Fresno Unified paid more than $2.7 million because of trustee Brooke Ashjian’s conflicts of interest with local construction companies during his first and only term on the school board, according to district documents.
A bulk of that cost came after the school district was forced to rebid a building project for Figarden Elementary in 2016 and again in 2017 because the originally selected construction firms had a "prohibited interest" with Ashjian and his company, according to information received from a public records request filed by The Bee.
The price could ramp up even more: Fresno Unified has had significant legal expenses, but attorneys would not release those numbers, citing laws that protect attorney-client privilege in pending litigation.
The construction project for classrooms at Figarden Elementary was first rebid at a higher cost — an additional $675,000 — to David Bush Inc. because Ashjian's company, Seal Rite Paving, was listed on the project as a subcontractor for Lewis C. Nelson and Sons, the original contractor hired for the project and the lowest bidder.
But then the Bush contract was terminated, too. Records show it was rejected due to "discovery of prohibited interest" with Ashjian. A district spokesman said that's because Fresno Unified "had no knowledge" of a business relationship Ashjian also had with Bush Inc. until the trustee amended his Statement of Economic Interests form after he had been elected.
Those changes — which included part of the project to be re-bid to BVI Construction — resulted in an additional cost to the district of about $1.9 million.
“If not for the prohibited interest, (Bush and Nelson) would have won. They are major contractors that we can no longer do business with,” said Paul Rosencrans, executive director of purchasing for Fresno Unified. “If we could use Nelson and Bush, then we would have paid $2.7 million less for these projects.”
Another project that had been awarded to Nelson and Sons for remodeling to Fresno High's Royce Hall was rejected in 2016 due to prohibited interest with Ashjian and was rebid and awarded to Davis Moreno Construction for $160,000 more than the original price, according to documents.
According to the district, $2,724,166 was the total cost related to re-bids and contract termination tied to Ashjian's prohibited interests — the same as a year's salary for about 35 of the district’s most experienced teachers.
The district has not worked with Nelson and Sons or Bush Inc. since — two contractors Fresno Unified routinely hired as the lowest bidders on projects before Ashjian was elected. The district will resume working with the firms when Ashjian's term on the school board is up in November, Rosencrans said.
Ashjian's business dealings are currently under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission after a complaint alleged that he failed to fully disclose a slew of businesses as a source of income upon election. Known as a 700 form, it requires elected officials to disclose their personal financial interests "to ensure that officials are making decisions in the best interest of the public and not enhancing their personal finances," according to FPPC.
The FPPC confirmed last week that the investigation, which began in 2016, is still underway. The complaint that sparked the investigation was filed by Merced attorney Kenneth Mackie who has refused to disclose who hired him to pursue the Ashjian case.
Since the FPPC investigation began, Ashjian has read aloud at public meetings a disclosure of his work with contractors that the district also works with, and has abstained from voting on those projects.
Ashjian did not return a request for comment. He announced earlier this month that he will not run for re-election to the school board, following a tumultuous year that led to calls for his resignation due to anti-LGBT comments.