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March 3, 2024

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Clark College violated law regarding construction project funding, says Washington auditor

Director of Facilities Services resigned Aug. 12

By , Columbian staff writer

A whistleblower investigation report released Thursday by the Office of the Washington State Auditor found that Clark College staff failed to comply with state law in their procurement of project funding on two recent occasions.

The report found that, according to an anonymous whistleblower complaint the office received on Aug. 23, 2021, Clark’s director of facilities services “grossly mismanaged his responsibilities by instructing staff to procure projects in ways that violated state law.” The report, which was shared with college officials Thursday, also revealed that the employee in question reportedly resigned from their position on Aug. 12.

Per RCW 28.B.50.330, which pertains to construction financing for community and technical college facilities, colleges in Washington are required to put projects up for public bidding and award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder if they are expected to exceed $90,000.

The investigation found that on two occasions, the college maintenance staff worked in-house to procure services for projects that exceeded that threshold.

The construction projects in question, listed as capital minor work projects, were a remodel of the school’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion and a remodel to the confidential offices for advisors and credential evaluators.

For one of the projects, a design proposal from the college’s “on-call architect” totaled $126,400 — a cost that was “significantly higher than what the subject and the (Department of Enterprise Services) expected.”

The auditors said that, upon learning of the cost, the director of facilities services informed the department of enterprise services that they would handle the work in-house — knowingly a violation of state law.

The report said that on a second occasion, the college official didn’t ask for a proposal because they anticipated a similar cost.

“In conclusion, we found reasonable cause to believe an improper governmental action occurred because the subject understood state procurement requirements but chose not to comply with them,” the investigation read.

Toward the end of the report, Clark College said in their plan of resolution that vague language surrounding the law led to the violation.

“The guidance available on the application of these requirements for community colleges is sparse,” the college said in the report. “The college will consult with the State Auditor’s Office as it continues working on process improvements and drafting a new policy on capital and public works projects.”

A representative from Clark College could not be reached for comment as of early Thursday afternoon.