Judge rules against city in lawsuit over Augusta municipal building remodeling contracts

Suit filed in April against Augusta, its commission

For at least one multimillion-dollar project, the city of Augusta must follow the law, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet ruled in an order signed Friday.

Unless he rules otherwise, the city cannot award a contract for the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building remodeling project, which is projected to cost $14 million.

“The city has wasted millions of dollars,” said attorney Jack Long, who filed a Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit against the city and the Augusta Commission on behalf of John Z. Speer Jr. and the Augusta-Richmond County Property Owners Association.

The lawsuit was filed in April when the commission voted to pay $1.29 million to Turner Construction to be the “construction manager at risk” to oversee the remodeling of the municipal building.

The city also contracts with Heery International to oversee all of the special purpose local option sales tax projects at a cost of more than $7 million so far. In 2005, the city began using the construction manager at risk to oversee the building projects, too.

The city’s process for selecting the construction manager at risk is illegal, Overstreet found. The city not only is ignoring the law requiring a competitive bid process to select the manager but also isn’t using competitive bidding to obtain all the other goods and services needed for the construction project, Overstreet wrote.

Moreover, the city violated a city ordinance by not requiring the procurement director or department heads to put into writing their justification for not using a competitive bidding process, Overstreet found.

“The procurement director should follow the law ... not her personal feel(ing)s in awarding contracts,” Overstreet wrote. “Any public construction contract for an amount in excess of $100,000 without strictly complying with the (state’s public works law) is illegal.”

During a hearing on the matter in April, Procurement Director Geri Sams and City Administrator Fred Russell testified that price shouldn’t be the bottom line in awarding contracts for goods and services.

Overstreet said, however, that the Supreme Court of Georgia has consistently held otherwise.

“... (B)id process was designed to protect the public coffers from waste and to assure that taxpayers receive quality work and goods for the lowest possible price,” he quoted from one of the Supreme Court decisions.

Instead of using competitive bidding, the city instituted a two-step method: selecting contractors who meet the desired qualifications, and then selecting a construction manager based on subjective criteria, not objective reasoning, the judge wrote. Cost is only a small consideration in the city’s process.

The judge also cited testimony given by local builder Robert Meybohm, whose company built government projects such as the Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

The process being used by the city in effect prevents smaller companies from winning contracts because they don’t have marketing departments like those in the Atlanta firms that have been hired for special purpose local option sales tax projects in recent years, Meybohm said.

City, commission face lawsuit
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