Wednesday’s discussions about Bibb County’s management of sales tax projects became as much about skepticism as criticism.
Commission Chairman Sam Hart urged speed in hiring a project manager, but the same three commissioners who were critical of Hart’s urgency voted later Wednesday to have county staff and commissioners work out the project planning in the next four to six weeks.
Hart said the commissioners were wasting time and ultimately would hire a manager for the special purpose local option sales tax projects.
“We’re going to simply kick the can down the road,” he said, thumping the table for emphasis. “And we’ll be right back here.”
Hart and Commissioner Bert Bivins were the only ones to oppose the motion to handle SPLOST project management internally. Commissioners Lonzy Edwards, Joe Allen and Elmo Richardson pushed it through.
Richardson, an experienced engineer, said he would take on much of the planning work.
The unusual two-hour meeting was marked by questions from the audience and a SPLOST advisory committee, which said it hadn’t received timely information from the government.
The management group recommended by Hart is TI Real Estate Development. The proposal is for work to be split between Scott Thompson’s TI Real Estate and a company led by Cliffard Whitby, who leads the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. Thompson’s contracting company, Piedmont Construction Group, also wants to do some of the work.
About 30 other people listened to the discussion Wednesday and raised additional criticisms and questions. Answering some of them was Thompson, who said he’d contributed to one of Hart’s campaigns and had donated office space to a pro-SPLOST campaign.
Commissioners requested Wednesday’s meeting, saying they needed more information about Hart’s proposals for project management, such as how the project manager, county staff and county commissioners would share responsibilities.
Hart offered little information about responsibilities. Thompson told commissioners he understood commissioners were being asked to vote to allow the county officials to enter into negotiations to decide what work would be done.
County commissioners also were surprised to hear that Hart had been talking with Macon Mayor Robert Reichert about sharing the same SPLOST project manager.
Richardson asked several times what TI Real Estate’s fee would be before getting Thompson’s answer. He said the industry’s charges vary with the scale of the work, but fall between 0.5 percent and 10 percent. The organization said it was interested in some $108.4 million in projects from the city and county.
A written proposal from TI places the fees at 1.25 percent for Whitby Inc. as project manager and 3.25 percent for Piedmont Construction Group. That combined fee of 4.5 percent would result in fees of nearly $1.8 million for the county’s recreation projects alone.
Allen said he had to field a telephone call about Whitby’s role in the projects at 10 p.m. Tuesday. Hart said Allen got the information he needed Wednesday morning.
Copies or excerpts of TI Real Estate’s proposal also were received Wednesday morning by commissioners, the SPLOST advisory committee and The Telegraph.
SPLOST advisory committee member Lindsay “Doc” Holliday said he had asked Monday for documents to study, but he received nothing. The committee needs materials beforehand to get prepared, Holliday said.
The Telegraph made three requests for companies’ project management proposals last week, beginning with a request to Hart during the Jan. 17 meeting. Hart said the documents would be provided.
The Telegraph renewed the request Monday and provided an Open Records Act request via e-mail, then received only portions of documents when the meeting began. One document began on page 19; another began with section 5. TI’s paperwork was just four pages and spelled Whitby’s name wrong.
More complete documents were released later Wednesday to The Telegraph. County Attorney Virgil Adams said county officials wanted to get copies of the documents to county commissioners first and didn’t realize the initial request was made under the state’s Open Records Act, which requires a response within three days. He said he was unsure why the full documents were not released before Wednesday’s meeting.
Much at stake
The county’s share of the SPLOST money is heavy on construction projects, including nearly $40 million in planned improvements at recreation facilities.
County commissioners have said they’re interested in seeing the area’s diversity be represented among the contractors and subcontractors, something Hart said a project management company could push.
C.J. Price Jr., business manager for his father’s decades-old plastering firm C.J. Price Construction Co. LLC, said the company with about 15 employees meets all the county’s desires for small, local, minority-owned businesses.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” Price said. “We’re looking for a hand up.”
Commissioners are divided on how to do that. Edwards said the county can’t document how it’s treated women- and minority-owned businesses. Edwards ultimately made Wednesday’s motion to have county staff evaluate contracting procedures.
Hart said some of the talk about processes should have been done months ago.
“We don’t want to be penny wise and community foolish,” he said. “We should have had all these doggone things in place” before pitching the SPLOST vote.
But delays in moving projects along could be ill-perceived, Whitby warned. He said voters passed the SPLOST expecting some relief from an economic downturn, and innovation is needed.
“What I’m hearing from Commissioner Edwards and Richardson is the same old same old,” Whitby said.
Edwards said the county has to strictly follow the laws.
“Mr. Whitby, this is not the same old same old. In any procedure involving the expenditure of county money, we are in the positions of being stewards,” Edwards said.
Jimmie Samuel, who runs the Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council, urged commissioners to help local contractors and the community without micromanaging it.
“Resist petty politics and personal stuff. ... You say you’re not doing it, but I see it. I see it emanating from what you’re doing,” Samuel said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.