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Naples Daily News (Florida)

After a months-long saga that threatened to disrupt prep athletic contests, Collier County Public Schools soon will have a new contractor supplying its sports officials.

School district officials will recommend the school board select the Greater Naples Officials Association as its officials vendor at the board's Aug. 12 meeting. Nancy Sirko, the district's director of purchasing, confirmed the selection of GNOA to the Daily News on Wednesday night.

Collier County schools canceled its contract with its former officials vendor on July 16, a month before athletic contests were scheduled to begin. The district revoked its agreement with the Collier Officials Group after the Daily News reported the group owed its officials more than $30,000 and one of the COG's managing partners was $1 million in debt.

"(GNOA) is the best choice for the district," Sirko said when reached at home Wednesday night. "They had the best overall proposal to handle what the district needs."

Four groups bid on the sports officials contract for Collier County's public high schools and middle schools. The bids were unsealed at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and Sirko met with district athletic director Joe Kemper and the seven high school athletic directors for an hour to review the proposals.

At 5:11 p.m., Sirko emailed members of the four groups with a bid tabulation sheet containing details of each bid, along with the district's recommendation. Sirko called GNOA secretary Reuben Doupe around 5:15 p.m. to inform him district officials had selected his group.

Sirko said the cost to the district was about equal among the four bids. School officials felt more comfortable with GNOA, she said, because it is an existing officials' group in town. GNOA also is the only group that didn't include any administration fees charged to the district in its proposal.

"There was not a whole lot of difference in any of them," Sirko said. "The fact that (GNOA) already is in existence means they have sports officials readily available to us. We feel very confident they can handle the contract."

GNOA filed as a non-profit corporation with the state in September 2011. Doupe said the group has officiated football games for area private middle schools for the past two years.

If the school board approves GNOA, the group must get a sanction from the Florida High School Athletic Association. The FHSAA has been monitoring the officials situation in Collier since June and has indicated it will sanction whichever group the school board approves.

The district expects to pay GNOA about $195,000 for providing sports officials during the 2014-15 school year, Sirko said. The school district paid COG $193,530 in 2013-14.

Bob Murrell, a local attorney and soccer official, is president of GNOA. James Merrow, a football official, is vice president. The group's treasurer, Greg Perrino, is a certified public accountant, which Doupe said is important considering the financial problems that brought down the last officials' group.

The contract is a one-year deal for the 2014-15 school year. The district has the option to renew the contract at the end of 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Newly-formed groups Collier County Officials Association and Naples Officials Group also bid on the contract. Both groups were created after the COG money troubles this summer. Pay The Ref, a limited liability company that assigns officials in North Carolina and is run by former Naples referee Scott Wahlers, also made a bid.

The challenge for GNOA, Doupe said, is reuniting the officials in town who have fractured because of in-fighting over the past three years.

The Collier Athletic Arbiters Association supplied officials in Collier County for years. When CAAA lost its contract three years ago, it accused COG leaders, who were former CAAA board members, of double-crossing the group. Many officials from the former CAAA refused to work for COG and instead worked for the officials group in Fort Myers.

After dozens of COG members weren't paid for game work in the spring, the clan of local officials splintered even further.

"There's going to be political fallout. There are going to be issues," said Doupe, a local attorney. "The key is to move forward and not look back. The focus is on the season."

The first FHSAA athletic contests for the 2014-15 school year can start Aug. 18. Naples High is hosting a preseason volleyball tournament on Aug. 19.

Football starts Aug. 22 with seven preseason games in Collier County. With a minimum of five officials plus a clock operator per game, GNOA needs to round up 42 football officials in two weeks.

"We are a welcoming, all-inclusive group," Doupe said. "Everyone who has ever thrown a flag or thrown a whistle in Collier County, we want them to come work for us. We're going to be fair to everyone, new or old, in the way we assign games."

August 7, 2014

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