Government

More News | | | Editor

Exception would let commissioners do business with Augusta

Commissioners, employees could get city contracts

Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 6:07 PM
Last updated Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 12:41 AM
  • Follow Government

Augusta Commission members and city employees might have an easier time doing business with the city under a proposed revision to its conflict of interest policy.

The change, drafted by Gene­ral Counsel Andrew MacKenzie at the request of Commis­sioner Grady Smith, would lift a ban on commissioners and employees benefiting financially as subcontractors in city contracts, so long as the procurement director is notified of the relationship and the official avoids influencing the selection of the prime contractor.

The 13-year-old policy forbids elected officials or employees from participating, directly or indirectly, in any procurement contract when the individual or immediate family has a substantial interest or financial interest. The ethics code also forbids the appearance of a conflict.

MacKenzie said he developed the “narrow exception” at Smith's request but left any decision to adopt it to the commission.

The issue arose last year when Smith said his company, Smith Brothers Mechanical, was asked by a sheriff’s employee to bid on plumbing work at a new substation in south Augusta. Smith, who was off work having open heart surgery, said his employee responded with a bid as his firm has done many times, including for work done at public schools.

After the bid became public, Smith withdrew it, but he wanted to push the issue after the bid went to a business that charged $15,000 more and took weeks longer to complete the job, he said.

“Look who was the loser on that deal. The taxpayers paid it,” Smith said.

Smith said his company falls in with others that are subcontracted and paid by the general or prime contractor, not the city.

William Perry, the head of the Georgia government watchdog group Common Cause, was surprised Augusta would consider excluding subcontracts for readily available services, as other governments tighten their conflict of interest rules.

“You’re still benefiting personally from a decision made by the government, and that creates a conflict of interest,” he said. Officials are faced with the choice “either to be a public official or a contractor, but not both.”

Commissioner Marion Williams cited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s look into his possible conflict of interest in a racetrack deal near property owned by his son-in-law. No charges were filed.

“You have an advantage” as a commissioner, Williams said. “That's why the rule was put in place,”

Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who still works part-time for the health department, agreed with Williams.

“It's not fair to the contractors if they have to compete against elected officials and city employees for contracts,” he said.

Contractors are required to disclose who they hire as subcontractors, but contract documents don't always include the names. This was the case in a subcontract Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle secured to do flooring work at Augusta Regional Airport's new terminal for private aircraft.

Guilfoyle said his firm, Augusta Tile Crafters, bid on the work before he was elected. He said he told commissioners of the bid and has abstained from subsequent votes related to the project. Augusta's aviation commission governs the project, but final contract approval must go before the city commission.

Commissioner Joe Jackson, a locksmith, said he performed on-call work for the sheriff's office and other departments until several years ago, when City Ad­min­is­trator Fred Russell told him it was inappropriate.

Jackson said he'd never seek a direct contract or subcontract for city work. He has since performed the services – unlocking the house of a dead person for the coroner, for instance – on request but sought no payment. He acknowledged doing lock work for city EMS contractor Gold Cross before being elected.

Jackson said it was tough for him to draw the line.

“Do I stop doing my business because I might be a third party to someone's arm's-length transaction?” he asked. “I didn't get in this (commission) position to make a lot of money. I sought this position to save the taxpayers' money.”

Commissioner Mary Davis has benefited from government contracts in the past, by way of husband Scott Davis' business with his father, Roger W. Davis. The landscape architecture firm Davis Design Group developed a master plan for Lake Olmstead and other city park improvement projects.

Almost a year ago, however, Scott Davis took a job with Georgia Regents University, his wife said. She said she was unaware of her father-in-law's current business dealings but if one came before the commission, “I would be out of the room.”

The commission should tread carefully if it amends the policy, she said.

“It needs more discussion and analysis if any change is made,” she said. “The policy needs to be extremely clear on the guidelines and the rules.”

The administrative services committee is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 25.

Comments (26) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 02/17/13 - 07:46 pm
0
0
wrong
Unpublished

Just plain wrong. Do you trust your government to NOT do back room deals? Not me! If you want these type contracts, then resign from public office.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 02/17/13 - 08:42 pm
11
2
Yes, decisions made on

Yes, decisions made on choices of contractors/suppliers/service providers would never be influenced by officials....snort, snort.

gargoyle
18553
Points
gargoyle 02/17/13 - 09:36 pm
9
2
As the sign said on the

As the sign said on the chicken coop....

Guard wanted, Foxes need not apply.

I can't believe the audacity of our elected officials; Mr. Smith should know better and understand why the people who spend and regulate others money shouldn't get to contract, supply, or service our community. That becomes a huge conflict of intrest.

itsanotherday1
45338
Points
itsanotherday1 02/17/13 - 11:36 pm
8
2
'Nuff said above.

'Nuff said above.

rebellious
21295
Points
rebellious 02/18/13 - 12:51 am
5
5
The Bad

spoil things for the good. I agree with the change suggested. And Marion Williams knows good and well that the land was purchased and a corporation set up based on insider information.

At a previous career, in management, I was criticized for hiring a neighbor's kid in an entry level job. I knew the kid, knew the family, had interviewed several others for the job. I chose the kid based on the other applicants assessment and what I knew of the kid and his family. Why wouldn't I? He worked there for 15 years and was exemplery in the performance of the job.

Sometimes, the media and those who are subperformers or overpriced look for reasons to object.

The Smith deal is an excellent example where $15,000 dollars of taxpayers money was wasted. How about some common sense on these things folks.

gargoyle
18553
Points
gargoyle 02/18/13 - 01:13 am
5
2
“You’re still benefiting

“You’re still benefiting personally from a decision made by the government, and that creates a conflict of interest,” he said. Officials are faced with the choice “either to be a public official or a contractor, but not both.”

William Perry,Common Cause

I believe this is a case where a choice has to be made either to guard money or make money.Checks and balances must be maintained or you erase any integity in the use of public money

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/18/13 - 06:58 am
7
2
Exemplary Public Officials

Exemplary public officials would never suggest such a practice. Even though there are honest officials with businesses who are not seeking an advantage, the very design of the bidding process should place public officials and their families out of the plan.

As far as Grady saying his company could have done the job at a savings of $15,000, often times when we look back at a contract and don’t actually have to perform, our ability to do something at a lower cost is exaggerated in our minds. It’s human nature to gloss over problems the job presents and to magnify your own abilities when you are out of the picture. In this case there were only two bidders and Grady's company actually bid $15,000 lower? If so I'd like to hear from the winning contractor who has been disparaged by this information that's been released publicly. Did Grady's company consider all facets of the job,etc.?

Willow is right. Pass that measure and eventually all contracts awarded will HAVE to have a connection with a public official's company or family.

Shortcomment
1163
Points
Shortcomment 02/18/13 - 06:45 am
2
2
It should be the lowest quaility bidder anyway right?

I could careless which local vendor wins the bid, provided, they can deliver quality work, warrant it and do it at the lowest price.

Besides using a sealed bid process, with a public opening of the bids, will avoid any tampering.

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/18/13 - 07:03 am
6
2
Shortcomment, there is a

Shortcomment, there is a committee that examines bids and determines if the company is reliable and can likely perform the job up for bid. I'll flat out state right now, no company a public official owns (or has interest in) that is bidding on a city contract will ever be ruled out, but, on the other hand, competitors will be scrutinized and eliminated often.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 02/18/13 - 07:27 am
0
0
Just because his bid was
Unpublished

Just because his bid was $15,000 less than others - it doesn't mean the final bill would be that. Most bids are an estimate because there are always unseen problems that come up while the project is under way. The same thing goes for the timeline.

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/18/13 - 08:39 am
5
0
Low Bid

Regarding Shortcomment's comment; Augusta’s procurement department has a long tradition of not accepting the low bidder for city work.

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/18/13 - 08:50 am
8
1
Advertisement

From the story:

The change . . . would lift a ban on commissioners and employees benefiting financially as subcontractors in city contracts, so long as the procurement director is notified of the relationship and the official avoids influencing the selection of the prime contractor.

1. So long as the procurement director is notified of the relationship — Notifying the procurement director of the relationship is like advertising. Once the procurement director becomes aware that a commissioner would like to make money (or has a family member who whould like to make money) on an upcoming city project, you can bet that a smart procurement director would steer the contract that way. Let's face it; the commission chooses who will be procurement director and sets her salary.

2. So long as the official avoids influencing the selection of the prime contractor —How can this be enforced? To me, this is a toothless condition.

my.voice
4914
Points
my.voice 02/18/13 - 09:06 am
6
0
Is this what Comm Smith

Is this what Comm Smith thinks is good for the City at this time in history? Self serving legislation is what got this country in the mess we are in, please dont bring it further down into local politics.

LillyfromtheMills
13901
Points
LillyfromtheMills 02/18/13 - 09:24 am
5
0
No one will be left

in the room to vote

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 02/18/13 - 09:52 am
9
0
You just wouldn't think any

You just wouldn't think any of this needs to be explained. The $15,000 example of savings proposed by Grady Smith is nothing compared to opening the door for inside corruptness and further loss of public trust.

I find it completely preposterous that Smith has the authority to go to legal counsel and make such a request, independently from the other council members and even more perplexing that MacKenzie accommodated him. You'd think at least one of them would know better.

One of the main problems we are having in our society as a whole is that people do not ask enough questions of others or themselves.
A couple of key ones for these players: What is my role, here?
Where does my responsibility and authority begin and end?

Hey, even Marion Williams knows better!

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/18/13 - 09:54 am
5
1
Substation

I was under the impression that these sheriff dept. substations were supposed to be provided by the community as places for deputies to write their reports. Most of them sit empty most of the time because many deputies write their reports in their cruisers. I'm wondering why a plumbing bid went out, since the private sector is supposed to provide the substations.

Anyway, here is a sour-grapes quote from commissioner Grady Smith in the story above:

Smith . . . wanted to push the issue after the bid went to a business that charged $15,000 more and took weeks longer to complete the job, he said.

More than what? Presumably Smith is saying that the actual cost was $15,000 more than Smith Brothers Mechanical's original bid. But we all know the city is famous for issuing change orders once the work starts. The actual costs are always more than the bid because of these change orders.

For Smith to compare his company’s bid to the final cost of a project is an unfair comparison and self-serving to Smith's company.

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/18/13 - 10:18 am
5
1
Housing Project

Over on the 15th Street story, they say the Housing Authority wants to build a public housing project at the Regency Mall site. That would be cool if Wayne Guilfoyle gets to do the flooring, Grady Smith gets to do the plumbing and HVAC work, Joe Jackson gets to install the doors and locks, and Mary Davis’ father in law gets to do the landscaping.

While we're at it, we could have Donnie Smith provide security for the project, and Marion Williams could perform the dedication ceremony.

The only question is what kind of work could Corey Johnson do?

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 02/18/13 - 10:11 am
6
1
LL, I couldn't agree with you

LL, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm also thinking about this line.....

"The issue arose last year when Smith said his company, Smith Brothers Mechanical, was asked by a sheriff’s employee to bid on plumbing work at a new substation in south Augusta."

Asked by a sheriff's employee... any special advantages here or incentives for misbehaviors?

Agreed, those old sneaky change orders will get you every time. And yes, the nobility of it all.

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/18/13 - 10:21 am
6
1
Sheriff Employee

Yeah, I was troubled also about the sheriff department employee calling Smith Brothers and asking them to bid. That sounds questionable.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 02/18/13 - 11:57 am
3
1
They never cease to amaze.

They never cease to amaze. You gotta say that for them. Good luck with the "trust me, I'm legit" approach. We've never been given reason not to right?

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/18/13 - 01:13 pm
5
0
Sort of Like....

To illustrate the negative consequences of such a proposal, what if the building of a new facility was up for vote and a couple of Commissioners decided to start a parking deck management company so they could bid on the parking contract. Number one, their votes would be influenced to vote in favor of the facility. Number two, would there be any doubt who would get the parking contract? All fiction, I realize.

itsanotherday1
45338
Points
itsanotherday1 02/18/13 - 01:54 pm
4
0
Lest we forget

Bill Campbell went to jail for similar shenaigans in Atlanta; setting up buddies for airport concessions (getting kickbacks)and so on. I think they eventually got him on tax evasion, the the money he didn't pay tax on was ill gotten.

Procurement processes; especially on the taxpayer nickel, have to be squeaky clean with no possible scent of politics or favoritism.

Another thing that strikes me about Smith's example is it is implied there were only two bidders. Is that correct? If so, that smells to high heavens to begin with considering the number of qualified companies that could do the job. Doesn't sound like they tried very hard to send out RFP's.

Right on
209
Points
Right on 02/18/13 - 02:34 pm
2
0
Right for a change

Now I can agree with Marion and Bill on this.

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/18/13 - 03:53 pm
4
0
Think I Fell Off the Turnip Truck, Do Ya?

If this proposal is squashed don't think the practice of Commissioners and employees steering the bids to those they want doesn't exist or won't continue. They may not own the business, but there are some close associations.

Brad Owens
4717
Points
Brad Owens 02/18/13 - 03:54 pm
4
0
WOW..

So let me get this right; Grady Smith wants the ethical guidelines to be changed so he can receive sub-contracts? That is a great way to line up your work, you are not the "prime" you were just chosen by them as a "sub"... yeah, OK.

No way this should even be considered. I mean just WOW, what are they thinking?

GnipGnop
12454
Points
GnipGnop 02/18/13 - 03:55 pm
2
0
Hey why not pass this rule....

They already practice prostitution at the commission. Just ask any South Augusta property owner...

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 02/18/13 - 05:23 pm
3
0
And all under the guise of

And all under the guise of savings and nobility makes it even less palatable.

"What are they thinking?"
Lining their big pockets, I would imagine.

corgimom
34022
Points
corgimom 02/18/13 - 08:41 pm
2
0
LL, you forgot to add that

LL, you forgot to add that Countyman would post about how wonderful it would be for Augusta, and how it would stimulate businesses like fast-food restaurants, pawn shops, payday loans, and bail bondsmen to build around it, along with local government offices like DFACS and a WIC store, and then Deke could nominate it for an award from Southern Living. Deke could put it as a stop on his Ironman tour, which would mean that thousands of visitors would stop there, and it could become a tourist destination.

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs