Education Lab

Fresno Unified questions Trustee Ashjian’s bidding practices

Fresno Unified School District school board member Brooke Ashjian questions chief operating officer Karin temple during a board meeting July 8, 2015.
Fresno Unified School District school board member Brooke Ashjian questions chief operating officer Karin temple during a board meeting July 8, 2015. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian – who has long questioned the school district’s bidding practices – is now having his company’s bidding practices questioned by the district.

Ashjian’s company, Seal Rite Paving, was chosen as a subcontractor for Lewis C. Nelson and Sons, which is set to be awarded a project on Figarden Elementary School later this month. The project was advertised for bids in January.

The district pulled Seal Rite Paving from providing earth moving and paving for the project, citing a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, Ashjian says he was unaware that his company had bid on work related to Fresno Unified and volunteered to pull out of the project as soon as he learned of the bid.

Now, an attorney is investigating the matter – but wouldn’t say who hired him to do so.

Merced-based attorney Kenneth Mackie stood before the school board at Wednesday’s meeting and said he was hired by “Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding” to monitor the Figarden Elementary project, saying, “there appears to be some irregularities.” Mackie said he has filed a public records request related to Seal Rite Paving but would not comment further and would not identify the people involved in the watchdog group.

In a memo sent to school board members on Feb. 26, Superintendent Michael Hanson pointed to state code forbidding government officials from being financially interested in any contracts. Hanson said Ashjian had “a prohibited financial interest” in the Figarden Elementary project.

“Nelson represented that it had no prior knowledge that Seal Rite was ineligible to bid. As part of due diligence, staff consulted legal counsel regarding Seal Rite’s eligibility as a subcontractor,” Hanson said in the memo. “Legal counsel determined that  Seal Rite is not considered a ‘responsible contractor.’ 

Ashjian, president of Seal Rite Paving, said an employee sent the bid without his permission or consent, and that he immediately pulled it when he was notified that the bid was for a Fresno Unified project.

“My estimator bid to a general contractor, and the contractor bid to the district. We don’t bid to Fresno Unified. The second I found out about it, I was out,” he said. “We’ve done millions of dollars with Fresno Unified in the past, and when I got on this board, I stopped all of that.”

Ashjian has been a longtime critic of the district’s construction contracts and bidding processes and has publicly questioned district leaders’ roles in what has led to a federal investigation targeting multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts.

Ashjian did not guess at who hired Mackie, but said, “I’ve ruffled some feathers.”

“I’ve made a lot of enemies exposing the leaseback agreements,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “Politics is a full contact sport.”

The school board will address the project at a meeting March 30.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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