West Platte settles depository issue

The West Platte School District addressed its bank depository bids last week at a meeting much more efficiently run than most in recent memory. Superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst, hired last month to serve on an interim basis in the wake of the resignation of former superintendent Dr. Jerrod Wheeler, said he’d been spending some time re-acclimating himself to West Platte. “The last three weeks have been a great learning curve for me,” Harpst said. “There are a lot of new things but also some old — including my old desk that was here when I was here before.” One of the first items up on Harpst’s agenda was putting the district’s bank depository contract out to bid. Harpst said he wanted to be clear that the local depository was not the same as the district’s reserve depository and only about 10 to 25 percent of the district’s daily cash on hand went through the local depository. “This money is from lunches, fundraisers, gate money — it’s a checking account for the district,” Harpst said. The district put out a request for proposals last month after a former mayor of Weston questioned the connection between the current depository and a sitting member of the Board of Education. Greg Hoffman has attended several meetings in recent weeks to voice his concerns about Dr. Donald Wilson’s status as both a Board member and an owner of the Bank of Weston. He feels it creates a conflict of interest in violation of state statute and poses a threat to decisions made with Wilson on the Board. Despite no public comments on the matter, the Board authorized district attorney Keith Hicklin to meet with Hoffman. Wilson maintains he has always acted within the bounds of law and in the best interest of the district. He called for the bank depository contract to go out to bid and said he would recuse himself from the process. Harpst got to work on this process once he took office, and the Board received three bids — Bank of Weston, Platte Valley Bank and Equity Bank. The bids were opened June 16 in the district office, which caused another controversy after Hoffman said the meeting was not posted to the public. Harpst said at the June 18 Board meeting that the bid opening was properly posted. Wilson excused himself from the meeting before discussions on the bids began. Harpst noted that the Bank of Weston had served West Platte for many years, and he had worked with Platte Valley Bank during his time at the Platte County R-3 School District. Equity Bank’s nearest location is off Northwest 64th Street, a distance Harpst said he drove himself to determine the feasibility of transporting money back and forth. Transporting cash became a key part of the discussion, as the RFP asked banks to “provide a daily courier to collect district receipts.” Equity Bank and Platte Valley Bank did not include courier service in their bids and, when asked, said they would provide the district with a list of third-party courier services, but that they could not provide courier service with bank personnel. Bank of Weston offered a daily courier. “It’s dangerous, in my mind, to have a school employee on the road with money,” Harpst said. “So a courier service is essential to the bid.” Harpst said he believed the Platte Valley Bank and Equity Bank bids could be rejected on grounds they could not comply with the courier request and sought out professional opinions. Missouri School Boards Association attorney Scott Summers and the Liberty law firm of Withers, Brant, Igoe and Mullennix reviewed the depository bids. Harpst also asked Ray Miller — a local banker and West Platte graduate — to review the bids. “I wanted to get an opinion from somebody who didn’t have a dog in the fight,” Harpst said. The attorneys agreed that Platte Valley Bank and Equity Bank did not comply with the standards set out in the RFP. Interest calculations were also a topic of discussion, and Harpst said, according to Miller’s review, Bank of Weston offered the highest interest rate. “If there’s only $2-3 million on average in the account, it won’t make much of a difference on the interest rates,” Harpst said. Board member Ryan Rotterman asked if the consulting attorneys were aware of Wilson’s relationship to Bank of Weston. Harpst said they had been briefed on the situation and saw no problems with choosing Bank of Weston. Board member Shane Bartee moved to reject the bids from Equity Bank and Platte Valley Bank. Board Vice President Ron Rowe moved the district accept the bid from Bank of Weston with the motion unanimously passing. Wilson returned to the room after the vote. Hoffman told The Citizen on June 24 that he was satisfied with the results. “I look at it as a win-win situation,” Hoffman said. “First, the school district can rest assured that they are now in compliance with state law, as well as the fact that they are now receiving competitive interest rate returns on their money. And second, the school district’s money will stay local, which I had originally stated was the desired outcome.”

Read the whole story in this week's issue of The Citizen.