Thursday, June 21, 2012
By Al Gray
*Orange text links to sources and documents referenced in this article*
In the waning weeks of Winter 2012, CityStink.net and Augusta Today contributor Lori Davis submitted an exploratory, wide ranging Georgia Open Records Act Request
for the City of Augusta's payments under major contracts. The documents response was massive. Deep in the supporting subcontractor billings to the R.W. Allen, LLC contract for the Tee Center was a most intriguing invoice from Norvell Fixture and Equipment Company showing that $199,656.00 of kitchen equipment as work completed and an additional $76,289.25 worth was stored, for a total billed and paid of $275,845.32! (less 10% retainage). The contract total for kitchen equipment is a surprising $1,329,418.00.
Why was this invoice noteworthy? There was no detailed partnership agreement executed between the City and its Tee Center Partner and Manager, Augusta Riverfront LLC going into the contracts for construction, leaving the last word on the partnership being the unsigned, undated August 2007 Term Sheet. Repeated references to kitchen equipment are pretty clear that such equipment are the responsibility of the LLC, including this: “Augusta's Capital Funds shall specifically not be used for items related to Kitchen Equipment, Laundry Equipment, and any Convention Center or Hotel capital cost. ” Similar language making the LLC responsible for Kitchen Equipment remain within the executed 1999 Core Agreement of record in the Offices of the Clerk of Augusta Richmond County Superior Court.
No Augusta Funds are to be used to procure kitchen equipment, when $1.3 million of it is under contract?
During negotiations that have not yet produced a signed partnership agreement there was certainly a commitment for Augusta to construct new kitchen space within the Tee Center and relocate the combined kitchen from the existing Convention Center. That had no impact upon equipment ownership. Real property improvements and tangible personal property, such as equipment, are different.
In order to advance the investigation, Augusta Today member Dean Klopotic submitted a follow-up GORA request seeking the most recent R.W. Allen LLC billings under the Tee Center Contract. The City responded with Progress Billing Number 24, covering costs through March 24, 2012, including Kitchen Equipment Invoice Number 6, through March 20, 2012.
The details show $792,984.52 equipment work completed, materials stored of $162,544.34 and a total billed of $955,528.86, less 10% retainage. The R.W. Allen monthly invoice shows no additional kitchen equipment stored. Both Construction Manager and Subcontractor show most of the kitchen equipment as work completed.
At 11:00 AM on Thursday, June 7, Barry White of the Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted a TEE Center tour, which was attended by Ms. Davis and this writer. Project Manager Jacques Ware of Program Management firm Heery International would not permit the use of a video camera, suggesting that we come back for the Media Tour to be held Thursday June 14.
When the entourage reached the second floor of the TEE Center, the empty space was pointed out where the kitchen is to be located. At that juncture, an inquiry was made about the kitchen equipment invoiced back in December. Mr. Ware said that he didn't authorize payment for a kitchen equipment invoice, asking what kind of equipment was on it. This writer responded “ a number of tilting kettles and ranges,” then pondering out loud if they might be stored. Mr. Ware said the only kitchen equipment there would have to have been “for the Marriott.” (The Marriott is owned and operated by Augusta Riverfront LLC.)
An email request to Mr. Barry White to be included in the Media Tour on the 14th received no response. Other attempts were made to get a separate tour along with one or a group of commissioners to investigate the matter. Commissioner Joe Jackson had just returned from vacation and could not schedule a tour in the next week. Commissioner Bill Lockett managed to get the Heery project liason to get permission to join another June 14 tour, only to see it canceled after several hours.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle was provided with a copy of Kitchen Equipment Invoice on the morning of June 20, whereupon he sought explanation of where the kitchen equipment is from Program Manager Heery International, receiving assurance that the materials were “either stored or installed.”
It is fairly common practice to bill stored materials. There is clear language on billing documents that they are “Materials Stored on Job Site (Invoices if Required).”
Where does the situation stand? What are the issues?
Issues and Questions
- Where is the Equipment that Augusta paid for?
- Has Augusta Riverfront LLC been relieved of its responsibility for the purchase of kitchen equipment? If so, where? If not, is Augusta being reimbursed for the $1.3 million cost?
- If the Kitchen Equipment was delivered and used in Conference Center operations and events ($955,528.86 having been delivered, installed or stored prior to the Masters upswing in events) where is the accounting for the revenues?
- Without an Effective Date having been established for the successor catering agreement, where does accountability lie, especially since Augusta Riverfront LLC's Paul Simon having declared the Tee and Conference Center merged months ago?
- Why do both the R.W. Allen and Norvell Fixture and Equipment Company invoicing show the equipment as “Work Completed” if the equipment is “Stored?”
- Should Augusta have paid for nearly a $million of equipment months before it is installed in the new kitchen?
- Why does the invoicing include future charges for repairing Augusta Riverfront LLC equipment? Whose equipment will it be after Augusta repairs it?
Commissioners Joe Bowles, Joe Jackson, Wayne Guilfoyle, and Bill Lockett have provided Augusta Today and CityStink.net with substantial cooperation in this investigation and report. The public can feel confident that these gentlemen will pursue this matter to a conclusion.
Several of them need to participate in a tour and inspection of the paid-for kitchen equipment. Perhaps the city's internal auditor can vouch for the accountability of the equipment, including verification of delivery documents to a storage facility before the dates that the invoicing was submitted.
It is hoped that all will aggressively protect the interests of the citizens of Augusta and seek wise counsel as they deal with the aftermath of the total mess that the TEE Center currently represents.*** Stay tuned, more to come.