Since May, when the clerk of commission complained her new office space behind the new commission chamber was insufficient for document storage, and commissioners noticed they’d all be sharing a single restroom with the clerk and her staff behind the dais, commissioners have struggled and pointed fingers at various parties over who was supposed to keep track of the details.
On Tuesday, Mayor Deke Copenhaver suggested the city’s form of government, which includes a weak mayor, a weak administrator and an 11-member governing body, was to blame for the construction glitches, which in six weeks garnered only a single $500,000 change order.
“When we have a form of government with no centralized authority, there is no centralized accountability and it leads to finger-pointing,” Copenhaver said. “Where does the buck stop? I agree with you, it ought to stop in the mayor’s office, the administrator’s office.”
Commissioner Marion Williams had another idea, calling for the termination of consultants Heery International, which have overseen city construction projects for 11 years, for new issues Williams said he’d identified, such as access for people with disabilities on the second floor, including restrooms, access to the elevated dais and doorknobs.
Built in the 1950s, the municipal building has long been noncompliant and the renovation project includes a massive tower which is expected to house a new compliant elevator.
“Once we touched this building, we had to make by law this building handicapped accessible,” Williams said. “We’ve got no business being in this chamber when those doors can’t be opened by a person with a handicap.”
Williams’ call to terminate Heery went unanswered. His was the only “yes” vote on firing the firm, while six other commissioners voted no.
Heery and sub-consultant Gallop and Associates are a year into a two-year contract extension the commission authorized last year. At the time, several commissioners questioned the firm’s billing rates, which exceed $200 an hour for top staff, and its budgeted use of donations of Atlanta Falcons tickets and money for commissioners and their favorite charities, but Heery defended the practice.
“We are architects and engineers and program managers; we are not lobbyists,” senior vice president Glenn Jardine told commissioners.
Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen said the clerk’s move to the new law space would add several weeks to the construction work ongoing for most departments in the building.
The rush will be on the sixth floor, where Procurement will move when its office is completed, as that department is currently using space designed for the law department. Commissioners voted to move the clerk there, add a vault and leave law in an older city-owned office next door.
“We’re team players,” General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said of the news that his department will stay in its current space instead of the spacious new suite.
Leaving law where it is also prevents Engineering, which needs more room, from moving into the law space, Allen said.
The vote leaves the administrators and staff with a new ninth floor suite, and puts Finance on the eighth floor.
Moving the law department to the ninth would cost $461,737, she said.
Commissioner Donnie Smith asked why the administrators and their staff couldn’t move into unused space built as a reception area for the mayor and as shared commissioner offices.
“We built in the mayor’s office there, an office out front, that we don’t have anybody to staff?” he asked.
Allen said (after discussions with Heery) that plan would eliminate two conference rooms included in the administrators’ suite.
“There are two conference rooms when you walk right out that front door,” on the second floor, Smith said.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said the decision to move the clerk had affected four or five departments; Allen said it was more.
Commissioner Grady Smith said typically in construction projects, someone at the top takes the blame for mishaps.