutes for August 11, 2009.” And she also told us, as previously reported:
Yes, Mike McMahon is my father. As for the re-design of the web, I was hired after the re-design, so I had no role in the re-design process.
which would seem to conflict with what Vital told us about the District’s webmaster working closely with Erwin & Muir to get the website going in the end.
Becky McMahon provided us with the following history of her work for the District (below) and asserted that she competed for the position of webmaster with the District as any other applicant would. In comments posted in response to last week’s article, Ms. McMahon said that it was her “background and degree in Communications” that won her the position of webmaster, a position which, according to AUSD Board meeting minutes, was tasked to “design and maintain the District’s website(s).”
August 2004- June 2008 – I worked for AUSD as a Health Office Assistant
August 2008- May 16, 2009 – I worked as a clerical substitute at haight elementary school
May 20, 2009 – June 30 – I worked in the payroll/fiscal dept.
July 1- present – here in technology
Ms. McMahon’s father was first elected to the AUSD board in 2000. Searching the Internet, we found job description after job description for webmasters that suggested that the requirements for the role included a degree in an Information Technology-related discipline and website software development skills.
Regarding Erwin & Muir, Ms. Vital never directly answered our question as to whether or not the website design project was put out to competitive bid.
Vital did say that the District saves approximately $21,000 per year over the former full-time communications specialist position, a cost-savings which is presumably offset by the estimated $41,000 to $51,000 per year salary of a full-time webmaster. She also broke-down Erwin & Muir’s $14,000 invoice, saying that work was performed by subcontractors, and that “these charges are reflected on the attached invoice” but there was no further invoice attached to Ms. Vital’s e-mail.
She also wrote that the breakdown of the subcontractor’s work was explained in “the purchase order you received in response to your public records request.” However, at the time we received that communication from Ms. Vital, we had not yet received a copy of the purchase order, which we had requested on February 26th. We had to request it again, copying the AUSD Board of Trustees, and to the credit of AUSD General Council Danielle Houck, she sent a copy of the PO over the weekend.
Here is a copy of a $64,000 purchase order from AUSD to political consultants Erwin & Muir for services for the 2009/10 year, issued on July 7, 2009. Note that it is an “open” purchase order which means that requests for services against the order can be made repeatedly over time without issuing new purchase orders.
Ms. Vital confirmed that there was no written contract between AUSD and Erwin & Muir for the website project, writing that “a contract is not legally required as the Board has delegated authority to Cabinet members to procure services on behalf of the District.” Vital does say that, “going forward, Erwin and Muir will have a professional services agreement with the District.”
On Tuesday, March 9th, at their regular meeting, the AUSD Board will consider an information item for “Proposed Special Meeting Dates for Parcel Tax Review and Approval.” Action Alameda News has asked that the District put us on their 24-hour notification list for special meetings, in accordance with California open meetings legislation.