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City, commission face lawsuit

Case is filed over Augusta's procurement policy

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The city will have to defend its purchasing practices in court.

A lawsuit was filed Monday in Richmond County Superior Court by John Z. Speer Jr. and the Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia, Property Owners Association against Augusta and the Augusta Commission. It accuses the city of violating its ordinances governing the awarding of construction contracts.

Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet, who is assigned to preside over the case, signed a temporary restraining order Monday that prohibits the city from entering into any contracts for the remodeling of the municipal building. A May 3 court hearing is set for Overstreet to determine whether the restraining order should be lifted or made permanent.

The plaintiffs contend the city has made selections based on personal opinions rather than unbiased, factual judgment.

The use of subjective rather than objective criteria, the suit contends, violates state and local law governing competitive bidding, needlessly costs taxpayers more money and encourages cronyism.

Specifically, the lawsuit contends that the recent bid given to R.J. Griffin & Co. to serve as the construction manager at risk for an airport project was not awarded after a fair, competitive bid process. The project is to build a terminal for private planes at Augusta Regional Airport.

The commission voted 6-5, with Mayor Deke Copenhaver breaking the tie, on March 30 to extend the contract. Although the amount to be paid to Griffin isn't included in public documents available online, the city's request for proposals budgeted the project at $2.5 million, less than the $4.7 million awarded on March 30.

The lawsuit contends the city's criterion to decide who would get the contract was based in part on who the project managers would be, how well the company representative pitched his proposed to the city's Selection Committee, and how well he answered any questions.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, one of the five to vote against the awarding the airport bid, called it "eye-opening."

"We're not going by price; we're going by a very subjective process," he said.

Said Commissioner Joe Jackson, who also voted against the bid: "Why is price 25 percent of the point system? Price should be 90 percent of the score."

Said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who voted against the bid: "You've got the superintendent of a construction company being interviewed. His experience is on-the-job training, not in being interviewed."

The Selection Committee includes a representative or two from the affected city department, a member from the city's finance and purchasing departments, and a consultant with Heery International, the manager of the city's sales tax projects, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.

"Who qualifies them to tell us who's qualified to do the job?" said Commissioner Grady Smith, another who voted against the airport bid and an advocate for putting area contractors to work. "It's too easy, the system they've got now, to pick and choose who they want."

Commissioner Corey Johnson defended the city's system of awarding bids.

"We have several systems that we use, and we have a Procurement Department that's very knowledgeable about which system can be used in certain situations," he said, attributing the suit to possible sour grapes among losing local bidders.

"It's just these companies are not as big as some of the companies that come out of Atlanta," he continued. "These (local) guys are getting work, they may just not be getting as much work as they used to get."

According to city procurement records, Augusta has used the "construction management at risk" procedure since 2005. According to the American Institute of Architects, this procurement practice allows the city to pick a construction manager early in the process to work with the architect during the design stage. The construction manager at risk gives the city a guaranteed maximum price and coordinates all the subcontract work.

According to the lawsuit, the construction management at risk procedure isn't allowed under Georgia law.

Using Potts Construction as construction manager at risk for the new judicial building saved the city $5 million, Russell said.

On Monday, the commission's Engineering Committee approved a recommendation to extend a $1.29 million contract to Turner Construction Co. to serve as the construction manager at risk for the municipal building renovation project.

According to city procurement records, several companies have been hired to serve as managers at risk since 2005. Recent projects include the TEE Center and the parking deck, the new administration building for the sheriff's office, the new Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, and various projects at Fort Gordon.

Reach Sandy Hodson or Susan McCord at (706) 724-0851.

Comments (15) Add comment
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Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/13/11 - 12:44 am
0
0
Why oh why must we be left to

Why oh why must we be left to bang our heads against a wall while our elected officials do absolutely nothing and the procurement department gets sued every other week?

I reserve the word "stupidity" for special occasions. The way the procurement department operates and elected officials demonstrate non-feasance is one of those occasions.

Brad Owens
4109
Points
Brad Owens 04/13/11 - 01:06 am
0
0
If they win the case, could

If they win the case, could that cause the TEE and other projects to be called into question?

Corruption has always been the rule of the day has it not?

Brad

Austin Rhodes
2852
Points
Austin Rhodes 04/13/11 - 07:35 am
0
0
There is corruption Brad, but

There is corruption Brad, but there seems to be far less of it, and it is much harder to get away with. Too many records are too easy to get, the bids process is impossible to hide (see above article), and there are far more people willing to tattle.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 04/13/11 - 08:28 am
0
0
come on.. this is Augusta.. a

come on.. this is Augusta.. a little corruption and and back-room dealing are to be expected. It's the Augusta Way.

G'ment Watcher
97
Points
G'ment Watcher 04/13/11 - 08:36 am
0
0
I noticed that Pott's already

I noticed that Pott's already has a sign on the property where they are going to build the new Sheriff's admin bldg. Is the figure of money saved on the Judicial Center bfore or after the sign problem and the lack of parking.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 04/13/11 - 08:43 am
0
0
John Z. Speer has an interest

John Z. Speer has an interest in this because he works for McKnight Construction Company. The article fails to mention this. I believe McKnight is building the new additions to the jail on Phinizey Road.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 04/13/11 - 09:02 am
0
0
ww1949.. so are you saying

ww1949.. so are you saying that the judge deciding in the case has a conflict of interest? I mean, now isn't that soooooo Augusta?

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 04/13/11 - 09:07 am
0
0
Emery, that is not what I

Emery, that is not what I said. I just made the comment that the person filing the suit works for a construction company that is now doing work for Richmond County. I made no mention of the judge or anyone else. Any why would the judge have any conflicting interest-he does not own any of the companies involved.I don't know this, but Mr. Speers Company could have been passed over in the interview and this could be sour grapes. Who knows unless you were there.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 04/13/11 - 09:07 am
0
0
sorry, misread the article,

sorry, misread the article, speer is the one filing the lawsuit.

dichotomy
30738
Points
dichotomy 04/13/11 - 09:52 am
0
0
Clowns in = Circus out. This

Clowns in = Circus out. This the the NORM for Bozo and the bozettes. I propose that every contract award, every personnel action, and every commission action be accompanied by a BUDGETED Lawsuit Defense & Settlement Fee since we always lose or settle the lawsuits. Make them put their incompetence in the budget for every action they take.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/13/11 - 09:55 am
0
0
How many times must the city

How many times must the city be sued before anyone in the Procurement Department gets fired?

I'm considering running for commission with my entire platform being to fire Geri Sams. That single action would save the city millions of dollars in wasteful bid awards, lawsuits defended against and general bureaucracy.

Right on
143
Points
Right on 04/13/11 - 11:12 am
0
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When will these politcians

When will these politcians ever learn. Law suits will not help their bond rating. When it comes to money, the lowest bidder should always prevail as long as he/she is bondable and has a great portfolio of work done for others. This is the tax payers money not the commissioner's

ECDanes
1
Points
ECDanes 04/13/11 - 01:29 pm
0
0
Another day in Augusta,

Another day in Augusta, another lawsuit filed.

Denali
0
Points
Denali 04/13/11 - 04:07 pm
0
0
Does anyone remember how Geri

Does anyone remember how Geri Sams was hired? There were no interviews, no publishing of the top 3 candidates, just an impromptu vote. I wonder why this was never questioned?

pointstoponder
153
Points
pointstoponder 04/13/11 - 09:19 pm
0
0
Geri Sams has done plenty

Geri Sams has done plenty wrong, but this suit cannot be pinned on her. This one comes down to sour grapes on the part of McKnight Construction.

Heery was not involved in the Airport project, so bringing them into this mess is pointless. Smith, Guilfoyle and possibly even Jackson do, or have, subcontracted to McKnight so they have at least the appearnace of, if not actual, conflict of interest as it relates to their statements.

The fact of the matter is that the process is fair, legal under Georgia law and citizens are getting better value and quality for their dollars. As I understand it, the traditional low bid contract that McKnight is running has been one of the most problematic and employs fewer local subcontractors than the CM at risk projects. On top of that the "low" bid project, as constructed, is a good bit higher than the original bid contract amount, is behind the original contract completion and has more problems than the others.

Don't risk serious injury with your kneejerks. Get a few facts before you spew and don't assume that a story in the AC is 100% accurate.

NtheKnow
0
Points
NtheKnow 04/14/11 - 09:58 am
0
0
WW1949 - Speer has NEVER

WW1949 - Speer has NEVER worked for McKnight, get your facts
straight before you hit the keyboard....

The City of Augusta is a JOKE.... everyone knows this!

drew1959
0
Points
drew1959 05/26/11 - 04:33 pm
0
0
We have a similar problem in

We have a similar problem in Savannah, GA as well. We have these Atlanta Constractors coming into Savannah and taking what little work that is available in an already declining market. It might be a little sour grapes, but really, shouldn't your local authority try and support the local Contractors? It's not just the local General Contractors that suffer, these Atlanta Contractors bring their own Atlanta subcontractors with them, so not only are the local General Contractors affected, the local Subcontractors are affected as well. You can call it whatever you want, but you guys go for it.

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