The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 23, 2013

Joplin School District pays to settle lawsuit filed by contractor

JOPLIN, Mo. — A $2.2 million lawsuit filed by a demolition company against the Joplin School District over the bills for clearing tornado debris has been settled for $276,000.

U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner has issued an order dismissing the lawsuit of Urban Metropolitan Development LLC from U.S. District Court in Kansas City. The order states that the lawsuit’s claims were settled.

“Joplin Schools paid $276,000 in exchange for a full release and dismissal of UMD’s lawsuit, which included claims alleging both breach of contract and civil rights violations,” said Doug Harpool, the Springfield attorney who represents Urban Metropolitan, in an email response to Globe questions about the settlement. “Some of the settlement money went to workers to bring their wages to the level the state claimed was required by Missouri’s prevailing wage law. Some went to a bonding company for UMD, some went directly to UMD and some went to my firm for attorney fees.”

School Superintendent C.J. Huff referred questions about the terms of the settlement to the district’s attorney, John Nicholas. He did not return calls asking for the information.

The school board voted a year ago to fire Urban Metropolitan, which had won a contract to demolish and clear the debris from Joplin High School, Irving Elementary School and the old South Middle School. The company was to be paid $155,322 to clean the high school site, $129,260 for Irving and $134,230 for the middle school. The next highest bid for the work was $400,000 more than Urban Metro’s bid.

The contract called for payments to be made for the demolition work in installments every other month. After the school district terminated the contract, the contractor filed the lawsuit alleging that the school district had missed making progress payments.

In the lawsuit, the contractor alleged that after it had cleared some of the high school wreckage, it found standing water up to 21 feet deep in a tunnel under the school building. Company officials said they informed school officials about the standing water and received an order from the school district to remove the water. Urban Metro billed for the work, which the company contended was not covered by the contract. The bill was $544,000.

The lawsuit later was amended to include claims that the school district violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Urban Metro because the company is minority-owned. The lawsuit did not detail how that discrimination was alleged to have taken place.

There also was a claim that about $1.5 million worth of materials that could have been salvaged from the debris and sold to help the contractor recoup its costs had already been removed. It also was alleged that the school district’s payment was not enough to cover state-mandated prevailing wages for workers

In December, state charges alleging forgery were filed against the company and its project manager, Jennifer Taylor. The charges allege failure to pay prevailing wage. A probable-cause statement issued in those charges identified 20 employees who were said to have been underpaid.

Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said Tuesday that the settlement of the lawsuit will not affect the criminal charges. A probable-cause hearing is set for May 23 in the Associate Division of Jasper County Circuit Court.

Headquarters

URBAN METROPOLITAN Development LLC is based in Atlanta, Ga.

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