With their city offices, city name badges and city equipment, Forrest White, Jacques Ware and Butch Gallop are often mistaken for Augusta employees, but they aren’t.
They are part of a decade-old relationship between the city and private construction management firm Heery International.
Unlike city employees, however, Heery and its two “subconsultants” – Gallop and Associates; and Dukes, Edwards and Dukes, headed by state Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany – have annual 4 percent rate increases built into their contract, which has helped propel their hourly rates to more than $200 and award the group $9.5 million in billed fees since 2004.
The Augusta Commission, meanwhile, has twice reaffirmed the rate increases, agreeing with little comment to extend the firm’s contract and shifting money budgeted in Heery’s “not to exceed” contract for abandoned projects to new ones.
FOUNDED BY Athens, Ga., native George Heery, the firm touts its ability to manage construction projects, correctly estimate costs and protect the city’s interests against those of general contractors, architects and other construction firms.
Heery, Dukes and Gallop arrived as a package deal in 2003, on former Commission member Bill Kuhlke’s recommendation that the city buy “program management services” with sales tax revenue rather than have the city public works department hire full-time personnel to oversee sales tax projects; at the time, those included a new judicial center, government administration building, main library, civic center, performing arts center and convention center.
Heery arrived in 2003 with the involvement of Dukes as “a minority business that’s going to be used by Heery,” according to minutes from the October 2003 commission meeting.
Gallop was “a community liaison to provide two-way communication flow to the surrounding community to promote local and minority business participation for all the projects,” according to the job description that then-Mayor Bob Young read into the record.
Gallop said his role as community liaison has shifted from increasing minority participation since a 2007 federal court order barred Augusta from using race- and gender-based criteria in awarding contracts.
Though Heery uses those criteria in other parts of the country, in Augusta it pays attention only to “local participation,” which he helps increase by fostering relationships between contractors assigned to projects with local small contractors, Gallop said.
“It becomes a great thing when contractors look at the whole Richmond County and the small mom and pops,” he said. “It’s because we’ve gotten creative.”
THE CREATIVITY COMES at a high price. The annual 4 percent increases in the amounts Heery billed for its service have boosted Gallop’s and Dukes’ rates above $200 an hour, although Dukes rarely bills more than a few hours each month for himself. Even an on-site administrative assistant now costs the city $62.78 an hour to perform clerical work for Heery.
Heery’s Augusta rates are high. A 2011 survey of billing rates among top construction management firms by the Los Angeles Unified School District found the highest average billing rate – for a regional project director – to be $221 an hour, less than either of Heery’s highest-billing Augusta staff. The second-highest average billing position among private-sector firms was $183 an hour.
AUGUSTA IS RESPONSIBLE for more than Heery’s fees, however. The group also requires the city to pay its expenses, including rented office space in the Hatcher building until last year, cellphones, temporary living expenses for staffers assigned to Augusta projects, relocation expenses, office equipment and supplies.
Gallop said despite the fees, the group reinvests the local dollars it earns back into the community, making donations to various groups such as Augusta Partnership for Children and Richmond County Parent-Teacher Association.
“You can’t just come in and make all the money and leave,” he said. “We don’t get to do all the things we are asked to do, but when we’re asked to do things that we think are legit, we do them.”
A report of payments to Heery under its Augusta contract shows $9.53 million between July 2004 and May 2013, within the firm’s revised 2010 contract maximum of $10.3 million.
Part of the group’s work also generates its own workload, however, through the development and promotion of sales tax packages.
City Administrator Fred Russell, a fervent Heery supporter, said the group rescued the city after failed attempts to get voters to pass capital improvement programs – the $486 million special purpose local option sales tax V package in November 2004 and two $100 million bond referendums in 2005.
“What they did in the second SPLOST V (sales tax package) was they were able to put together some reasonable numbers,” Russell said of the $160 million tax package that voters approved in November 2005.
Gallop’s role as community liaison has come to include promoting the passage of special purpose local option sales taxes; he acknowledged after the $184.72 million sales tax VI passed in 2009 that he campaigned for it, making hundreds of phone calls and holding neighborhood meetings.