The city’s project management firm J5 Global will end its partnership with the city of Columbus after eight years.
Company president Antwann Richardson notified Mayor Robert Smith of his intention to nullify J5’s contract with the city in a letter sent Monday and which city officials shared with The Dispatch. The contract ends June 30, the last day of the current city administration, Richardson said.
In the letter, Richardson indicates that while J5 and its employees are grateful to have worked with the city, the company’s focus has shifted in recent years to environmental mitigation, such as its ongoing cleanup of the Kerr-McGee site in North Columbus and similar projects throughout the country.
“From the time where we first started our contract, that predates me, until now, our firm has morphed,” Richardson told The Dispatch on Wednesday. “At the time when we did this contract, we were predominantly construction management. … As the years went by, we developed more of our niche in environmental, so our staff morphed. So we just had a small section that did construction management. It almost never was cost-efficient or made sense for us long-term to do that contract. … It’s not really something we want to focus on.”
He added he had initially notified Smith of the company’s plans to nullify its contract in 2019, and Smith asked him at the time to keep working with the city until the four-year changeover in city administration, at which time the city’s professional services contracts generally come up for reconsideration to give any new mayor or council members a chance to weigh in on contracts.
Richardson stressed the decision to end its partnership with the city was unrelated to the results of the municipal election earlier this month, in which Smith lost his bid for a fifth mayoral term to incoming mayor Keith Gaskin. J5 and its founder Jabari Edwards have been champions of Smith, with Edwards giving $6,000 to Smith’s campaign. Edwards was also co-manager of Smith’s 2013 campaign for mayor.
“This (the decision to end the partnership with the city) was in 2019,” Richardson said. “I think if you had an opportunity to talk with several of the councilmen and the mayor, they probably would tell you the same thing, that we had several conversations with them throughout this process before the election started.
“Honestly, there has not been any secret that we have been supporters of Mayor Robert Smith, but we also wish the best for Keith Gaskin,” he added. “We hope that he’s successful. … If there’s anything that we can do for him to be successful, absolutely. We don’t wish any ill will on the new administration. It has nothing to do with that.”
J5 and the city first signed a contract in July 2013, alleviating city engineering firm Neel-Schaffer of its project management duties.
During its partnership with the city, J5 oversaw major city projects, in addition to working on smaller projects such as ditch work and street paving. Among its bigger projects were the $2 million Trotter renovation in 2014, construction of the amphitheater and Riverwalk extension and City Hall renovations. The most recent is the construction of the new Sim Scott Community Center to replace the old structure at the park which was destroyed by an EF-3 tornado in February 2019. The bulk of the roughly $1 million price tag for construction will be covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency and the city’s insurance.
J5 charged a $90,000 retainer fee and 6 percent on construction projects it oversaw, though it waived the bulk of its fees during the city’s financial crisis in 2019, according to Richardson and City Attorney Jeff Turnage.
“In all of 2019, they worked for nothing, and yet they had some pretty talented employees that stayed working full time,” Turnage told The Dispatch on Tuesday.
Richardson said J5 donated about 90 percent of its time for work on Fire Station 4 on Airline Road, which was completed earlier this year.
The firm is currently overseeing a citywide paving project, which Richardson said will not be complete by the time the contract is up next week, meaning the city will have to complete those after J5’s departure.
“Once our contract ends (per) state law, we can’t continue working unless we have a contract,” he said. “…The city couldn’t legally pay us for that work unless we have a contract.”
Recent rains have delayed work on the project, which is about 20 to 25 percent complete, said Darrell Winters, who manages the city’s contract for J5.
In his letter, Richardson recommends the council hire an internal project manager to pick up where J5 will leave off. He told The Dispatch Wednesday he thinks it will be easier for an internal manager to simply follow the policies and procedures J5 put in place than for a new firm to come in with their own procedures.
“There are a lot of processes we put in place for city works, public works and just the way we do construction management that were not there to begin with,” Richardson said, explaining J5 helped establish procedures regarding steps to take to complete certain projects and how to prioritize certain projects over others. “… (If) you can get a different company, they may have different processes that may start over. Companies do things different ways. But if you have somebody that can have some existing processes they can follow, they can keep that train going.”
Neither incoming mayor Keith Gaskin nor current city council members answered calls from The Dispatch by press time regarding how the new administration will handle project management. Incoming council members Rusty Greene of Ward 3 and Jacqueline DiCicco of Ward 6 both indicated they haven’t received enough information on the issue, with Greene specifically saying he would like to discuss it with the rest of the council and city administration before making a decision.