A local youth soccer organization has filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court alleging the selection process that awarded three other youth sports organizations the use of the turf fields at Richard Montgomery High School and Winston Churchill High School was improper and flawed.
In a civil lawsuit, Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI) alleges that Montgomery County Public School’s (MCPS) selection committee and the Board of Education “did not follow its own administrative regulations” in awarding use of the fields to other organizations. The complaint was also filed with the Maryland State Board of Education.
The complaint alleges the decision-making process was “highly irregular” and “rife with conflicts of interest” and “false statements.” It was filed July 1 by lawyer William Chen Jr. on behalf of MSI.
The organizations all submitted bids to use the fields for a certain amount of hours per year in exchange for a financial contribution to construct and/or maintain the turf fields.
Brian Edwards, the chief communications officer for MCPS, said to Bethesda Beat Wednesday, “This litigation is wihout merit. The school system will demonstrate there is no basis for this legal action. It’s unfortunate that they’re trying to besmirch the reputation of public school employees.”
MSI’s suit states school officials goaded MSI into boosting its offers for the fields at Richard Montgomery and Gaithersburg high schools with the idea it would be awarded both facilities.
Instead, according to the complaint, the school system’s selection committee only granted MSI the field at Gaithersburg High School, but gave Richard Montgomery’s field to Bethesda Soccer Club.
In the suit, MSI states it increased its offer for Richard Montgomery’s field to $1 million after school officials, including director of facilities James Song, recommended an increased bid. At the same time, the organization upped its original bid for the Gaithersburg field from $600,000 to $950,000. This was done under the belief that the increased bid for Gaithersburg would also secure the rights to the Richard Montgomery field, according to the complaint.
After upping the bids MSI claims that Peter Geiling, the real estate management team leader for MCPS and a member of the selection committee, informed the organization in a telephone call on March 19 that it was selected for the field use agreements for Richard Montgomery and Gaithersburg.
However, on May 1, MCPS rejected the bids for Richard Montgomery, re-competed the process, and later chose a $1.3 million bid by Bethesda Soccer Club, according to the complaint.
Because it didn’t receive the field use rights at Richard Montgomery, MSI stated it was “baited” into a significantly higher bid for the Gaithersburg field.
The committee awarded Winston Churchill’s planned turf field to a combined $1.3 million bid by the Bethesda Lacrosse Association, Potomac Soccer Association and the Winston Churchill Booster Club.
In the Churchill bid, school system officials told MSI in a March meeting the county had received an “unbeatable” offer, according to court documents, but MSI claims its proposal exceeded that of the combined offer from the other three organizations.
The suit alleges Geiling has a child who is a member of the Potomac Soccer club and that he should have declared a conflict of interest for participating in the selection process.
Edwards said this was a personal attack on Geiling and Edwards added that while Geiling does have a child that plays on a Potomac Soccer Association team that the child’s twin plays for a team with MSI.
The school system used a 100-point scoring system for the selection process that weighs factors like the quality of the organization, the financial offer and additional community benefits. At no time did the school system release the scores of each application, according to the lawsuit.
For both fields, MSI’s complaint said the club should have had better scores than the organizations that were awarded the contracts because of its broad reach in the community and the amount of money it offered.
Churchill received approval for construction of its turf field from the Board in June. If approved by the County Council it would be the sixth artificial field at county high schools. New 10-year leases at the Richard Montgomery and Gaithersburg fields were also approved by the Board in June.
Graphic – Click to expand – Created by Kat Ignatova
Complaint: Field Use Awarded to “The Wealthiest”
MSI contends in the suit that the field usage rights were awarded to organizations that represent “the wealthiest” communities in the county. MSI claims it represents a much broader demographic. The organization’s website notes that each year 15,000 young people participate in their fall and spring soccer seasons.
“I think it’s safe to say no other youth recreation organization works as hard as MSI to not only provide opportunity to those in need, but also to weave that ethic of awareness for those less fortunate into our programs,” said MSI Executive Director Doug Schuessler in testimony in front of the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday. “However, the manner in which partnerships have been developed by the Board of Education for high quality high school stadium fields has prioritized access to organizations focused on much smaller numbers of players who represent either elite athletic communities, the wealthiest communities or both.”
At the meeting Song said he could not talk about the issues regarding the procurement process due to the lawsuit.
“There have been serious allegations and unhappiness, so I need to understand it,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner.
Council President Craig Rice said, “I will assure my colleagues, the education committee will take this under serious advisement when it comes to the legal ramifications.”
MSI is asking the court to void the field use agreements at the two schools and is requesting the school system change its policies for awarding similar agreements.