Broward School District lobbyist departs construction firm

Sun-Sentinel education blog

By Megan O’Matz

The Weitz Company has severed its relationship with Construction Manager Rick Kolb, who lobbied the Broward School District.

Kolb joined the Iowa-based builder in the fall of 2007 and began seeking work for the firm from the School Board.

Kolb is the son of Anne Kolb, the late Broward County commissioner, who years earlier employed Michael Garretson, the school system’s chief of construction.

Weitz began winning work from the School Board and Kolb became a presence at district meetings involving Weitz business.

Kolb could not be reached on his cell phone Monday to discuss his departure from Weitz.
Clayton Garrison, Weitz vice president of construction, said: “Basically the two parties disagreed on some issues. And we could not reach an understanding that worked for both of us and we parted ways.”

He declined to elaborate. “The differences that we had are not a matter of public record.”

Some school district construction department employees thought Kolb was a longtime family friend of Garretson’s.

When Garretson suddenly died in June, shortly after retiring, his former secretary received a call from Kolb telling her the news, according to an email she distributed.

Garrison denied that Kolb was hired because of any connections he had to school district insiders.

“He was brought on because we thought he had a lot of talent, and that’s the only reason,” Garrison said.

In recent years, the school district’s construction program has been the focus of considerable concern by internal auditors who identified widespread waste, mismanagement and possible corruption in their reviews. One School Board member, Beverly Gallagher, is serving three years in prison for taking bribes from undercover FBI agents to rig construction contracts. A statewide grand jury on public corruption is also investigating the school district.

Weitz has operations in West Palm Beach. In South Florida, the firm built the Watergarden Condominium on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale and expanded the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, according to the company’s web site.

From 2008 to 2009 Weitz completed three elementary school kitchen-cafeterias in Broward, each costing between $7 million and $8 million, according to records filed with the state.

In 2008 the School Board selected Weitz for a $30 million renovation of Fort Lauderdale High School but the job has been postponed due to budget constraints.