Conflict? What conflict?
Shores holds up pay while demanding explanations
Consultants working for both the City of Vero Beach and the Town of Indian River Shores will have to wait to get paid on their invoice to the Shores while officials seek some explanations.
After Vero Beach 32963 reported that invoices GAI Consultants sent to the Shores and to Vero had the same four consultants working for both parties -- including possibly billing them for reviewing work they had done themselves – Shores Councilman Gerard Weick made a motion to hold up payment until the GAI Consultants clear up the charges.
Indian River Shores retained the consultants to help with a 30-year franchise agreement to obtain water and sewer services after 2016.
The Town is also paying GAI Consultants a $25,000 base fee to appraise its water and sewer utility assets and broker a deal to sell them to whomever is awarded the water and sewer contract.
GAI’s invoices to the Town through Sept. 18 amounted to just more than $18,000, and that does not include the last six weeks of work.
GAI staffers’ billing rates range from $65 per hour for clerical support to $220 per hour for the Principal Engineer Gerald Hartman.
Shores Town Manager Richard Jefferson approved the GAI invoices for payment, but it appears he was not totally clear that he was approving engineering consulting services.
Jefferson’s note on the bottom of the Aug. 31 invoice from GAI reads, “Legal fees for utility options,” followed by his signature.
The potential for conflict arose about two weeks after GAI signed on with Indian River Shores, when the Orlando consulting firm contracted with Vero Beach to provide $84,900 worth of services related to water and sewer utilities.
On a detailed invoice to Vero, Hartman charged Vero for two hours spent analyzing the proposal his own team sent to the city from the Shores.
Two other GAI consultants also charged Vero Beach for work on the Indian River Shores proposal, a total of $2,360 for 22 hours work.
While it first appeared that the consultants were billing Vero for analyzing the proposal Vero received from the Shores, the dates on the invoices to Vero apparently were for work on the proposals before the Shores had even transmitted the proposals to Vero (see related story).
County Commissioner Bob Solari, who attended last week’s meeting, praised the Shore’s Town Council for putting the brakes on the process, at least temporarily.
“I thought it was responsible that the Council members moved to delay the payment to GAI and I hope they get the double-billing issue resolved,” Solari said.
Meanwhile, the Town’s Mayor, Bill Kenyon, charged that the press was engaging in “misinformation” and urged officials to clam up if asked to comment about the ongoing water-sewer deal.
“As these things are picked up on by the local press, I can’t guarantee how they will report it,” Kenyon said. “And I don’t want to guarantee how they will report it, and if we can’t take it, the hell with it.”
“The name of the game is keep it closed and don’t say things off the cuff,” Kenyon added.
The Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers in Florida states that engineers are permitted, with caution, to work for two entities in a deal where each has an interest.
But, in such cases, any potential conflict of interest must not only be acknowledged but the engineer must ask both entities -- in this case the City of Vero Beach and the Town of Indian River Shores -- to sign a document commonly referred to as a “Release of Conflict of Interest.”
That document would state what the potential conflict is, and attest that the engineer agrees to work for both parties for the mutual good of both clients.
When we asked both Vero Beach and Indian River Shores whether they had provided GAI with such a release to sign, neither had.
Vero Beach responded to Vero Beach 32963’s request by providing a copy of the contract between the city and GAI.
Page 2 of GAI’s Scope of Services document with Vero Beach, which is dated July 22, clearly discloses that GAI is working for the Town of Indian River Shores.
However, the signed contract between GAI and Indian River Shores dated July 7 contains no such language letting the Shores know GAI was either contemplating working for Vero Beach or that it had made a proposal to Vero to provide similar services.
Telephone calls to GAI Consultants Vice President Rick Cima of the Orlando office were not returned as of press time.
Though the Shores has delayed payment, the City of Vero Beach received its September invoice from GAI on Oct. 11 and it has already paid the firm the $7,525.00 due upon receipt.
The invoice was recommended for approval by the Vero Beach Water and Sewer Department and it was paid on October 21 by the Finance Department.
When asked about the charges, Vero Beach Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton said he’s confident that the city only paid for work actually done for Vero.
Bolton said that the consultants worked cooperatively with Vero Beach and the Shores on the appraisals.
“They worked for Vero in the valuation of the City’s assets in the Town and they worked for the Town on the appraisal of the Town’s assets in the Town,” Bolton said.
“They worked together to determine which assets are owned by the City and which are owned by the Town.”
Bolton said he had no authority to approve or accept the valuations, as GAI is a certified appraiser and the appraisal “is what it is,” but that he said he thought the numbers were fair.
Interim City Manager Monte Falls said that he was comfortable having GAI work for both Vero and the Town because they were the consultant that had been chosen earlier this year by a joint committee tasked with studying options for a possible consolidation with the county.
Because both the Shores and Vero had chosen GAI, that firm was the natural choice to work on the project, Falls said. Falls also said he thought it was a shame that the joint committee process broke up when the county took issue with the scope of services, and said he felt the continuation of that process could have led to real progress.
Meanwhile, officials at the county, including Commissioner Solari and Utilites Director Erik Olson, have submitted their own public records requests in an effort to determine whether they are still potentially a candidate to provide future water and sewer services to the Shores.
“I have asked for the Shores to send me any documents I need to be prepared to better serve the public at the meeting on Nov. 10,” Olson said. “As far as the county is concerned, we are still interested in providing service to the Shores and we just want to make sure that we at least have a level playing field to make a proposal to provide those services to the Shores after the current franchise agreement expires on Oct. 31, 2016.”
The Town has invited officials from both Indian River County and the City of Vero Beach to attend a workshop on the matter at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Town Hall.