Scottsdale schools Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell will resign at the end of the budget year, the second high-profile administrator in the district to resign in recent weeks.
Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith resigned last month amid a district investigation that identified conflicts of interest.
Both were hired by Superintendent Denise Birdwell, who announced at Tuesday’s school-board meeting that Hartwell would not seek to renew his contract when it ends June 30. No reason was given.
Parents and community residents have long questioned Hartwell’s qualifications to oversee some of the district’s bond-construction projects.
MORE ABOUT IT:
Ahead of the school-board meeting, parent and community groups rallied outside and called on the school board to fire Birdwell.
The district is in the midst of two probes into its use of outside contractors, one by a district-hired attorney and another by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Hartwell and Birdwell’s long history
Birdwell has long known Hartwell personally and professionally.
Hartwell is the brother of Birdwell’s landlady and house mate.
Hartwell and Birdwell worked together when she was superintendent in Gilbert’s Higley Unified School District. Hartwell worked as the district’s materials-resource manager for seven months during the 2011-12 school year, according to records The Arizona Republic obtained Monday under the Arizona Public Records Law.
A 2012 news release lists him as a principal partner of Diversified Productions Inc. A company representative, Lucy Cook, told The Republic on Tuesday that Diversified Productions is no longer operating, but she confirmed Hartwell’s past employment. She said she couldn’t remember in what capacity he worked because they were a “real small business.”
The company provided consulting services, technology work and project management for the Higley district from 2009 to 2011, according to purchase orders The Republic obtained. The purchase orders list “Louis” as the point of contact and show that many of the invoices were sent to Birdwell’s attention.
Birdwell was named interim Scottsdale superintendent in October 2016 and hired permanently later that year.
She hired Hartwell in October 2016.
By spring 2017, concerned residents were questioning his qualifications.
Hartwell’s Scottsdale schools application does not list any completed college degree. He attended Paducah Community College in Kentucky for two years, according to the application. Hartwell lists training sessions, although no degrees, from Rutgers and Georgetown universities.
MORE ABOUT IT:
Hartwell’s short stint at Higley was not listed in the “previous employment” portion of his SUSD application.
Among the references that Hartwell lists is Brian Robichaux, the former principal owner of Hunt & Caraway Architects, one of the firms selected for school construction projects under way in the district.
The Republic reported in December that Robichaux was convicted of felony theft in 1998.
Beyond their professional work, Birdwell lives at the same address as Hartwell’s sister.
Court documents recently obtained by The Republic show that Birdwell shared guardianship of a child with Hartwell’s sister from November 2015 to February 2017.
Birdwell said the two are “friends and colleagues. I rent from her and since I lived in the house I agreed to assist in the guardianship.”
Some have asked whether the ties to Hartwell’s sister could raise questions of nepotism in his hiring. State law and district policy prohibit nepotism, defined as hiring one’s close relative, such as a spouse or immediate family member.
Tom Irvine, a local attorney whose expertise includes government law and procurement, told The Republic that broadly speaking, it’s a good practice for public officials to disclose any personal relationships with job candidates and to remove themselves from the direct hiring process.
Birdwell has said Hartwell was the most qualified applicant for the job, which includes overseeing some of the bond-construction projects for the district. Voters approved $229 million in 2016 to upgrade elementary schools, including Hopi, Cheyenne, Pima and others.
Hartwell used to own a construction company called Hartwell Homes. Public records show Hartwell had nearly $45,000 in federal tax liens against him for unpaid federal tax liabilities from 2003 to 2010. The IRS would not disclose if that debt had been paid.
Birdwell previously told The Republic in June that Hartwell’s taxes were not an issue that involved SUSD.
Republic reporter Joshua Bowling contributed to this article.
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2o4U9vz