Mismanagement compounds contract problems


More examples of former Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber’s mismanagement came to light last week, as the Sun investigated problems with the city’s $4.7 million street repaving contract.

The contract included repaving seven major city streets, including Ridgewood Road and Briarwood Drive.

Superior Asphalt was awarded the bid last August, and work was expected to get under way around Labor Day.

However, the firm was not issued a notice to proceed until November and construction did not get under way until January.

Even so, the streets were expected to be finished by June.

Today, though, work on Briarwood and Ridgewood is still not complete.

The delays can be partly blamed on the contractor, but city leaders are ultimately responsible.

Among problems, the contract did not include penalties for finishing late.

These “liquidated damages” are a common practice in governmental contracts.

MDOT fines for not finishing range from $150 a day to $3,500, depending on the contract’s total cost.

Jackson itself also faces fines for not finishing work on time. The city has to remove some 305,000 tons of waste from the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant by December 31, or face daily fines for each day the work is not completed.  

Why didn’t the city include these fees in its contract with Superior?

Another contract last year, a $9 million term bid with APAC Mississippi, also didn’t include penalties for not finishing work on time.

By the time that contract was up, more than half of the streets included on the project had not been completed.

Those responsible for drawing up those contracts are no longer on city staff.

Public Works Director Kishia Powell resigned in May 2016, and was followed shortly after by Infrastructure Improvement Plan Coordinator Lacey Reddix.

Yarber was overwhelmingly defeated in the May Democratic primary.

Charles Williams, the department’s engineering manager, was not involved in drawing up the contracts, but said the city has learned from its mistakes.

He said the city will likely include liquidated damages in future contracts, and will consider reducing the total number of calendar days in an agreement, so work doesn’t linger.

However, all problems don’t stem simply from a poorly drawn contract.

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba must streamline what happens from the time a contract is approved by the city council to the time a notice to proceed is issued.

The council awarded Superior the contract in August. However, a notice to proceed was not issued until November.

Notices are the official “go-ahead” for contractors to begin work, and are only issued after the mayor and legal department sign off on contracts following the council’s vote.

This lag time is unacceptable, and has been a common problem with city contracts.

As a result of the city’s delay, work couldn’t begin in the drier, warmer months of September and October. Superior only started on the streets in January, after the former mayor threatened to cancel the contract.

However, the lag time was not just a problem for the Superior contract. Other agreements, including memorandums of understanding to pave streets, have stalled in the legal department, even after the contracts were approved by the council.

We’re confident Mayor Lumumba and the council will look into the matter. Residents have been waiting long enough to see their streets repaved. Projects should not be further delayed by the city’s mismanagement.

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