County officials and District Attorney Ashley Rich are still waging a legal war over increased funding for local prosecutors, but in the meantime Mobile County Commission President Jerry Carl is using his discretionary funding to make a small allocation to the office.
At a May 9 meeting, Carl motioned to send $50,000 from his District 3 discretionary funds to help cover Rich’s office expenses. The allocation received a unanimous stamp of approval, which Carl said was “a good sign” in a six-year lawsuit that become personal in recent months.“I was really glad to see the other two commissioners vote in favor of it,” Carl said. “It’s taken a long time to secure a second vote, and I thought I would have at least some pushback.”
The allocation from Carl comes after months of back and forth beginning when Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the DA’s office, which left the county on the hook for as much as an additional $3 million per year.
While it seemed that would be the end of the lawsuit Rich filed in 2012, commissioners Merceria Ludgood and Connie Hudson have continued to challenge the outcome.
With their support, the county has asked the state’s high court to rehear the case and launched failed lobbying efforts aimed at changing the statutes that gave Rich her victory in court. In contrast, Carl has maintained the county should cut its losses and come to an agreement with Rich.
Currently, the motion to rehear the case is pending a response from the Alabama Supreme Court, which mulled over its first ruling in the case for the better part of two years. In the meantime, Carl said he recognizes the urgent need in Rich’s office, as funding reductions in Montgomery continue to force cuts on the local level.Rich said the allocation was “much needed” given the recent staffing cuts her office was forced to make. In an interview with Lagniappe, Rich said she appreciated the allocation, despite the time it took Carl to find the support he needed on the commission.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that it took five years and a lawsuit victory for Commissioner Carl to get a second vote to give us discretionary money we so desperately need,” Rich said. “Although commissioners Ludgood and Hudson voted to approve him spending his own discretionary money, this didn’t come from the [general fund], and it’s not an attempt by the County Commission to do what they’ve been ordered to do by the court.”
Even so, Rich said she was “hopeful” after the 3-0 vote, adding she is still willing to work with the county to reach a resolution.
While $50,000 isn’t a small amount, Carl said it is when measured against the significant needs in the Mobile County DA’s office.
“I have tried everything I can to get [Rich] some more money for her budget, and this was just my last result. That’s all my district funds or it would have been more,” Carl told Lagniappe. “This doesn’t take anything away from my district per se, but the [prosecutors] and the job they do affects everybody, including my district.”
Change order questioned in $10 million EMA project
It seems Mobile County has spent a little money to save a lot by redrawing the plans for a downgraded Emergency Operations Center on Zeigler Boulevard that’s expected to cost taxpayers $10 million.
Slated for construction next to the Mobile County Communications Center, the new EOC will be used by the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and other government agencies as a central location during emergencies.
On May 9, Mobile County Commissioners voted 3-0 to advertise bids to construct the 32,000-square-foot facility scheduled for completion by 2018. However, the same day, a change order for the project’s architecture raised questions.Roughly $800,000 has already been paid to architect Bruce D. Knodel for the project’s original plans. However, after $5 million was shaved off the price, The Architects Group (TAG) received an additional $480,926 to adjust the plans and oversee the project.
As for the reductions in cost, Mobile County engineering manager Tyler Martin said last week a lot of the savings came from eliminating a basement included in the original design.
“Now we have a storm-proof structure to the side of the main building,” he said. “That’s considerably less expensive than a basement, but it also took quite a bit of reworking on the plans.”
On Monday, commissioners approved adding another $72,000 to the final price of TAG’s contract to widen its scope of work. According to Martin, the extra funding will prevent the need for future technical upgrades by including them in the existing plans.
“At the time [the original plans] were completed, I don’t think the project was fully funded,” Martin said. “Fast forward a few years later — the plans were purchased from Bruce Knodel, who is no longer in business, by EMA and delivered to TAG to update, repackage and get ready for bids.”
Martin called the original plans “scarce” in their specifications for IT, audio-visual and computer equipment and said some of the features included in the original plans could be outdated by the time construction is completed in 2018.
According to Martin, the change order will ensure the project is operational upon completion. Though the change order passed, Commission President Jerry Carl questioned its preparation after Assistant Engineer Bryan Kegley told him the work was already done, but the commission needed “to pay (TAG) for their efforts.”
“We’re going to submit the bid process, but we haven’t paid for the plans that are already drawn?” Carl asked.
When Kegley called that “a fairly accurate statement,” Carl asked why the commission never authorized the additional work. In response, Martin said the commission approved the contract with TAG to change the plans. He said the additional audio, visual and computer components were added later, though he did acknowledge TAG had done more than it was contracted for.
“It’s an accurate statement to say that they’ve worked above and beyond their contract. They felt like that was a necessary risk they would take to expedite the contract process,” Martin said. “They have hired another company that works as a subconsultant who has gone through, revised and updated the IT, audio-visual and computer systems for the project.”
While TAG’s $552,900 contract is in addition to the $800,000 already spent on plans for the EOC, county officials say the project is still within its $10 million budget.
Updated at 12;54 p.m., May 13, to correct Tyler Martin’s title. The original version of this story identified Martin is an engineer for The Architect’s Group. Maritn is, in fact, Mobile County’s Engineering Manager.
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