Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Get Your Pitchfork, Ma

In early 2007, the City entered into a nearly $1 million bloated Phase I Winslow Way Streetscape contract with Heery International that was at least as much about selling the Streetscape project to the public as it was about the initial design process. For a City of our size, this was a reckless use of taxpayer money under any circumstances. But now, at a time when our financial reality dictates that the City bite off no more than one or two capital projects a year, when the City has already undertaken a $12.8 million sewer plant upgrade, when roads across the Island are long overdue for repair and preservation work and budget cuts will send so many community organizations home empty handed, the $1.4 million Phase II Heery contract before Council tonight is simply appalling.

Just take a look at last year’s Phase I contract and Phase II now before Council and prepare to be amazed. Follow the links here and here and read the contracts for yourselves. You can probably skip the fill-in-the blank contracts (that’s right, million dollar fill-in-the-blank contracts) and just review the fee matrices in the attachments. This is one of those situations where you don’t need our help – the documents are fairly self-explanatory and should make any taxpayer cringe.

We are paying consultants to talk to consultants, consultants to talk to staff and consultants to talk to the public. We are paying consultants to oversee consultants who are considering the issues, paying them to create documents and presentation materials memorializing the recommendations, then paying them to address Council to explain the recommendations. We are paying for workshops, charettes, roundtables, coffees, graphics, displays and banners. And to top it off, we are paying consultants to prepare the very invoices they will use to bill the City.

Probably the most jaw-dropping statistic is how much the City will have paid for Streetscape related public relations work after the completion of Heery’s Phase II contract. A conservative estimate – tallying up only those tasks listed in the two contracts that are clearly public relations related – would be just over $229,000. In other words, the same amount that was to be spent on the Senior Center renovation this year or more than enough to cover what was to be spent on trail acquisition and construction this year – items expected to be reduced or eliminated from the 2009 (or 2008) budget.

Looking at a recent list of other possible spending reductions prepared by the Administration, we get a glimpse of what else might be sacrificed in the desperate attempt to fund the Streetscape. Among the cuts proposed, some will impact public safety such as eliminating an emergency satellite phone, delaying the hire of two new patrol officers, delaying repair to patrol cars and eliminating the Island’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

Another interesting cut would be the elimination of the “Wyatt Water Main Upgrade”. The result of cutting this item would be “continued low pressure and flow along Wyatt between Madison and Grow”. Would that be fire flow by any chance? That may be a very relevant question as it is also noted that this water main, which runs along an area destined for perhaps the largest future redevelopment effort in Winslow (including the Government Way surplused navy housing), “may be upgraded without City expense by future development”. Apparently some developers are more equal than others.

The Administration appears to be really scraping the barrel with it’s proposed cuts, yet it refuses to tighten the belt on the Heery contract. Consider the proposal to reduce the frequency of sewer main cleanings to once every three years (already down from an annual cleaning as of 2004) to save a paltry $5,000, while at the same time advocating for spending more than $40,000 for three Fourth of July Streetscape booths over a three-year period under the Heery Contracts.

And why are we paying Heery, an international uber-firm, to manage the project at all? Why not handle project management and public relations in house? “Administration and Project Management” will cost the City $96, 972 under Phase II, along with $28,773 in “Reimbursable Expenses”. What does this entail? Well, under the Phase I contract, and an earlier version of Phase II, the individual tasks were line-itemed along with their associated fees. Under the latest iteration of the Phase II contract, the generic term “Administration and Project Management” appears under each of the four work phases of the contract along with an all inclusive fee. On page 7 of the scope of work (Attachment A), the functions included in Administration and those included in Project Management are broadly detailed.

We think it might have been more useful to see a breakdown of the costs associated with each administration and management task. One of the more interesting fees listed in the Phase I contract was $24,656 to “Provide monthly report to COBI with updated budget, schedules, and summary of work during period along with monthly invoice. Recurring, 8 months”. In other words, Heery billed the City over $3,000 per month for a monthly summary and bill. Another interesting item from the Phase I contract was the $8,928 authorized for the presentation of the 30% Streetscape design (the final product of Phase I) to Council. If one assumes a 60 minute presentation, it was to cost the City $148 per minute to hear the results of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in design work it had paid for.

Looking back at that list of proposed cuts, we find that $30,000 could be saved by finishing the Waterfront Master Plan with staff rather than consultants. What’s even more amazing than the fact that our in house planning staff is capable of planning and design (who knew?) is the idea that there would be any question of whether consultants would continue to be hired to do anything that the City’s existing staff could adequately accomplish. Surely with no cash and no bonding capacity the City’s goal should be to find and harness the talent within, just as any reasonable homeowner would do-it-himself or go without when times are tough.

Where should our City Council go from here? Eliminate Heery and eliminate the Streetscape elements still included in the project, and they will be eliminating many, if not all, of the questions surrounding the legality of billing the project to the Utility ratepayers, and will be approaching a financially sound solution for this project. It does not appear that a majority of the Council is likely to find this path on it’s own. It's up to the community to pick up our pitchforks (figurative or virtual) and head to tonight’s Council meeting, by foot or by e-mail, to help perhaps just one of our lost Councilors find his or her way back to the realm of reason and responsibility.

(To post or read comments on this story click on 'COMMENTS' below)


Anonymous said...

Beyond the streetscape questions let's ask why we're spending $700,000 for aesthetic improvements to waterfront park if the master plan for the park isn't completed yet?

The plan is to install docks and create a gravel shoreline that is friendly to fish. But wait, aren't we fighting docks all around the resr of the island? And hasn't that section of shore historically been a high bluff, not a gravel beach? Why rip this bulkhead out and move the trail inland when people like the existing trail? Focus on a higher priority, perhaps remove a bulkhead that's actually causing problems.

The questions that waterfront park issues raise for me are: Who is behind this effort (planning staff), who applied for the grant (planning staff), and who is keeping it alive even though it's not a critical infrastructure issue? (the administration).

Don't get me wrong, I think an improved dock would be great. I think moving the trail doesn't make sense. But in the financial crisis we're in we can't afford to be spending $ on aesthetics. Even if there is a $1.2 million dollar match from the state. It's still $700,000 we can't afford. - And we don't even have a master plan for the park yet! Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Boys will be boys. Given its size and overhead, it's a wonder that the big construction firm of Heery has hung out here as long as it has, trying to get a contract signed on something that may barely pay its overhead. I suspect that someone is trying to make excuses to headquarters of what they've been doing all this time.

Girls, on the other hand, are a question. Why is Hilary Franz so set on doing this deal. Is it because she needs to prove herself as Joan of Arc, she who rides to the rescue and makes good when others have failed? And what kind of legacy can Darlene possibly create here? Is it simply a question of maintaining nominal control? Those two together make quite a pair.

Ma said...

Hey Pa, did ya hear the news tonight? You know that fill in the blank contract you was talkin' about? That darn City Attorney ain't reviewed it. What in tarnation are we payin' him for? Oh, that's right. To defend the mayor's missteps and derail citizen actions like the change of government petition.

Shogun said...

Call me practical or what, but did you hear the only glimmer of hope: Quay public-subsidized housing is dead. We have to listen to Ed Kutherner deliver a funeral oration that would have made Pericles proud. Listening to him run down the thank you, it was like the worst of the Academy Awards over statement. "Ding-dong the Witch is Dead, the Wicked Witch is Dead . . . ."

Last night the barn yard bs was deep, deep and getting deeper. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of freezing the FTEs to make up a $200K savings (theoretical) but no cap on use of consultants and outside services.

One great example of how they work this scam, look at Prithard park and the COBI "partnership" with BIJAC and the private-party memorial group (moriwaki/kitamoto). For nearly ten years we have had a city planner working on that park and the memorial. This planner is doing work for a private group and because her work has her off-line for other pressing work like roads, COBI has in effect lost use of that planner. Meanwhile over $200,000 in services and fees have been paid. Did people vote on this issue? No. Every time Konkel mentions the memorial costs and liability, he runs past the Japanese name like he is speed reading.

Because COBI partners, we get to have Barry Peters' Motor Vehicle Excise Tax prepared for jamming down our throats for the next 20 years.

Thanks Real for your alert to Ma and Pa. Get the old tractor running and at the ready for the dismantling of the ramparts around COBI City Hall.

Anonymous said...

The French Revolution succeeded because a lot of hungry angry peasants decided that not only could they not eat cake...they couldn't eat the turnips that they had. Here on BI it would be necessary to cut off the Latte supply to get anyone riled up. The difference here on Bainbridge is that well intentioned and knowledgeable people can point out the problems,define the absolute transgressions and quantify the waste of public funds but it is of little consequence. For all the bluster and high profile "concerns" the sad truth is that we are an Island community populated by latte powered "sheeple" content to let someone else lead the effort. After watching that disgraceful ,and embarassing, display of imcompetency and arrogance at the City Council meeting last night, it erases any question that the Mayor and four Council members act with impugnity. They can do so beccause they have no concerns about the righteous wrath of the voters. The voters are of no consequence.
When there is more concern about "civility" than confronting the undeniable fact that the City is being driven to financial disaster by the whims of a few at the expense of the well being of the entire Island ,then we are in big trouble. If the residents are not alarmed by now then the only thing that is going to get their attention is the reality of a massive across the board tax increase that will be necessary to keep this Island solvent and able to support the continued mismangement of public finances.

I would not be surprised to see a motion by one of the gang of four to change the city motto to "Uff Da"

Amicus Insula said...

Ouch, JMO. I for one was very moved by Ed Kushner's speech. Whatever you think about the government's role in affordable housing, how can anyone ridicule the sorrow of those who tried to do something beautiful for the community and were defeated. As far as Darlene allowing the extra time -- it wasn't Darlene that did so, it was the Council. And though I believe that inconsistency in the application of rules and laws at City Hall is perhaps the most damaging and distressing of wrongs on long laundry list of misdeeds, in this case, Council owed it to the community to recognize the end of the Quay effort. Open public comment was probably not the right place for this to occur. They could have scheduled 10 minutes on their agenda for discussion and allowed Ed and Carl Florea to make statements, but they didn't. I for one applaud Ed for insisting on the right to public closure on the issue. The fact that Council allowed the time extension demonstrates their own recognition that there was a community need to allow Ed to vent his frustrations. Frustrations that many of us share.

Shogun said...

Amicus Insula -- not sure if you are serious but I'll take that is the case. Yes, Mr. Kuchner had been up there 24 times (or whatever he said) and the last one did not have to exceed 3 minutes. Each time he was there it was overwrought and manipulative. Same comment for Florea.

Tragedy that the deal fell through yuo say. No, it was not. It was great news for the taxpayers. This deal was being jammed down the taxpayers' throat by a group of special interests and big-spender elected.

The reason our housing is sky-high rests with COBI government and Council. Private market -- free market -- should be turned to. COBI and all their energies should be turned to core missions of roads, roads and more roads. Forget the $20 per vehicle per year per forever tax on deck. Barry Peters is determined to stick it to the taxpayers. Stand by -- incoming !!

Anonymous said...

Shogun - so you all you want from COBI is "roads, roads, and more roads" eh? So you can more expediently drive your single-occupancy gas guzzler from your McMansion to the ferry? Or so you can subdivide your land and foster more McMansions, feathering your financial nest? Surely not so your domestic minions can more easily commute in from the off-island domiciles that are all that they can afford?

Some of us want Bainbridge to retain livability and character. "Roads, roads, and more roads" is not the answer. Can you name a place where that's the gov't primary focus, that's got livability and character?

Clearly COBI has gotten a bit out of control and I'm also in favor of letting market forces do more, including on affordable housing. But sheesh, come on man.

Shogun said...

Anonymous -- it took you close to a month to write me that scathing indictment because I want our asset-- our roads taken care of? Geez, you missed it. Are you suggesting if we allow our roads to fail and only hardy pack animals and the tough-heeled can move -- that is your answer?

A stitch in time save nine. I want roads taken care of for safety of all residents from the bicycle rider, the walker, the skateboarder or the person driving an auto (their make is model is their choice).

Forget it with your "change" class envy. Whatever I have been blessed with has come through hard work and perserverance. May you also receive fruits for your labor.