Arguments heard in procurement process suit

A judge said Wednesday he will rule as soon as possible to determine if the city should be allowed to proceed with the projected $18 million renovation of the Municipal Building or be prevented from doing the project as it intends.

The issue arose when John Z. Speer Jr. and the Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia Property Owners Association filed suit against the city and its commissioners last month. The plaintiffs have attacked the city's method of procuring overseers for the major construction projects funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Each side got a chance to present its arguments in Richmond County Superior Court to Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet.

Augusta Procurement Director Geri Sams testified Wednesday that the city can use the process known as "construction manager at risk" because the commission voted to do so in October 2004. She admitted, however, that construction manager at risk is not a procurement process allowed by the city's code.

Sams testified that the process for selecting the construction manager at risk is competitive. The first bid is issued to find businesses qualified to perform the job, and the second phase is to find the best qualified.

Questioned by plaintiff's attorney John Long, Sams said McKnight Construction scored below other companies on a bid to build a private terminal building at the airport because it lacks some qualifications the city wanted for the construction manager at risk - even though McKnight built the airport's much larger main terminal.

City Administrator Fred Russell testified he supports the city's use of construction manager at risk for SPLOST projects because the city can save money and get projects done more quickly. The construction manager at risk is hired to work with the architect to design and create a project that meets the city's specifications. The construction manager at risk tells the city what its price will be after it gets the contract.

Asked why the city couldn't have gotten the architect's design for the renovation months ago and used a sealed competitive bid, Russell said the design would have had to be redone because of the recent government reorganization.

Both Sams and Russell testified that the use of sealed, competitive bids is not always best. A government wants the best quality and that doesn't always come at the lowest price, both said.

One outcome of the city's use of construction manager at risk, however, is that small and mid-size construction companies are basically locked out the competition, testified Robert L. Meybohm, who worked in commercial real estate for 22 years. The city is judging companies on style and presentation instead of their ability to do a job at a reasonable price, he said.

Speer put it more bluntly Wednesday afternoon: "I think that the evaluation system is a joke."

Forrest White of Heery International, which has a contract potentially worth more than $7 million to oversee the city's SPLOST projects, testified that delaying the Municipal Building's renovation for three months could increase the cost of the project by nearly $1.58 million.

Rick Acree, who is in charge of the city's facilities, estimated extra rent payments of $104,000 if the outside city offices can't move into the renovated space for an additional year.