I congratulate Dr. Cherie Labat and the CMSD board for ordering a financial study by the state auditor’s office, which has resulted in $3 million in potential savings. This is an example of leadership other governmental entities should follow. The city of Columbus in particular can do better, and the educators are showing us one way out of this worsening financial picture and spiraling city debt.
One area to look at for cost-savings involves contracts with professional service providers. All contractors and all of their contracts need to be examined. My fear is that lucrative contracts are being awarded without competitive bidding or proper negotiation.
Contractors seek to sign the highest contracts possible, which means the city needs to fight to negotiate the lowest payment possible for services. This is where good negotiation skills are needed.
This leads to a fear that we don’t have good negotiation. Heck we may not even have any negotiation. Take J5, a firm owned by businessman Jabari Edwards. Look at their incentive. They are paid 6 percent of project costs in a contract with no end date, with no seeming effort on the part of City Council to keep tabs on J5. Where is J5 incentivized to keep costs down? These are appropriate questions that the city council should be asking.
Other questions should be asked. How many no-bid contracts was any sub-contractor awarded? All contracts should be awarded via a fair bidding process.
J5 earns 6 percent of total projects. But is that all they earn from the project? Are they earning a spread between actual costs and budgeted costs? Is this in the contract? Again, good questions the council should be asking.
Double-dipping seems all the more plausible when we read Edwards’ various businesses having $1.8 million in IRS tax liens. Why are we doing business with a firm that doesn’t pay its taxes?
The city seems unwilling and unable to work towards answering these serious issues, which is why we likely need a third-party audit similar to the previously-mentioned one at CMSD.
J5 is not to be blamed for being awarded cozy contracts with the city. Obviously, contractors want larger contracts not smaller ones. City council is to blame. They have been asleep at the switch and contractors have appeared to be let running ramshackle all over the city’s budget.
The combined incompetence on the part of city council is evident: blown budgets, nearly $40 million in debt, unfinished projects.
The voters are paying attention this time. By the looks at how Jacqueline DiCicco destroyed Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin in the primary, it seems change is on everyone’s mind. That’s a very good thing for Columbus.
Andrew Orr, St. Petersburg, Fla. and Columbus