Rina Tikia's demand holds no weight

by Patrick Flanagan

Rina Tikia says in a demand letter to the LPSS that she's owed $200,000 for consulting work, but a close inspection of the controversial matter reveals she may very well be owed nothing.

Rina Tikia

It comes as no surprise that Rina Tikia has submitted a letter of demand to the Lafayette Parish School System claiming she's owed $200,000 for consulting work she supposedly did for the school board during last year's selection of a third party group benefits provider. A close inspection of the matter, however, reveals she may very well be owed nothing.

First, a little background on what has grown into one of the most controversial issues of the current board: A request for proposals was issued by the school board on March 7, a document that spells out all the rules of the game, starting with Section 2.10, which states that any offer submitted by a consultant is considered "binding" - binding only for the consultant, that is, not the school system. And, according to Section 2.11, "The school system reserves the right to cancel this Request for Proposal at any time without penalty."

In the next section, 2.12, the school system states that it has the right to award a contract based on the proposal it deems most "advantageous," and that payment to the consultant will be "subject to negotiation and execution of an acceptable contract."

Likewise, the school system, in Section 3.10, states that it is not liable for any costs incurred by the consultants in preparing their RFP responses. The section reads: "Costs associated with developing the proposal, preparing for oral presentations, and any other expenses incurred by the proposer in responding to this RFP are entirely the responsibility of the proposer, and shall not be reimbursed in any manner by the LPSS."

Even if a proposal is accepted by the school system, the system still reserves the right to back out as stated in Section 3.14: "Failure of the successful proposer to accept these obligations in a contract may result in cancellation of the award and such vendor may be removed from future solicitations."

Tikia submitted her response to the school system's RFP on April 2. On Page 20 of the 55-page document, she lists three options for her compensation: a flat annual fee of $100,000, a flat percentage based off commissions, or a flat rate based off the number of employees on the health plan, in addition to a percentage of the commissions from the separate prescription plan.

But here's where things get hairy. Right before the board's vote on June 1 to finalize the consulting contract, Tikia, foregoing that "binding" clause in Section 2.10 of the RFP, submitted an "Insurance Consulting Agreement" to the board. But unlike her RFP response, Tikia's revised contract included two major changes: It inserted a contractual term of five years, which wasn't present in the original proposal, and it increased her compensation from $100,000 to $200,000. When that meeting finally came around, the school board never voted to approve a contract with Tikia, but instead pulled the item from the action agenda, tabling it indefinitely.

Now, Tikia's New Orleans lawyer, Rodger Wheaton, has submitted a letter of demand claiming the school system owes his client $200,000 for services rendered. The problem, however, is that the only service Tikia rendered was putting together her 55-page response to the school system's RFP. Again, according to Section 3.10 of the RFP, that cost is "entirely the responsibility of the proposer, and shall not be reimbursed in any manner by the LPSS."

According to attorney/public education advocate Gary McGoffin, without a contract and proof that she conducted any actual work for the school system, aside from putting together an RFP response, Tikia has no grounds for a lawsuit. (Full disclosure: McGoffin is also The IND's attorney.)

"She basically has no leg to stand on," says McGoffin. "The only work she did was prepare an RFP response. You don't get paid for that. That's your cost of doing business. She has delivered no value to the school system. I just hope the school system stands by their processes, because otherwise any disappointed bidder will think they can file suit and get some money. This is just wrong."

The board will convene a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to decide its course of action regarding Tikia's demand letter.

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