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July 6, 2013 6:43:54 PM
While questions abound about the City Council's sudden decision to create a project manager position at its July 2 meeting, one thing is clear: the major players in the saga -- Mayor Robert Smith, Jabari Edwards and Russell Sheffield -- have deep business and political connections.
J5 Broaddus, a local branch of Austin, Texas-based project management and planning firm, Broaddus & Associates headed by Edwards, submitted an unsolicited proposal to the city of Columbus to serve as project manager at the July 2 city council meeting.
A single motion was made -- without discussion -- to create a new project management position and to hire J5 Broaddus to staff that position. The creation of the position was added to the council's Tuesday agenda at the last minute. The motion passed 4-2 with councilmen Bill Gavin and Charlie Box casting the dissenting votes.
The proposal states J5 Broaddus is "a comprehensive team of project management and construction management firms that has been assembled to specifically address the needs of the city of Columbus," adding that team includes Broaddus & Associates and "Jabari Edwards - J5."
On Friday, Mayor Robert Smith defended the creation of the position, citing unspecified complaints with city engineering firm Neel-Schaffer. Smith added that having a project manager in place with an engineering firm imposed a system of checks-and-balances that would ensure efficiency.
Papers filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State's office list Jabari Edwards as the registered agent of J5 and his wife, Jewel, as a member of the company. J5 Broaddus was formed as a Limited Liability Company under the name J5 GBL. Owners of LLCs are identified as members.
J5's website also identifies Columbus developer, Russell Sheffield, as a member of the company. The business address of the company matches the address of RDI Waste Services and Sheffield Construction, both of which are also owned by Sheffield.
Jabari Edwards and Sheffield were previously linked during the purchase of sludge disposal land by Columbus Light & Water in 2010.
Members of the CL&W Board of Directors voted in favor of buying 118.8 acres along Nashville Ferry Road from Sheffield for $996,000 -- $8,440.68 per acre -- in late October 2010. Appraisals of the land ranged from $500,000 to $1.8 million. At the time, Edwards, who was on the CL&W board, cast the tie-breaking vote in a 3-2 decision to purchase the property.
J5 was incorporated in December 2010, two months after that vote.
Edwards was a co-manager of mayor Robert Smith's re-election campaign earlier this year. Brandy Gardner, who also served on the CL&W board and voted for the purchase of the land from Sheffield, was Smith's other campaign co-manager.
Also listed on the local company's website are Ellis Lachney, a project manager for Sheffield Construction; Daniel R. Dunnam, a highly decorated retired Marine and Ralph W. McLain, founder of Air Control Engineering and Teletec, two prominent local businesses.
Broaddus & Associates, established by James A. Broaddus in 2000, has offices in Texas, Mississippi and Washington, D.C. and employs more than 120 professionals who provide project management and planning project on projects spanning the country, according to the proposal. The firm has spearheaded public infrastructure projects and construction of a new city hall in Long Beach after damage from Hurricane Katrina. Experience also includes a downtown building facade program as well as construction of a fire station, community center and public safety center in Gulfport, also destroyed by the storm. The firm also managed a waste and wastewater infrastructure in Long Beach, the proposal states.
The proposal contains letters of recommendation from the city of Moss Point, the town of Smithville, Jackson County, Monroe County School District and Hays County, Texas.
During a Wednesday phone interview, Edwards said he would not be part of the day-to-day team in charge of the newly created role, adding Broaddus himself visited Columbus and "saw a need" for the city to have professional service provided.
Terms of the contract between the city and J5 have not been announced.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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