Augusta Commission committee slows jail bid award due to court order

Lawyer to review bid after manager at-risk is found to be illegal

In light of Friday’s court order holding that Augusta’s method of selecting a “construction manager at-risk” was illegal, the city’s engineering services committee on Monday delayed awarding a bid to complete Phase 2 at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center.

Augusta Commission member Grady Smith, presiding over the engineering committee meeting in Commissioner Alvin Mason’s absence, made a motion to have general counsel Andrew MacKenzie review the bid award. It passed, 3-0.

The bid award was for R.W. Allen to serve as construction manager at-risk over Phase 2 at Webster, which includes an inmate processing center with a booking area, property storage, juvenile holding area and hearing rooms. Until its completion, inmates will continue to be processed at the aging sheriff’s office building at 401 Walton Way.

Allen was chosen by a procurement department committee as construction manager at-risk for the 30,724-square-foot project over three other firms – McKnight Construction, Potts and Turner Construction, according to bid documents.

On Friday, Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet ruled that a very similar selection process used to choose Turner as construction manager at-risk for a $14 million remodeling job at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building was illegal because it ignored the law requiring a competitive bid process, employed subjective criteria rather than objective reasoning, and failed to show written justification when a competitive process was not used for projects costing more than $100,000.

Smith, a plumbing and air conditioning contractor, said that he and Mason discussed the motion briefly before Mason left for an appointment and that the law department needed to review the bid award to avoid further litigation.

“When you’ve got as many lawsuits as we’ve had, all the way from uniform services to heavy equipment,” Smith said, “something’s got to be wrong with the system.”

Smith stopped short of faulting Procurement Director Geri Sams, however, saying “she’s just implementing what she’s told to do.”

The procurement office has come under fire in recent months, beyond the occasional lawsuit filed by a losing bidder. Most recently, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle called for Sams to make her case against privatizing the procurement function entirely, but a work session set for Friday to discuss that subject was rescheduled.

In other business during Monday committee meetings, the city’s pension and audit committee voted to take internal auditor Baird & Co.’s findings into account and adjust three of 43 raises recently awarded by City Administrator Fred Russell to employees involved in an reorganization of city government that is under way.

The audit, read to the committee by Baird principal Brenda Carroll, said Russell went outside the scope of the city’s new personnel policies and procedures manual in three instances, resulting in two raises that were lower than intended and a third that was computed improperly.

The report found that the rest of the raises, which triggered a call for Russell’s termination, were within the scope given the administrator by the manual to reclassify personnel at a higher pay
grade and give raises up to 15 percent.

The adjustments must go before the full commission for approval.

“It’s the best we could do given the circumstances,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.

The city’s administrative services committee postponed to a later meeting discussion of a request for proposals from private firms to perform an “independent audit and assessment/efficiency study” of Augusta government.

The engineering services committee also delayed at the request of Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier a discussion of a new policy for large golf water users. First Tee of Augusta has requested a water rate that’s more in line with the deeply discounted water the city provides certain other golf courses.

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