I don’t know what the world’s coming to. The federal government is tapping our phones and snooping into our e-mail. The IRS is targeting conservatives for harassment and spending millions on conferences, fake Star Trek videos and line dancing lessons while President Obama is just as surprised as we are when he reads all about it in the newspaper.
In fact, nobody in Washington knows anything. Everybody up there seems to have amnesia. FBI Director Robert Mueller couldn’t say how many agents are working on the investigation into the IRS scandal or who’s leading it. Attorney General Eric Holder can’t remember what he tells Congress from one day to the next.
On the local scene, it’s not much better. They don’t know anything either.
For example, during an Augusta Commission committee meeting, an item called for authorizing Turner Construction Co. to award $2,021,703 for Bid Package No. 6 for Marble Palace renovations. Before the vote could be taken, Commissioner Marion Williams said he had a comment.
“Somebody needs to explain to me what Bid Package No. 6 means,” he said
To summarize Administrator Fred Russell’s circumlocution on the matter, bid packages for such things as demolition save time and money.
Williams wasn’t satisfied.
“I guess my question would be, ‘How much have we spent so far with them if we’re on No. 6?’ ” he said. “If this is the sixth bid package, how much is the total, roughly. It ain’t got to be exact, but …”
“I can’t give you that number, but it’s all within the budgeted price of what that would be,” Russell replied. “I don’t know the specific number to add those together. I’m sorry.”
“Any of the commissioners know?” Williams asked. “Nobody knows?”
“Do you have that number?” Russell asked Forrest White, of Heery International, the construction management firm overseeing the city’s sales-tax projects.
White began rifling through papers.
“Is that a no?” Williams asked.
He then turned to Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen. “Ms. Allen, do you know? Ms. Allen?”
“Do you know?”
“We’ll have to get that for you, sir,” Russell said, coming to the rescue. “We can’t put our finger on the total number at the moment.”
“It’s … uh, in here as … uh, yes, as …” White said, still searching.
And so it went, with Russell and White telling Williams he could add up the items in Exhibit G to get the total.
“But we don’t know how much it cost so far,” Williams said. “I figured it’s in the budget. It’s already budgeted, but I didn’t know how much that is that’s budgeted.”
THE DEVIL IS ALWAYS IN THE DETAILS: All in all, it wasn’t a good day for White and Heery’s subcontractors, Gallop and Associates and Dukes, Edwards and Dukes, nor for supervisor Michele Brown-Rall.
Commissioners bored in with questions about higher-than-standard fees the city has been paying Heery for the subcontractors, contributions to commissioners and exactly what Gallop does as community liaison.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle wanted to know why Heery billed the city for the subcontractors’ work as though they were regular employees. White said that was how the contract was set up.
Guilfoyle asked White to “reach out” to his superior for a refund on the subcontractors’ pay. White complied, turning the microphone over to Brown-Rall, who’d come to the meeting from Atlanta. She said Heery was a professional service contractor and that Gallop and Dukes, Edwards and Dukes were subcontractors to them, and their rates were the same as the Heery team rates as far as the Consumer Price Index.
“I beg to differ with you on that because an employee and a subcontractor are two different categories, especially under IRS guidelines,” Guilfoyle said. “So you’re charging us for these two vendors or contractors as a employee. You take taxes out, pay workers’ comp or benefits in time with vacation or whatever.
“I didn’t see anything written in the contract where they would be held as an employee on a multiplier table,” he added. “Can you get me that because if it’s not in there, it’s not in there.”
SPREADING FUNKY FIGURES: Later, White gave commissioners a spreadsheet showing hourly billing rates for the Heery team, which indicated Gallop’s hourly rate had grown from $65 in 2003 to $227.72 this year, with a proposed increase to $235.42 in 2015.
When Guilfoyle asked about the increases, White said Gallop made $175 an hour and that the spreadsheet was wrong.
“Why did you give it to us then?” Guilfoyle asked.
ISN’T THERE SOMEONE ALREADY ON THE CITY PAYROLL WHO’S SUPPOSED TO DO THIS? You almost had to feel sorry for Butch Gallop, the way Williams hammered away at him.
“What do you actually do?” Williams asked.
“Actually, I participate in the local participation aspect of it,” Gallop replied. “I set up workshops, seminars, for the community.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Williams said. “You say you participate in participating. Say it again. You participate in the local community.”
“I do those things for Heery International,” Gallop said. “I set the meetings. I go out and get vendors to make sure that we maximize. I get people pre-qualified to make sure they participate in the projects, which is extremely important.”
“Is that documented?” Williams asked.
“Yes, it is. I can get you my scope of services,” Gallop replied.
“I’d like to have a list of those vendors that you got pre-qualified,” Williams said.
SHOULD HE HAVE TAKEN THE FIFTH? Commissioner Donnie Smith, the chairman of the commission’s ethics subcommittee, asked White about Heery’s donations to commissioners.
“What I would like to know from Heery is have you filed either with the clerk of the commission or with the Georgia Transparency Ethics Commission any donations you have made to any member of this body? Have you followed the law?” Smith asked.
(It’s not an either/or question. The city’s ethics ordinance calls for gifts of more than $100 and monetary contributions to be reported to the commission clerk by the donor and the recipient, but nobody has reported anything since the ordinance was adopted in 1999.)
“We did donations,” White said. “Yes, we have. We have not given any gifts. We have offered courtesy tickets (to Braves games and Atlanta Falcons skyboxes) just as anybody else does as a business practice, but as far as any out-and-out gifts, we have not done that.”
White said Heery had filed proper reports of donations, but Augusta Chronicle Staff Writer Susan McCord’s search of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission database showed no one employed by Heery, Gallop or Dukes has ever reported making a campaign contribution to an Augusta official.
“I just wanted you to be on the record that you have followed the rules,” Smith said.
NOTHING FISHY HERE, LOCKETT SAYS: The discussion moved Commissioner Bill Lockett to thank Heery for a $1,000 donation to his 2009 campaign.
“The press went so far as to say, ‘This guy received money from Heery, and he didn’t even have opposition,’” Lockett said.
But nobody reported that he’d mortgaged his house to fund his campaign and had finally paid the debt off this year. He also thanked Brown-Rall for the “$7 and some cents dinner” the newspaper reported she bought him at Red Lobster.
“If necessary, for me to stay out of the media, I will reimburse you,” Lockett said.
“You need any ball tickets?” quipped Commissioner Grady Smith.
SIGNS OF A GREAT BIG EGO: If it’s not against the law for Sheriff Richard Roundtree to promote himself by having his name put on Richmond County police vehicles, it ought to be. And what about when he runs for re-election and the police get called to a polling place? State law prohibits campaign signs within 150 feet of voting precincts, so Roundtree will have shot himself in the foot.