Our view: Columbus and 'Catch 22'

August 21, 2013 10:34:52 AM



Joseph Heller is alive and well and running the city of Columbus. 


During Tuesday's regular meeting, the mayor and city council met to iron out the details for the renovation of the Trotter Center. In that meeting, the council hired an architectural firm whose lone experience has been building a gym at a Macon daycare center, arranged a loan to cover the expenses of the project and then heard from a representative from the city's new project manager, which spent most of his time trying to justify his firm's role in the operation. 


The city breezed through all these matters, voting unanimously in favor at each step. 


The city will pay the architectural firm Major Design Studio $80,000 for its services and J5/Broaddus, the project manager, will get its six percent cut, which amounts to $99,000. Just like that, J5/Broaddus has more than doubled its $90,000 annual salary on the very first stop of the gravy train. To fund the renovations, the city will secure a loan from Mississippi Development Bank for $2 million, which will be paid back from fees in lieu of taxes by Columbus Light & Water.  


Nice and tidy, right? 


Hardly. The truth is, your average mosh pit is more logical than the conclusions our city officials reached Tuesday. 


No disrespect to Columbus native Major Andrews IV and his newly-opened architectural firm, but choosing what is likely the least experienced (i.e., cheapest) architect, then relying on J5/Broaddus to find savings in the work it performs, seems to perfectly follow the plot of Heller's best-known book, "Catch 22." 


In the novel, Heller coined the term to describe the bureaucracy that afflicted soldiers in World War II. The term is introduced by the character "Doc," an army psychiatrist, to explain why any pilot who asks for a mental evaluation in hopes that he would be considered not sane enough to fly is clearly sane. 


"There's a catch," Doc explains. "Catch-22." 


Doc explains that the pilot in question was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and he would have to fly more missions. 


This logic is strikingly similar to the city's approach to the Trotter renovations. 


The city wants to renovate the Trotter Center in a cost-efficient manner, but given its dubious deal with J5/Broaddus, it must first find an architectural firm and/or contractors who can be relied upon to waste money that J5/Broaddus can then "discover" and correct to the tune of at least $99,000, preferably more. So, one way another, the project is really needs to have waste. 


In this odd world, that would be a best-case scenario, but given that most projects encounter unexpected hurdles, what happens if Major Design Studio and the contractors really mess up and perform their tasks in the most cost-effective manner? In which case the $99,000 going to J5/Broaddus would be a total waste. 


"That's some catch, that Catch 22,'' says one of the characters in Heller's novel. 


"No, that's Columbus," we say.