July 24, 2013 11:01:55 AM
Nathan Gregory - firstname.lastname@example.org
Columbus councilmen voted Tuesday to compensate J5 Broaddus $90,000 yearly plus a six-percent fee of expenses for each project it manages.
Councilmen Gene Taylor, Joseph Mickens, Marty Turner and Kabir Karriem voted in support of the four-year master services agreement with the firm previously selected to the fill the newly-created city position of project manager. Charlie Box and Bill Gavin voted in dissent.
Prior to accepting the terms, councilmen also approved a lease agreement with J5 Broaddus for $6,000 a year at 1617 Main Street in the strip mall beside the Columbus Municipal Complex.
The master services agreement, which lists J5 Broaddus contacts as Jabari Edwards and Lewis Ridgway, also lists the city as responsible for transportation, lodging, meals and incidental expenses. The city will make monthly installments of $7,500 to the firm.
Before voting on the lease agreement, Gavin asked city attorney Jeff Turnage if he saw a conflict of interest with the city entering into a lease contract with the same entity in which it was going to enter into a business agreement.
"The ethics law as I understand it is designed to prevent a mayor or member of the council from procuring a benefit," Turnage replied. "As far as I know, this lease agreement has the money going to the city."
J5 Broaddus is a joint venture between Edwards and the project management and planning firm Broaddus & Associates. The Dispatch previously reported Edwards as one of two managers for Columbus Mayor Robert Smith's re-election campaign earlier this year.
A biography of Ridgway on the Broaddus & Associates website states he has 11 years of construction and project management experience in design and construction of projects for public and private entities. The bio states he was owner and managing partner for Lone Oak Construction & Development, LLC and has a Mississippi State Board of Contractors license.
After voting on the lease agreement, Broaddus & Associates senior project manager Robyn Eastman briefed the council on services firm employees would perform, including pre-project budget and schedule planning. Eastman also explained he had worked at the firm's Biloxi office and had relocated to Columbus to establish an office there.
"If you have a designer on board, we would work with that designer. If not, we would help you select a designer and provide oversight to that designer to ensure that you stay within your budget," Eastman said. "We will oversee the bid process once the bid documents are complete to ensure we stay in complete compliance with Mississippi procurement law. Once we make the contract award, we will then hold a pre-construction conference to include the general contractor, the designer, the city staff and the stakeholders."
Eastman said weekly inspections and OAC (owner, architect and contractor) meetings would be held to monitor the quality of each construction and public works project as well as the rate at which projects progress.
Gavin grills Eastman
Gavin began a lengthy series of questions to Eastman by asking him whether or not the same services J5 Broaddus was offering were the same kind that architecture and engineering firms would offer. Eastman said Broaddus & Associates was exclusively a project management firm and not a design firm. An architecture or engineering firm overseeing the same services it offers is a conflict of interest, Eastman said.
"We've got a company that is completely separate from the design firm that is providing an owner's representation," he said. "We are providing an owner's protection. When a designer is designing something and he keeps an eye on his own project, obviously he has his own interest at heart."
Gavin then questioned whether there was enough business for the firm in Columbus despite the city having no large-scale projects on tap.
"Doesn't normally a company of your status and so forth deal with projects like a school or a hospital of say $20 million or more? Is there enough business here for your company dealing with a $300,000 project?" he asked. "I guess my point is the city doesn't have any large projects like this scheduled that I know of. The only thing I can think of is the renovation of the Trotter (Convention Center) and the renovation of the city hall."
Eastman said the firm will also "bring grant money to your city," to which Gavin followed up by asking if that claim was guaranteed.
"There are no guarantees in this world," Eastman said.
Gavin noted that if the firm does obtain grants the city would need matching funds.
He then asked for Eastman's qualifications. Eastman said he spent 29 years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps and had a college degree in that field. Gavin then inquired about Ridgway's qualifications.
"He is a graduate of Mississippi State (University) in construction management," Eastman said.
"Mississippi State doesn't have a construction management program," Gavin said. "(The University of) Southern Mississippi does."
MSU's College of Architecture, Art and Design website lists majors for architecture, art, interior design and building construction science.
Gavin then asked Eastman what the city would receive in return for $90,000.
"Our services for next year, sir," Eastman replied.
"For what?" Gavin asked.
"We're going to take and provide you with construction management services as well as the ability to bring grant fees to your community for the next year," Eastman said.
"If we do an architectural project ... most engineering and architectural fees, especially architectural fees...are going to charge somewhere between a five and seven percent fee to design it," Gavin said. "Then, on top of that we've got to pay you another 6 percent to oversee it?"
"You'll find that we save our fee on 90 percent or better of our projects," Eastman said. "We save our fee through savings to our clients."
Gavin noted the contract also burdens the city with furnishing travel and other related expenses.
"That's only if approved by the council in advance," Eastman said.
"It looks to me like you all have no investment other than renting a building from us (and) overseeing the project," Gavin said. "We're going to pay you to do it and we're going to pay your expenses."
Box praised the firm's body of work but also noted the city's lack of a large-scale project for which the firm is typically contracted.
"I'd have to say you have an outstanding firm, no doubt about that. My concern is...it appears that you've worked with projects...I saw a $60 million project, you've got a $30 million project, you did a $116 million bond issue...We don't have any projects of that nature," Box said. "The mayor said that you would work with our public works. You're a construction planning company. Explain to me what you would do with our public works department unless they have a project in the mill designed? Would you go down there? What would you do with them?"
"I would go identify some of the problems they have that are causing the most problems and seek some solutions through grants to fix those issues for them," Eastman said.
"We have people already on board who are writing grants and are doing a real good job with our grant program. Would you agree that it would be a better situation ... to identify a building project...that we wanted to do and once we've identified that project to call you and hire you to come in and help us rather than put you on a retainer and betting on the outcome -- betting that we're maybe going to get some projects -- paying you $90,000 a year while we hope we're going to get some project?" Box asked. "Wouldn't it be a better deal for us to identify the projects and then put out bids on furnishing to come in and help us with those projects?"
"I think this approach is going to prove to be the better approach for Columbus by the expertise we're going to bring to this city," Eastman replied.
Gavin then made a motion to table the master services agreement, citing the need for more time to review the contract. Box seconded the motion, which failed in a 4-2 vote. Taylor then made a motion to accept the contract, which passed, also in a 4-2 decision.
Citizens' reaction mixed
An approximately half-capacity crowd was in attendance Tuesday. One Columbus resident, Melchie Koonce, said he wasn't well versed on specifics of the contract but questioned whether or not it was in the best interest of taxpayers based on what he gathered from council discussion.
"I didn't understand what it was. It looks like that $90,000 is going to be money paid up front whether they get a job or not or a contract or not," Koonce said. "It didn't sound like it was good to me."
Resident Paul Ackerman expressed similar confusion.
"We just spent $100,000 we didn't have, and the only way I figure we can find it is by saving the $24,000 that the city council didn't take in salary. That's one fourth of it. Where the rest of it's coming from, God only knows," he said. "Nobody has amended the budget in there to indicate where that money is coming from, so I guess we're just going to spend money without knowing where it's coming from."
A resident who would not identify herself said while she didn't have enough information to decide whether or not having a project manager on board would help the city, she did express disappointment over the council "voting along racial lines."
"It did appear to me that there's clearly a middle man that doesn't need to be there," she said. "When you see what deals have been made in the past...it's not a black and white issue, you see these deals being made on both sides. Right is right and wrong is wrong and it never changes regardless of who the perpetrators are."
Councilmen explain decision
Gene Taylor said during a phone call after the meeting that he made the motion to approve the contract with J5 Broaddus to "oversee each small project and make sure (workers) are getting it done in a timely fashion."
"My reason for approving J5 Broaddus to be the project manager for the city of Columbus is to oversee each project on a day-to-day basis as we need them to do so," he said. "In the long run, it's going to save (taxpayers) money."
Karriem also believed having a project manager in place would eventually be cost-effective.
"Over the four years we've been on the council, we've always budgeted about $150,000 for engineering fees. That was for the engineer to handle day-to-day phone calls from the mayor and council. By having a project manager at $90,000, that saves the taxpayers $60,000 if we budget the same as we've been doing in previous year," Karriem said. "I feel it will makes things run more efficient. (J5 Broaddus) promised to attract even more grants from the city. I just think we should give them a try and in the end we'll be happy with the results."
He added the city could possibly opt not to hire a city engineer. During the board's July 2 meeting, councilmen did not renew Neel-Schaffer's contract at that position and voted to request bids for engineering services while also approving an unsolicited bid from J5 Broaddus for project managing services.
'If you have a project manager, who's to say we would even need an engineer? That is yet to be determined. An engineer designs and then they have to look over their own design. Who do you think that's in the best interest of?" he said. "From my conversations, I don't know if Neel-Schaffer wants to handle the day-to-day operations of the city any longer.
There's a lot of misinformation that was given out tonight, for whatever reason. I don't think this is a time to be confrontational about anything."
Firemen, police officers promoted
In other business, the board approved a request to hire two entry-level firefighters and promote five members of the city's police force. The two firefighters are Taylor Scott Michell and Darryl Damarkus Brown.
Sgt. Donald Elkin was promoted to lieutenant, while corporals William Smith, Richard D. Higgins and Teresa Songer were promoted to sergeant. Officer Michael Griffin was promoted to corporal status.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.