Let’s just get right to it: Did Moore County Schools make up the excuse of a contractor’s “math error” so it could get an extra $2.6 million more from the county to help build the new Southern Pines elementary school?
That is what it has been accused of by local radio commentator J.D. Zumwalt the last couple of weeks. On Wednesday, April 17, after a story detailing the controversy ran in The Pilot, Zumwalt went on WEEB AM 990 and, along with station owner Steve Adams, tried to cast more shade on what they admittedly called a “convoluted” story.
But in the end, it is they who are convoluting a story that, really, has no merit and no point except perhaps to either further their own interests in a 2020 school board candidacy or merely just belittle and smear the process and its people. Seeing as the two have three failed political campaigns between them, perhaps it’s the latter.
When a conspiracy story is created and propagated, its generators don’t typically apologize for their alarmist rhetoric and back down. So they press on, and have done so this week even after The Pilot published more evidence to the contrary.
Contorted Leaps of Faith
Like every conspiracy story, to believe the story requires the listener to make tremendous and unusual suspensions of disbelief. In this case, you have to believe that Superintendent Bob Grimesey, school Operations Director and certified architect John Birath, the contractors, the contractors’ attorneys, the school board’s attorneys and finally the entire school board are all lying.
You have to believe they made up the excuse of a “math error” from contractor Clancy & Theys in submitting its bid.
You have to believe they all lied so the county could award the contract to a second bidder, who, along with Clancy and other bidders, were all over the target construction budget from the get-go.
You have to believe they all lied so Clancy could reclaim a $1.5 million good-faith bond it put up.
Lastly, you have to disbelieve the detailed story about how the math error occurred — spelled out in detailed documentation obtained by The Pilot and published over the past week. All of that information painstakingly lays out the timeline of discovery and communication of a key math error that made Clancy’s bid for the school untenable. To believe otherwise is to accept a torturous and fractured path. “Convoluted,” if you will.
Other Agendas at Play
The last part of this conspiracy story is that Grimesey, Birath et al. let Clancy & Theys off the hook by taking back their posted bond rather than claim it as a penalty for the contractor’s late withdrawal.
Opinions on this — informed and uninformed — will fall all over the map. Could we have played hard ball, litigated this and maybe a year or two from now have won? Sure. Did the contractor make an honest mistake? Yes. Could the school district also have lost its case and wasted hundreds of thousands in legal fees? Sure. So you choose. The school board opted not to take the litigious path.
In the end, this is all much ado about nothing. Really, other motives seem to be at play here. How odd that this is all being stirred up just as Moore County Schools releases its redistricting plan, a plan Zumwalt referred to in his radio program as “busing.”
That word — loaded in every sense of its meaning — is meant to misinform, rile up and disturb those who hear it. It’s irresponsible and intentionally divisive. And it’s not even remotely accurate. Quite frankly, it is beneath Moore County.
But Zumwalt does offer some advice for all of us: “Just check out the facts. Read the article in The Pilot. Read every word of it and then compare it to the things I’ve said today.”
We did. We have. We’re right.