Committee of the Whole
Mayor Scott McBrayer speaks during a meeting to discuss project management for the $110 million bond project.
At a full-council work session to discuss potential project managers for the $110 million worth in schools, parks and public safety projects, it became clear that not all council members felt fully in the loop on the discussion.
“We’re sitting here trying to make heads or tails of this discussion we had no part in,” said Ward 2 Representative Mike Higginbotham, who was not part of the task force that interviewed project management firms but did attend public portions of the meetings. “I’m frustrated by the process at this point.”
Tonight's meeting came after the task force – consisting of council, school board, parks and police representatives – recommended B.L. Harbert International to manage the projects funded by the city's $110 million bond. Harbert, which managed construction of the Homewood Community Center and produced a study of the schools and parks systems in September, was chosen out of five companies who submitted proposals, three of which were interviewed. A breakdown of Harbert's proposal, totaling around $4.3 million, can be found here.
Most of the discussion in the committee of the whole meeting, however, was not focused on the details of Harbert's proposal. Instead, Mayor Scott McBrayer started the meeting with his recommendation that more consideration be given to Hoar Program Management's proposal, estimated to cost around $2.5 million.
“I would at least like for y’all to consider HPM. I just think they’re the best to do our schools, based on their resume, based on their costs I just really think they’re the way to go,” McBrayer said.
There were some tense feelings between the task force and HPM after the company's president, Mike Lanier, sent a letter to the full council on March 8. Lanier was present at tonight's meeting and said he sent the letter after being asked to revise their proposal multiple times: once to include construction management for the parks project, which HPM originally believed another company would be doing; once to manage only the schools portion of the project; and once for only the initial demographics and programming management, handing off construction management to another firm.
HPM refused to do this final proposal revision, which Lanier said he had never been asked to do before and would be a bad idea for both the management firm and the city. The letter he sent to the council outlined the proposals HPM had made and their refusal to consider only performing initial work for the schools. It was sent to the whole council as, according to the letter, Lanier wasn't sure if all of the task force "was privy to" the revised proposals HPM had offered.
Additionally, the letter alleges that members of the task force shared HPM's proposal amount with a competing firm due to what he called the "strident support they enjoy amongst some members of the task force."
Superintendent Bill Cleveland and Ward 3 Representative Walter Jones both said they found the letter offensive. While Cleveland said he would still consider working with HPM because of their past experience with similar projects, he felt the letter would erode some trust in their working relationship if chosen.
“It was a little shock to the system, I must say,” Cleveland said.
“I wasn’t trying to alienate or offend anybody, I’ve just never done that in 20 years,” Lanier said.
Confusion arose among members of the council, particularly those who hadn't been on the task force, as to exact costs of each proposal and what options were on the table. Ward 4 Representative Alex Wyatt, who did much of the research for the task force, said Harbert's proposal includes more services than HPM's, and when broken down to the schools portion of the proposals and comparing their hourly or monthly rates, he found them to be "two comparable numbers.”
Higginbotham, his ward mate Andrew Wolverton and Ward 4 Representative Barry Smith said they didn't feel like the task force had communicated enough about their interviews and decision making process for the other council members to make a decision on how to move forward.
“Half of what’s being said doesn’t make any sense, there’s no context for it,” Wolverton said. “[I don't feel] adequately equipped to make an informed decision, and that weighs on me heavily.”
The task force drew criticism from residents when it was first formed in January and Council President Bruce Limbaugh said it did not have to make meetings public. The task force then chose to make its meetings public, except for parts of the firm interviews, which Limbaugh said were closed to discuss financial information from the firms.
Alabama's open meetings rules state that all municipal committees must make their meetings open to the public, even if they are only acting in an advisory role. After the March 2 meeting that was partially closed, city attorney Mike Kendrick said technically the task force did not have to abide by these rules since it was personally convened by Limbaugh, not sanctioned by the council. However, Kendrick said he had encouraged the task force to follow these rules anyway.
Members of the council who weren't on the task force received copies of the proposals to consider on March 20.
Jones said at the time the task force was convened, it seemed like the best way to reach a decision that worked best for all the projects funded by the bond, but that may not be the case now. He suggested splitting the projects, with the city picking a project manager for the public safety building and parks projects, while the school board would make their own recommendation for the schools project. This proposal was favored by several other council members.
Limbaugh set another full-council work session for Monday, April 10 at 5:30 p.m. The committee will discuss this proposal again for possible approval at the council meeting to follow. Because the parks department needs to begin architectural drawings in order to start and complete their field realignment on time, Limbaugh said they may also discuss approval for the mayor to contract with architecture firms.
After the meeting, Cleveland said the school board is not sure whether the proposal of a new high school in West Homewood will become a reality. Of the school system's $55 million portion of the bond, about $20-25 million will need to be spent on expansion and renovation in the elementary and middle schools. Estimates for a brand new high school run between $75-80 million, and Homewood City Schools had considered making up the shortfall through selling the current high school property on Lakeshore Drive.
Initial talks with Samford University, Cleveland said, have showed the university is not interested in buying the property for the asking price the school system needs. Right now, Cleveland said they need the help of a project manager to figure out their options and how to proceed, which could include use or sale of the vacant Valley Avenue property the school system owns in some way.
In a special issues meeting following the committee of the whole, Katherine Bazemore of Volatile Analysis presented an update on work with Buffalo Rock to solve ongoing odor issues on the property.
“Buffalo Rock has outlined and acknowledged in writing that they have had various problems that have created current odor events,” Bazemore said.
Buffalo Rock has created a new set of protocols with the help of Volatile Analysis and is introducing new equipment throughout its system in hopes of containing the smells produced in its buildings. Some of those pieces will be installed this month, while others will be ongoing.
Bazemore said the city should be able to tell soon whether these changes will have the desired outcome on the smell, which has been a persistent problem since October 2015. However, installation of some equipment will cause odor to escape on those days. The first of those dates will be April 5, with others to come. Ward 4 Representative Barry Smith said they are working on ways to alert neighbors of those days in advance.
Volatile Analysis is also working with the city to develop regulations for odor control to use on similar situations in the future. Kendrick said the regulations need to include some sort of testing log that companies deliver to the city regularly, so it is easy to tell when they are not in compliance. Bazemore said these regulations can be completed by the time the city's contract with Volatile Analysis ends on May 9.