Mobility Transit files procurement lawsuit against Augusta

The legal team representing Mobility Transit has filed suit in federal court alleging Augusta broke its procurement code and state open meeting laws when it terminated the bus company's contract and sought new bids from transit companies.

Filed by attorney Robert Mullins on behalf of Mobility, the suit alleges Augusta violated its procurement code when it rebid the service by allowing the selection committee knowledge of bidders' price proposals – by requiring a bid bond of 10 percent of the price.

The city hadn't been served with the suit early Tuesday, but City Administrator Fred Russell said a bid selection committee typically "doesn't see" the bid bonds before ranking proposals, as required by the city procurement code.

The suit goes on to allege the mayor and city commission broke open meetings law by deciding behind closed doors to terminate the contract with Mobility without "a realistic and tangible threat of legal action" as required under the exception for "pending and potential litigation" to allow discussion out of the public eye, making the decision null and void.

City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie maintained Tuesday that any closed-door session during which Mobility's contract was discussed met Georgia legal requirements for closed meetings, but declined to comment further, citing pending and potential litigation.

The suit, which also alleges Commissioner Bill Lockett, city transit contract manager Sharon Dottery and possibly others "colluded and conspired" to interfere with the contract, seeks to void the city's termination of Mobility's contract and void the RFP process. The city recently extended Mobility's termination date to July 31.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Mobility has retained local counsel Fulcher Hagler LLP since the city notified the firm last year of its need to fix several contract deficiencies related to late payments to vendors, including employee insurance and utility companies; late reporting of accidents; and improper drug testing procedures.

This was the first action filed by Mullins, whose 2006 lawsuit on behalf of Thompson Building Wrecking Co. prompted a federal lawsuit enjoining the city's use of race- and gender-based criteria in contracting because it relied on disparity data more than 20 years old.

Mullins also recently penned an article for a national legal journal upholding Augusta as a model for the need for reform municipal procurement.

The firm also recently employed Augusta attorney Ben Allen to lobby city officials on behalf of its interests, MacKenzie confirmed.

Billed as a cost-savings way to continue offering public transit and paratransit service, the city commission voted to outsource its bus service to Mobility in 2011. The move was expected to save the city about $500,000 from transit's annual cost of $4 million. In the 22 months since Mobility started in August 2011, the city has paid $7.1 million for transit, according to the city finance office.

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