Several Augusta Commission members say they want more information about the city’s relationship with Heery International and its subconsultants before a vote scheduled today to extend its decade-old contract for two more years.
The city has paid Heery and its subconsultants about $9.5 million in fees over the past 10 years, with billing rates for some Heery personnel topping $200 an hour, to manage city construction projects funded by sales taxes. The contract provides for 4 percent rate increases each year.
A handful of ongoing construction projects isn’t a good enough reason to grant Heery an automatic extension, Commissioner Mary Davis said.
“I’m not comfortable about approving anything tomorrow,” Davis, who took office in January, said Monday. “There’s a history, of course, that I haven’t been involved in. But I need some more answers.”
Heery supplied several commissioners and school board members with tickets to Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves games and paid for at least two commissioners to engage with constituents at breakfasts and other events, in hopes of getting them re-elected.
The unreported gifts violate the same ethics ordinance that ensnared three commissioners earlier this year for doing business under city contracts. The ordinance prohibits directly accepting gifts from “lobbyists, vendors or any other person seeking to influence official action” and requires gifts accepted by a commissioner on behalf of the city to be reported by the vendor and the recipient to the clerk of commission.
City Clerk Lena Bonner confirmed Monday that no one had ever filed a report about such a gift with the clerk’s office.
Commissioner Donnie Smith said he’ll make a motion today to refer the Heery renewal back to a commission committee for further study because of the questions.
He said a 4 p.m. meeting of the city’s ethics subcommittee might not be a good time to examine any attempts at influence because voting members are among those who received Heery gifts.
Commissioner Joe Jackson, who admitted accepting two Braves game tickets from Heery not long after he was elected, questioned Heery’s claim that it saves the city money on construction projects.
“It’s kind of like looking at the transit budget,” Jackson said. “Nobody can tell if you are saving anything.”
He said a “good cost estimator” would “have it down to the dead cost” rather than estimate a cost and report back on savings later.
“If I had to vote tomorrow to do away with it and it’s going to save the taxpayers’ money, I’d do it,” Jackson said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, who helped lead the effort to censure three commissioners for ethics violations, did not respond to a phone call Monday. In a recent interview, he said the Heery contract was one he wasn’t concerned about.
“That’s something we don’t have involvement in,” said Lockett, who reported a $1,000 campaign contribution from Heery in November despite being unopposed for re-election.
Richmond County school board member Jack Padgett said that Lockett had invited him to lunch at Red Lobster with Heery officials shortly after Lockett was first elected but that that was the only contact Padgett had with the firm. The school system uses another company to manage its sales-tax projects.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, a flooring contractor, said he’d “never had the luxury” of working under a guaranteed maximum price contract, which allows construction costs to fluctuate so long as they don’t exceed the maximum.
He said the discussion about Heery needed to be about costs.
“I will not put it on consent,” he said of the scheduled vote today. “I think more discussion has to be done, (being) conscious that Heery’s already started. We have to look out for the taxpayers on that one.”
Commissioner Marion Williams, who served on the commission when Heery came aboard, said he still has questions about the group’s evolving role.
Gallop and Associates’ Butch Gallop was initially presented to serve as a city liaison with minority contractors, but Heery hasn’t provided any data on the involvement of women or minorities in city construction projects.
If Gallop’s role is now merely to involve local businesses in construction contracts, “the city can do that,” said Williams, who denied receiving any sports tickets or other favors from Heery.
“They probably know I don’t like sports,” he said.