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New case raises old criticisms of the way Augusta's Procurement Department awards city contracts

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As the trade, exhibit and event center begins to take shape on Reynolds Street, add John Bailey's name to the list of business owners fed up with Augusta's methods of awarding contracts.

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John Bailey claims his bid in 2009 to do topographic and utility mapping for the TEE center construction site was rejected over a clerical error, but a competitor was allowed to correct its error.   Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
John Bailey claims his bid in 2009 to do topographic and utility mapping for the TEE center construction site was rejected over a clerical error, but a competitor was allowed to correct its error.

Bailey, the owner of a North Augusta land surveying company, placed a bid in 2009 to do topographic and utility mapping for the $38 million project. It was rejected by Augusta's Procurement Department over a clerical error.

The bid was deemed noncompliant because the company accidentally wrote the wrong code on a line on an affidavit. The digits in question were his surveying company's E-verify account number, part of a federal Internet program that verifies employees' eligibility to work in the U.S.

That he lost the bid over something he said he could have easily corrected through a telephone call bothers him, but what bugs Bailey most, he says, is that a competitor who did the same thing was treated differently.

Documents filed in a pending federal court case show that the winning bidder, Charlotte, N.C.-based W.K. Dickson, also had an E-verify number wrong on a form for its subcontractor, Augusta Blueprint, a minority-owned company. In that case, though, the department took the initiative to fix the error itself and mail the company a corrected form.

"We have acquired the valid information for this form from your subcontractor," city Procurement Director Geri Sams wrote in January to Dickson branch manager William Wingate. "Please replace the form attached in your files for the Subcontractor Affidavit for Augusta Blueprint."

Bailey said he never gets treated that way when he competes for work in North Augusta, Aiken or Aiken County.

"When you throw in the fact that they're not treating everybody the same, it almost sounds criminal," he said.

Sticky situations

What happened on the TEE center bid effectively represents many of the sticky issues surrounding the Procurement Department, which has been criticized for appearing to have a rigged bidding system and sued over allegations of discriminatory practices.

This latest case has become more ammunition for plaintiff's attorney Robert Mullins, who is seeking punitive damages in Thompson Building Wrecking Co.'s pending contempt action and is piling on examples of inconsistencies in a stack of federal court filings.

The TEE center incident is the most recent example of the department's unequal -- and sometimes inconsistent -- handling of mistakes.

For example, Virginia-based Seabury Aviation Planning won a contract for an air service consulting position in 2009, with the business license requirement waived because the other bidder didn't provide one, either, court documents show.

Arizona-based Head Penn Racquet Sports won a bid to provide tennis balls that same year, and because no other bidder provided license information, the requirement was overlooked.

Though Augusta Blueprint had its incorrect E-verify number corrected by Procurement, the department cited a subcontractor's omission of the number as a reason to reject PM&A Consulting Engineers' 2009 bid for construction management and field engineering services. Likewise, it was a reason to disqualify Avfuel Corp. in a 2008 bid for fuel supply services at Augusta Regional Airport.

Ronlyn Corp. won a concessions contract in 2009 despite having no E-verify number on both contractor and subcontractor affidavits.

Though not commenting specifically on any situation in Augusta, other procurement professionals offered less-stringent ways of handling bid errors than the way the city has handled some.

Fulton County (Ga.) Purchasing and Contract Compliance Director Cecil Moore said most jurisdictions have the right to waive minor errors.

For example, in the case of an incorrect E-verify number -- something required to be submitted by state law -- he would probably let a vendor correct it. He said there is no legal reason why a contractor and a subcontractor would have to be treated differently over that.

"Some jurisdictions have their own idiosyncrasies," Moore said. "I'm not saying what they did was wrong. Like in England, they drive on the left side of the road. You still get where you're going."

Cobb County (Ga.) Interim Purchasing Director Mark Kohntopp also said that a missing or incorrect E-verify number wouldn't be a deal-breaker.

Minority policies

Depositions have begun in the Thompson case, which could have taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if Procurement has continued giving preference to minority bidders, ignoring a federal judge's 2007 order to the contrary.

Though the department's disparate handling of the same mistake in the TEE center bid has some crying foul, the city has a ready explanation that involves the complexities of state and local purchasing regulations.

"This issue has come up before," General Counsel Andrew Mackenzie said.

"There's a big difference between a prime contractor and a subcontractor. It may look like apples and apples, but it's really apples and oranges."

Still, city commissioners and the Law Department are hammering out a revision to the procurement code, which they say should keep the city in line with the federal judge's mandate against using race in deciding on whom to hire.

The federal ruling arose out of a 2006 lawsuit by Thompson and three other companies challenging the city's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, with Thompson suing first after its bid to demolish the Telfair Street candy factory was rejected over a technicality.

U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield, reasoning that the program was based on old data from a 1994 disparity study, ruled it unconstitutional and forbade Augusta from using any language in bid solicitation materials alluding to race- or gender-based criteria, or from favoring bids on those grounds.

The commission reacted by adopting a "small business opportunity" ordinance, making it the DBE coordinator's job to help small businesses in the procurement process, not minority businesses explicitly. The city hired New York-based NERA Economic Consulting to devise a new disparity study, which again showed that businesses owned by white men are far more likely to submit winning bids in Augusta.

"A good outcome would be that you don't need a race- and gender-conscious program," Mackenzie said.

Thompson alleges, however, that it never really ended. Mullins said the city is looking at more than 200 violations.

Mackenzie concedes questionable language has shown up inadvertently in some bid solicitations but not as many as Mullins claims. The city contends it is in "substantial compliance" with the order.

The city has requested a modification of the 2007 order, believing its mistake was making the language too broad and when the city uses federal funds to pay for a project, there are built-in DBE and minority business enterprise requirements that make their way into bid documents.

The proposed changes to the procurement ordinance will fix that, City Administrator Fred Russell and MacKenzie recently told a commission subcommittee.

As for Thompson's insistence that Procurement uses technical errors to selectively knock out white male bidders, U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall tossed out the businessmen's lawsuit. Legally, a government's action could only be viewed as a possible constitutional violation if the action is a legislative one, not administrative. Procurement is an administrative function.

A change in code

When procurement decisions are appealed, city commissioners uphold them. Commissioner Jerry Brigham said it is because attorneys have advised them that to do otherwise would jeopardize pending litigation.

Members of the panel differ on what should be done about procurement, if anything. Brigham said a code revision, which would require a city charter amendment, is "a step in the right direction."

Commissioner Joe Bowles said he is concerned, but "until we lose lawsuits, I would have to say that the practices of the Procurement Department are standard for the industry."

Commissioner Joe Jackson said he has tried unsuccessfully to get six votes to privatize the department, and he wishes there were six votes to fire Sams.

Like Brigham, Commissioner Bill Lockett said a new procurement code could help iron out some of the city's perceived purchasing inconsistencies.

"I think the intent has always been to do the right thing," Lockett said. "But I think it's obvious that a lot of the lawsuits filed against the department were frivolous."

Mackenzie said the city is trying to reach out to local businesses. "We're doing the best we can to make the process easier, and to educate people," he said.

Sams, who has been purchasing director since 1996, declined an interview request for this article. But at a recent open meeting with business owners in commission chambers, she encouraged more of them to seek city work.

She and her staff went over the basics of how to find out what goods and services are being sought and the importance of deadlines and mandatory guidelines. Sams also pointed out to business owners that the mandatory forms bidders must complete have been reduced from six or more to three.

"We feel your pain," she told one business owner who expressed frustration over paperwork. "There are less hoops now."

Comments (27) Add comment
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PR
0
Points
PR 11/07/10 - 12:16 am
0
0
Typical Dis-Gusta politics.
Unpublished

Typical Dis-Gusta politics. Nothing will change. You put the same lame mayor back in and he is gutless. Hope the city gets sued again and they lose some more money.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/07/10 - 10:59 am
0
0
Meet the new attorney. Same

Meet the new attorney. Same as the old attorney.

The quote about not wanting to change until we lose lawsuits about says it all. We might win lawsuits, but what about the hundreds of thousands we're losing by rejecting the lower bids?

I would sell my house here in Augusta...if only I could.
Sorry, city workers. You have to be furloughed because we are afraid to question our attorney and we are afraid even more of our procurement director.

grinder48
2017
Points
grinder48 11/07/10 - 06:53 am
0
0
Sams is adept at creating
Unpublished

Sams is adept at creating much smoke around contract awards. It's obvious Sams unfairly awards based on favoritism for certain race / gender, etc. by selectively disqualifying other bidders whenever she can find any small reason to do so. All bidders should be given an opportunity to correct any / all minor administrative omissions and/or errors. Then the award should be made on lowest cost without regard to race / gender / etc. I wonder how much more we (the taxpayers) are paying in the cases discussed in the article than we'd have paid if fairly awarded using consistent practices.

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 11/07/10 - 07:08 am
0
0
What does Sams have on who?

What does Sams have on who? This person has been a severe pain in the neck for the city for fifteen years. Why is the city spending hundreds of thousands on litigation and fines to protect a person who has a capability problem fulfilling her job? Sams is a detrement to Augusta growth and represents a serious problem when awarding jobs to local businesses. Why can't six votes be found to fire this person?

ColCo
832
Points
ColCo 11/07/10 - 08:29 am
0
0
The bottom line is that the

The bottom line is that the black commissioners protect Sams. District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken needs to wake up and realize that he has one term to get things done. He should make the motion to fire Sams and stop the nonsensical practices in the procurement department. Commissioner Bowles is correct, until the taxpayers in Richmond County lose millions in judgements, the four black commissioners and Aitken will continue to turn a blind eye towards Geri Sams.

Riverman1
86953
Points
Riverman1 11/07/10 - 09:01 am
0
0
Whose daddy owns Augusta

Whose daddy owns Augusta Blueprint?

jojo55
0
Points
jojo55 11/07/10 - 09:05 am
0
0
Do you really think anything

Do you really think anything is going to be done to stop this woman from costing us tax payers more money? The people somehow placed the same do-nothing Mayor back in office and so his thoughts are that we are so damn happy with him, he will just make sure nothing changes with the way Augusta's business is implemented.

chascush
0
Points
chascush 11/07/10 - 09:22 am
0
0
jojo55, ‘The people somehow

jojo55, ‘The people somehow placed the same do-nothing Mayor back in office and so his thoughts are that we are so damn happy with him,’
The reason the Mayor got reelected is he kisses the black commissioners rear ends.

chascush
0
Points
chascush 11/07/10 - 09:25 am
0
0
Insider, ‘I would sell my

Insider, ‘I would sell my house here in Augusta...if only I could.’
Maybe you could rent it out as section 8 housing. But I guess that wouldn’t work since they would destroy it.

justus4
105
Points
justus4 11/07/10 - 09:54 am
0
0
Nothing new here, just the
Unpublished

Nothing new here, just the same traditional pattern of U know who attempting to change the rules to benefit non-minorities. Here is how it works: An individual is quoted as saying, "I think the procurement process is wrong" and then there is an effort to slant the facts, then a elected official who also agrees (secretly) that the system is unfair will say something about how "We must make changes" while all the time the eventual victim will be some minority individual who is in a decision-making capacity and "signs off " on government contracts. The pattern is clear and it appears to be an annual event orchestrated by the exact same bunch using the exact same techniques. But lets say some minority citizens made charges that the local printing operation working in concert with gov't "inside leakers" appears to have a pattern of second guessing, micromanaging, undermining or otherwise interfering in matters that ultimately ADVERSELY affect people of color and their livelihood. This charge would be supported with names and faces of other victims who ALL appear to be minority and suffered the exact same fate. Yep, this is the SOP for that city & state so expect more stories about how contracts are awarded and who benefits. Also, any minority contractors involved with that building had better beware because THAT'S what the real story is all about: The federal statues giving preferences to minority small businesses. Oh, and that center is a mistake that will fatten the pockets of the already rich while the already poor get poorer. Great country, eh?

PetsArePeopleToo
0
Points
PetsArePeopleToo 11/07/10 - 10:19 am
0
0
Follow the Money....

Follow the Money....

chascush
0
Points
chascush 11/07/10 - 10:20 am
0
0
justus4, ‘Nothing new here,

justus4, ‘Nothing new here, just the same traditional pattern of U know who attempting to change the rules to benefit non-minorities.’
The SAME rules should apply to everyone. The problem is you want special privileges for ‘people of color’. The best qualified with the lowest bid should get the contract regards of color or sex.

dichotomy
34423
Points
dichotomy 11/07/10 - 10:30 am
0
0
Justus4 is right about one

Justus4 is right about one thing. "Nothing new here". But that is where it ends. The "nothing new here" is that you don't get city contracts unless you are black owned. Qualifications, competency, and a proven track record are not considered at all. That is why RC taxpayers pay twice what we should for everything we get and, especially in the case of construction, the buildings fall apart and the roofs leak 6 months after it is completed. It's been this way since consolidation after Boss Walker and his affiliates took over most of the county jobs and near all of the department head positions. Nothing new here is right justus4. Every white owned small business and contractor knows it is almost impossible to do business with Augusta because of racism in the Procurement Office. Black owned small businesses can pretty much submit a blank form and the contracting office will fill it out for them to ensure they get the bid. Nothing new here.

bettyboop
7
Points
bettyboop 11/07/10 - 10:35 am
0
0
Sams has been doing this for

Sams has been doing this for years.....she has cost the taxpayers of ARC hundreds of thousands of dollars..and yet she is still there...what is wrong the leaders of your city?........The racist and incompetent director should have been fired years ago.......but she has the skintone of the "above the law incompentents"...... and therefore will retain her position till she croaks.

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 11/07/10 - 11:35 am
0
0
I stopped bidding on Augusta

I stopped bidding on Augusta projects years ago. They clearly have a hidden agenda when it comes to awarding the bids to local companies. I had a low bid on the ole town project and I was told they wanted to fill a federal reg and needed to award it to a minority. Their Minority policies are written in legal terms and are all double talk. bottom line is I am a christian jew. they dont have a check mark for that so its not accepted. The company who got the bid was way higher and from Florida. That really helping our own... Its a lower form of outsourcing.

Little Lamb
46952
Points
Little Lamb 11/07/10 - 11:36 am
0
0
Regarding the discrepancies

Regarding the discrepancies in handling the incorrect filing numbers for Bailey's company and Dickson's company, Augusta General Counsel Andrew Mackenzie said:

"There's a big difference between a prime contractor and a subcontractor. It may look like apples and apples, but it's really apples and oranges."

The emperor has no clothes. What Mackenzie has said here is an absolute lie intended to cover up wrongdoing in the Procurement Department regarding favoritism, racism, and nepotism.

juantez
248
Points
juantez 11/07/10 - 02:25 pm
0
0
Where was all of you do
Unpublished

Where was all of you do righters when the minority contractors was done wrong...(True one wrong do not right the other wrong)

jojo55
0
Points
jojo55 11/07/10 - 04:18 pm
0
0
And yet, we keep putting the

And yet, we keep putting the same people in office and we keep paying for it through law-suites against the city because of the incompetent people the city has hired and the good ole boys that remain in office.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 11/07/10 - 05:20 pm
0
0
Dang, I wish I had stock in

Dang, I wish I had stock in all of these Black Owned companies that are stealing all of these contracts. Wait a minute. I did not know that Thompson Company was Black owned?

dani
12
Points
dani 11/07/10 - 05:40 pm
0
0
Follow the money..kickbacks

Follow the money..kickbacks anybody?
Apologies to Pets are People

dichotomy
34423
Points
dichotomy 11/07/10 - 05:43 pm
0
0
Richmond COUNTY taxpayers

Richmond COUNTY taxpayers need to start a movement to repeal consolidation. Elect our own officials and establish a new government in the old Regency Mall. Let the old city sink in it's own incompetence. It's sinking anyway and sucking the life out of the rest of the county taxpayers as it goes down. Consolidated Augusta/Richmond County will never get better while functioning under the biased charter under which it is organized. That charter was written to do exactly what it is doing.....suck all of the county taxpayers money off and into the old city in an attempt to keep it afloat. How about it south Richmond County, especially all you rich "Residential" property owners south of Spirit Creek? Are you living better and getting your tax money's worth since consolidation? Or do you feel like someone is stealing your money and running down to Laney Walker and Reynolds St. and spreading around down there? Consolidation under our charter has not worked, is not working, and will NEVER work for the old county taxpayers. It's nothing but a welfare system for the old city and that is all it ever will be. Yes, the leadership and operation of the wasteful, racist Procurement Office is reprehensible but that is not the only wasteful, racists operation in our glorious consolidated county government. The whole thing stinks and is rotten to the core and the old "county" residents are paying the bill for it's care and feeding.

gaspringwater
3
Points
gaspringwater 11/07/10 - 05:54 pm
0
0
Hell has no fury worse than a

Hell has no fury worse than a rejected lover or a disqualified contract bidder.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 11/07/10 - 06:16 pm
0
0
Riverman1, Tax Commissoner

Riverman1,

Tax Commissoner Steve Kendricks, Chairman of the DDA family owns that company!

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE WAKE UP!!!!!!!

Now by God that is ENOUGH!

I suppose you all will tell me that it doesn't matter right? That the fact the DDA Chairman's daddy gets all this special treatment means nothing right?

Tax Commissioner Steve "What-25grand-yu-talking-bout" Kendrick's, Chairman of the Dirty Deals Authority, should answer for this.

More corruption, inside deals, and deception.

No one cares, no one really cares at all.

Brad

Sweet son
10736
Points
Sweet son 11/07/10 - 06:17 pm
0
0
Sams needs to go the same way

Sams needs to go the same way that other woman from the Roads and Bridges went even if it costs taxpayer money. We will win in the long run by savings on lower bids.

The other day I saw latinos picking up trash on the Bobby Jones. Nothing against the latinos, they will work, but the boss looked to be anglo. I saw two work trucks with North Carolina plates hauling the trash. Wonder if that was a low bid or minority bid because of the latinos.

Riverman1
86953
Points
Riverman1 11/07/10 - 06:20 pm
0
0
Exactly, Brad!!! It's all so

Exactly, Brad!!! It's all so obvious.

chascush
0
Points
chascush 11/07/10 - 08:13 pm
0
0
I would move if I lived in

I would move if I lived in RC. I’m sure the Augusta National wishes they could move it. As long as the same idiots keep running Augusta things are only going to get worse. Look at every city run by the DUMocrats. High crime, high unemployment and a lot of section 8 housing, sounds like a winning combination.

Little Lamb
46952
Points
Little Lamb 11/07/10 - 09:48 pm
0
0
I would say that it is a

I would say that it is a conflict of interest for a Tax Commissioner's private company to receive city business. That is a terrible conflict of interest. Kendrick should be ashamed for even bidding on a city contract. But then, Kendrick has no shame and no class, because he should have recused himself from the DDA board when he was elected Tax Commissioner.

Rozzie2003
5
Points
Rozzie2003 11/08/10 - 12:28 am
0
0
A few small black businesses

A few small black businesses have gotten some small bids and everybody is hollowering. I atteded many of the Commiission meetings and read the minutes, 80% of the contracts go to white companies.
I would like to know how R.W.Allen get all the big construction bids?
Would somebody give me an answer?

Rozzie2003
5
Points
Rozzie2003 11/08/10 - 12:28 am
0
0
A few small black businesses

A few small black businesses have gotten some small bids and everybody is hollowering. I atteded many of the Commiission meetings and read the minutes, 80% of the contracts go to white companies.
I would like to know how R.W.Allen get all the big construction bids?
Would somebody give me an answer?

usafvet
3
Points
usafvet 11/08/10 - 10:43 am
0
0
Rozzie, I really don't have

Rozzie, I really don't have the answer, but it could be because charles walker is where he belongs. He obtained some lucrative contracts and produced some of the shoddiest work I've seen. Augusta will never improve with the number of democrats in the city. We really need more Republicans to help pay the taxes, but they are leaving the city/county. Don't blame them.

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