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Bishop requests separate review

By SHARON TUBBS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hoping to reassure area Catholics that more than $60-million in donations will be spent efficiently, Bishop Robert N. Lynch wants independent consultants to review the Diocese of St. Petersburg's methods for hiring architects and contractors.

Lynch said in a letter dated May 20 and released Thursday that he has asked the Diocesan Building Commission to retain outside consultants for the review "so that there can be no doubt in any person's mind about my stewardship to this local church . . ."

"I am supremely confident that this review will vindicate both our process and the companies we have engaged," the bishop wrote in a letter addressed to contributors to the diocese's "Our Journey in Faith" capital campaign.

The decision came a week after the St. Petersburg Times reported that Lynch had given every construction contract over which he exercised sole control to a friend, David S. Herman, without seeking competitive bids or interviewing other established contractors in the area.

According to diocesan figures, Herman Construction Services was awarded contracts totaling $30.3-million since 1996, when Lynch became bishop.

The contracts include the construction of the $22-million Bishop McLaughlin High School in Pasco County, the largest single project the diocese ever has undertaken.

Lynch first met Herman in 1995 when Herman Construction, a company founded by Herman's father, was building a school at a parish in Broward County. Lynch was a priest there at the time.

Shortly after Lynch became bishop over the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg, he suggested Herman follow him to the area to build a new media center at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Herman did and opened a satellite office in Tampa.

Herman was then awarded other contracts, including work for Clearwater Central Catholic High School and the construction of the diocese's main offices. He faced no competition from established local contractors on those jobs.

Lynch has called the Times story "incomplete and misleading," saying, for example, that other companies have won millions in no-bid contracts during his tenure. However, nearly all of those contracts cited in the letter were awarded after more than one contractor was interviewed.

As of mid-May, 28,755 people had pledged more than $60-million to the capital campaign, about $21-million of which had been received.

The money is earmarked for several projects, including the new school in Pasco, the construction of a family life and spirituality center in north Hillsborough County and extensive renovations to Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic and Tampa Catholic high schools.

A diocesan building commission of staff people and parishioners will retain the consultant and, at some point, make the findings public.

It was not clear when the review would begin or how long it might take. A diocesan spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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