Amid a hailstorm of controversy last year when newly elected Mayor Nancy Shaver began her first two-year term in office, all four commissioners balked at the suggestion of an audit of vendor contracts awarded in connection with the 450th Commemoration.
A compromise was reached where the city manager, John Regan, would pull a sample of three or four contracts and together with the mayor, they would look at several key points of compliance to determine if further auditing was indicated. Despite deficiencies uncovered in that sampling, an unlikely pair of commissioners, Todd Neville, a certified public accountant, and Leanna Freeman, a licensed attorney, both of whom you would expect to support contract compliance, instead led the opposition to any further auditing.
Again Regan attempted to intervene. He admitted the problems he and the mayor had identified and promised that, going forward, purchasing and administration would step up their efforts to insure that better attention was paid to adherence with the terms and conditions of contracts awarded by the city.
Now comes the contract to develop a mobility plan, and Regan selects an engineering firm with offices in Orlando, who intends to subcontract a large portion of the work. The relationship with Littlejohn Engineering Associates gets off to a rocky start. There is discussion of finding a different consultant better qualified and better at communicating with the community on this project, whose wheels appear to be quickly coming off. Regan takes off for a month with his entire family for a vacation in Spain, and neither the director of public works nor the junior city manager will make any decisions or take any action on the floundering project until Regan returns. Among residents, frustration with an oddly selected citizen task force, rife with conflicts, has reached a fevered pitch.
By the time Regan finally does return to town, the Mayor wants to know why Littlejohn is missing completion points and not providing status reports on all deliverables called for in the contract. Then, the icing on the cake, Littlejohn notifies the City that they are going to present a bill for more than $11,000 in change orders for additional work.
At the mayor’s insistence, a standard status form used by professional consultants, employing universally accepted reporting methods that clearly indicate the various moving parts of a contract, visually identifying them with color codes — green, yellow, and red — as they approach commitment dates, is put in place for the purpose of spotting deficiencies before they become defaults.
The first such report has been prepared last week for the Littlejohn project.
“I am pleased to see that the City staff now has in place a means of monitoring the progress on this important contract,” Mayor Shaver told Historic City News. “Contract compliance is an important oversight discipline that ensures the city and the taxpayers are getting the value they contracted for.”
The City of St Augustine is infamous for not admitting its management mistakes and usually winds up fronting a sacrificial lamb to take the heat for middle and upper management’s inadequacies. In an attempt to candy-coat the completion status of the project through a letter published in the St Augustine Record editorials, Commissioner Todd Neville attempts his best soft-shoe around the facts; proclaiming that all is well and on time and completion is right on track.
“This reporting is really an insurance policy that keeps a project on track,” the mayor said. “As we can see in this first report, which is at the end of the planned project time frame of four months, Littlejohn is both off-schedule and off-budget.”
Shaver says her dogged determination to get to the bottom of the way the City does business with their contractors is simple — she says that her phone rings daily with someone else in the community wanting to understand what is happening, and she feels that she should be able to answer them truthfully.
“Now that the facts are known, the City staff can work with Littlejohn to address these deficiencies — which is all just part of good contract management practice, and I’m certain will be given their full attention.”