The Monroe County School Board on Tuesday plans to settle, once and for all, a monetary claim with the architect in charge of the ongoing construction of the new Horace O'Bryant School.
Rick Z. Smith, whose working relationship with the School District dates back more than two decades, triggered a dispute in late January when he suspended work on the project for a week to protest what he claimed was a reduction in his payment, referred to in legal documents as "construction administration" money.
Smith, of Tampa-based Rick Z. Smith and Associates Architects Inc., then went before the School Board during its Feb. 28 meeting to publicly complain about the situation. School District attorneys chastised the architect for bringing the matter up in public.
On Tuesday, the disagreement will be laid to rest when the board formally approves an additional payment of $187,500 to Smith. That will bring the total amount of construction administration money Smith will receive for his services to $684,454.
"It was forced into mediation, which is always the way to go," School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths told The Citizen. "Only when you're in litigation can the board meet outside the Sunshine. We can't settle up or negotiate unless there's a lawsuit involved. But basically, we went back and forth until we came up with a figure that both sides could agree on."
Florida's Sunshine Law requires elected officials and other groups overseeing public money to conduct meetings in public rather than any closed-door negotiations.
Griffiths said he thought the confusion might have stemmed from assumptions Smith may have made based on his experience with previous School District contracts, when, in fact, the present contract was written differently.
In February, Smith complained that his fee was "basically being cut in half, more than half," and that School District attorney Scott Black was treating his contract "like a menu."
In private negotiations, however, attorneys for Smith managed to cut a deal with the district, making Tuesday's School Board vote a formality.
Smith didn't return a phone call requesting comment.
• Also on Tuesday, the board is expected to discuss expense and savings issues relating to the HOB construction. There was some confusion at a recent meeting of the district's Audit and Finance Committee about a bonus scheme in the district's contract with Coastal Construction that hinges on savings realized during the project. The firm has sent Griffiths an email requesting a meeting on the matter.