School facilities chief says no rule requires neutrality
SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, 2010 02:51 AM
BY BILL BUSH AND RANDY LUDLOW
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Richard Murray, director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said he hasn’t crossed any lines.
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The director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission acknowledged yesterday that he’s not neutral when it comes to supporting unions – and said he’s not supposed to be, not by law nor by agency policy.
Richard Murray also said he never crossed any lines when dealing with local school-district officials and certainly never twisted any arms to get them to contract with union labor.
Murray, a former union official who was Gov. Ted Strickland’s pick to lead the agency that spends almost $3 million on schools across the state, said that the Ohio inspector general was incorrect in a report released last week that said Murray should be neutral.
Murray said he and his bosses on the commission, appointees who directly work for the Strickland administration, disagree.
“To this we say the (inspector general) is wrong: This sense of neutrality, this sense that with respect to union matters I must always be neutral, is simply nowhere in law or in rule or in policy of this agency.”
When told what Murray had said, commission Chairman J. Pari Sabety said in a written statement: “I agree that the commission’s neutrality with regard to local district decisions should be made more clear, so I have asked the OSFC legal counsel to draft clarifying language.”
The commission has prevailing wage and union-only “project labor agreement” policies that allow districts the option of paying union wages and hiring only union workers, Murray said. The agency officially supports the unions with these policies, “and to suggest that I must be neutral as I go out and explain those policies and explain why the commission’s policies include these matters, these options for school boards, is simply wrong.”
“Well, there you have it – finally an honest answer from Richard Murray,” said Bryan Williams, a lobbyist for the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio. “He doesn’t get it. Richard Murray is a soldier in a larger army.”
The inspector general recommended that the commission “take action to ensure the executive director demonstrates neutrality regarding school districts’ selection of contractors, regardless of prevailing wage or PLA matters.” The report says Murray agreed that he was supposed to be neutral.
“The issue is, can you execute the duties of the OSFC properly while you have such a huge bias, and a bias that includes wanting to get paid by your former union employer while you’re on the payroll of the state?” Williams said.
The report said that Murray had asked for an advisory opinion on whether he could work as a paid consultant for Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, an organization dedicated to landing jobs for union construction firms that employed Murray for 13 years before Strickland tapped him to head the OSFC last September.
“They did not anticipate anywhere close to a 40-hour week, but they said can you come back and perform some of these transition functions, and we would pay you,” Murray said yesterday about the trust wanting to hire him while he was acting director of the OSFC. “And I said, well, the only way that could be done would be to engage in a contract. I’m a public employee. I have an ethical obligation not to accept employment outside of my public duties.”
“He’s in over his head as a manager as it is,” Williams said. “He shouldn’t have wanted to accept any other distraction except church on Sunday.”