Targeting the watchdogs? A troubling prospect

Something stinks at the Orange County schools.

An auditor found troubling evidence to suggest a contractor may have been paid for work he didn't do.

And the district responded with talk about booting him — not the contractor, mind you. But the auditor — the guy who was trying to watch out for the public's money.

School officials say the two things aren't related, which makes this one amazing coincidence.

Also a coincidence: The contractor accused of not playing by the rules is a friend of the same School Board attorney targeting the auditor.

It looks like small-time politics — except we're talking about a governmental agency with a big-time, billion-dollar budget. All of it public money.

The April audit raised a lot of questions about accountability in the school district's construction and building programs. But many of them centered on a single company: Hodges Brothers Roofing.

The Orlando Sentinel reported this year that auditors had been unable to find warranties for more than 170 of 182 jobs that Hodges had performed and that Hodges had been paid for several jobs without district officials verifying that the work was even done.

Then this past weekend, Sentinel reporter Erika Hobbs detailed several more findings from auditor Jan Skjersaa related to a $74,000 roofing project at Evans Ninth Grade Center. Among them:

Hodges Brothers had trouble proving it had applied a leakproof coating. … No warranties for the project were on file. … Some of the purchase orders were created long after the company had completed its work. … The manufacturer had no record of selling Hodges its product for this job.

Oh, and school staff were still reporting leaks on all the roofs.

With such findings, you might expect Skjersaa, a five-year employee, to get a raise.

Instead, he got word that his job was on the line.

Why? When contacted Tuesday, school-district attorneys essentially portrayed Skjersaa as an auditor gone wild.

They said he violated all kinds of auditing and bureaucratic protocol by testing roofing materials on his own and by violating his chain of command when he spoke up about perceived improprieties.

But were his claims about Hodges true? That is, after all, what matters most.

The answer I got was a mishmash.

In some cases, they said no — that Hodges' reputation had been unfairly smeared.

In other cases, maybe yes — but not in a manner that really matters.

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