Already weeks into a contract that has failed to meet its first deliverable dates and has announced an additional six-week delay to develop the first phase of the city’s mobility plan, the consultant selected by City Manager John Regan, Littlejohn Engineering, has made its first change order adding another $11,476 to the taxpayer’s $108,219 price tag.
Regan defended the addition of two more task force meetings, an extra commission presentation, and another community outreach meeting, during the Monday night meeting of the St Augustine City Commission.
“Getting this right on the front end will save us millions of dollars in the long run,” Regan told commissioners. “On the parking garage we spent about $100,000 to control the spending of $25 million — and this is probably bigger than that.”
Resident readers of Historic City News have become increasingly skeptical of a successful outcome from Littlejohn for a number of reasons expressed on our website, historiccity.com, and in comments posted to our facebook page, historiccitynews.com.
In a letter sent to Mayor Nancy Shaver and copied to the four commissioners after he listened to the video from the meeting, a member of the Mobility Task Force, Steven P. Carter, who is recently retired from a seventeen-year position as Vice President with The North Highland Company, was critical of the lack of communication during this process; both from Littlejohn and to the residents.
“Unless the communications improve, we will lack the community buy-in necessary to make this project a success,” Carter told Historic City News editor Michael Gold in an interview this afternoon.
Carter’s pre-retirement consulting relationship with the global management and technology consulting company, North Highland, gave him good insight into best practices in the consulting field today. He was also critical of the lack of auditing of contract compliance between the city and Littlejohn and says he did not understand why Commissioners Todd Neville, Leanna Freeman, and Nancy Sikes-Kline were so vehemently opposed to holding the consultant accountable.
“In addition to the contractual benchmark requirements, there should have been a requirement for bi-weekly or monthly updates from the consultant,” Carter pointed out. “With better communication of that information to the residents, as it was happening, you may have avoided some of the frustration we are dealing with now.”
Carter told Historic City News that even though the contract omitted that requirement, the consultant themselves should be communicating those updates anyway because it is so common in consulting work.
Contract compliance auditing with a consultant is like performing annual evaluations of your employees, even though the city commission has dropped the ball in evaluating the three employees that it alone hires — the city manager, city attorney, and city clerk. In fact, the city attorney and city clerk have no provisions for commissioner evaluations at all.
The city manager is supposed to be evaluated annually, but that has been hit and miss at best, with two-term commissioner Leanna Freeman refusing to perform a written evaluation of the city manager. In the most recent city manager evaluations obtained by Historic City News, the only one that contained any feedback that recognized abilities and gave examples of areas that need improvement, was filed by Mayor Shaver. The others showed no effort or regard for the process, simply marking every question with a top numeric score, and offering no commentary whatsoever.
“If they can’t or won’t evaluate their own employees, what makes you think they are able to evaluate a third-party consultant?” rhetorically asked one member of Historic City News’ editorial board recently.