Mayor defends project manager hire

July 5, 2013 9:50:39 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said contract fees will be discussed next week with the management team of J5 Broaddus, hired by the city council Tuesday for the newly-created position of project manager. 


Discussion of creating that job and hiring the construction management firm, which is operated locally by the mayor's long-time campaign manager, Jabari Edwards, was added to the agenda the day of the council's Tuesday meeting.  


The Austin, Texas-based firm, which has overseen projects in Smithville, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Moss Point and Long Beach as well as other municipalities outside of the state, was established in 2000 by James A. Broaddus, a 20-year veteran as a U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer. An unsolicited proposal from the firm that councilmen were provided during Tuesday's meeting listed Jabari Edwards as part of its team. Edwards, a managing partner for the firm, was also one of two campaign mangers for Smith during his mayoral re-election campaign, both Smith and Edwards confirmed Wednesday. 




Eyes and ears  


Smith said the need to create the project manager position was based on concerns he and the council had about "incidents that have taken place in the past two or three years" from Neel-Schaffer, the firm the city has used for several terms for its engineering services. The board also voted Tuesday night to seek requests for proposals for city engineer instead of re-appointing Neel-Schaffer for another four-year term. 


"If the mayor and some of the council did not have some concerns about our engineering firms then we probably wouldn't need a project manager," Smith said Wednesday. "The project manager is like your eyes and ears on any project that comes to the city. Also, with your project manager, they get out and they seek grants also for the city they represent. You're still using an engineering firm, but it's a checks-and-balances system. Your project manager is going to make sure that your engineering firm is doing what it's supposed to do. Your engineer makes sure your contractors follow the lay of the land." 




Adding value  


As for his association with Edwards and the board's decision to hire the firm and not to solicit requests for proposal (RFP) for the created position, Smith said the city does not have to request RFPs for professional services and there is no conflict of interest in using the firm. 


"That's why we have an attorney. I have enough common sense to whereas I know having an attorney that we check things out. When it's a professional service, you don't have to do bids," Smith said. "Concerning why from the project manager standpoint that we didn't take proposals, my question ... (is) why didn't we take proposals for the city attorney (Tuesday) night? Why didn't we take proposals for the prosecuting attorney? Why didn't we take proposals for the two municipal judges? What's the difference? We don't have to take proposals on professional services." 


Edwards said Wednesday while he was a campaign manager for Smith, he'd worked on several campaigns around the country and would not be active himself in the role of project manager. A team from J5 Broaddus will be in charge of those operations, he said. 


"This was not done for me. It was actually done for the citizens and it brings the expertise of Dr. Jim Broaddus and the entire Broaddus family to the table for the city of Columbus. Needless to say, I only go in and do work where we add value," Edwards said. "I won't be on the ground. I won't be day-to-day. It will be a team that we have here. That's not my role. Personally, I will not be (working with the city). We have a transition team geared up and ready to come in that will be based in Columbus." 


As for why the firm chose to send an unsolicited proposal to Columbus, Edwards said Broaddus himself visited the city and "saw a need." 


"Dr. Broaddus came to town and saw all the potential ... We've done this in other states and other cities if we see where we can add value," Edwards said. "In a town the size of Columbus, it's sort of hard to say that it's a conflict of interest. People have participated in everybody's campaign. It would be different if this were New York or somewhere like that. It would be different if it was going to be (just) Jabari Edwards, but when you have the expertise that we're bringing into the city ... I see that as value." 


Edwards said he would evaluate the effectiveness of the firm's role after a certain period of time and would ask that the city remove it as project manager if it is not adding value to the city. 


"The whole thing is transparency. We're providing a service for the city," Edwards said. "At the end of the year I look to revisit this and if Broaddus didn't add value I think they should walk away." 


Councilman Charlie Box, who along with Bill Gavin voted against creating the position and hiring that firm, hinted at a lack of transparency Tuesday, saying he didn't know about a plan to create such a position before the meeting. 


"We're getting ready to start a new fiscal year. We have advertised for just about every position we've done since I've been on the board," Box said during the meeting. "I can't see why that wouldn't be the case here." 




In the best interest 


As for what specifically the city's new project management arm will be doing, Smith said J5 Broaddus will have several roles. 


"They facilitate communication. They establish the project budgets and schedules. They identify the most appropriate delivery method. They lead the consulting and selection process. They monitor, they coordinate, they review the documents and all design phases," Smith said. "They oversee the construction. They ensure the quality and safety for the project. They record all aspects of the projects and programs." 


Smith also said regardless of who the city contracts as an engineer, whether the council eventually chooses to re-hire Neel-Schaffer or go in a different direction, he and the council feel it's in the best interest of Columbus to have a project manager working in cooperation with the engineer at this time. 


"Most people resent change ... For every dollar we have appropriated to the city of Columbus, we want to make sure it's used wisely and sufficiently," Smith said. "Regardless of whether it's Neel-Schaffer or Joe Blow engineering firm or Sally Sue engineering firm, we just think it's in the best interest of the city of Columbus at this time to use a project management firm. We (were) elected to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.