I am still struggling to understand how the city-parish and its two program management teams of 16 engineering and consulting firms—that’s right, 16—will efficiently and effectively oversee Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s nearly $1.2 billion MovEBR roads improvement program.
To their credit, officials in Broome’s administration, namely Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill, have been patient, accessible and transparent in sharing their plans with me and trying to explain why having so many firms involved in this program is a good thing.
I genuinely appreciate their time and help. It’s just not adding up for me yet.
To back up: Earlier this year, the administration decided to divide the long list of projects in the 30-year MovEBR roads tax program into two groups that would be overseen by two separate program managers. This was done to satisfy both those concerned about keeping costs down and those who wanted to ensure lots of local participation by small and minority businesses in the parish’s largest public works project ever.
It may have been done with the best of intentions, but you know what they say about the road to hell.
Anyway, as it turns out, a team led by CSRS was selected to oversee the $800 million in “capacity improvement” projects—things like road widenings and expansions—and has negotiated a contract with its seven subcontractors worth $7.5 million for the first 18 months. A team led by Stantec, meanwhile, was chosen to manage the $300 million or so in “community enhancement” projects—sidewalks, bike paths, landscaping and such—and has negotiated with its eight subcontractors a $5.6 million contract for the first 18 months.
Now, the two contracts are before the Metro Council for approval, and while council members don’t seem bothered with questions about what appears to be a really cumbersome structure, I still do.
Maybe it’s just me but, for one, why do we need four firms to do marketing, communications and outreach for the two separate programs? And, why does the CSRS team, which will be managing the larger suite of projects, have just one such firm—Franklin Associates, budgeted to get paid some $296,000 over the next 18 months—while the Stantec team has three communications-type firms to help manage its much smaller contract? (Marmillion/Gray Media: $186,200, Alpha Media: $100,300 and Covalent Logic: $110,000 all fall under the outreach scope of services.)
Hill explains the community enhancement projects need more help in the PR department because they require much more community input. This is in part because not all of the community enhancement projects have yet been identified. In fact, some $49 million has been set aside for these projects and will be determined— based on input gathered in public forums—at a later date.
“We envision having a call for projects in the future to see what the community wants to do,” Hill says. “So part of the community outreach money will be to work through that process.”
Second, how will these various communications firms divide up their duties? Who will send press releases? Who will run the community meetings?
Hill says a lot of those details have yet to be determined and that in the next few weeks both program management teams will sit down to answer those questions.
But that begs a third question: How do the subcontractors already have a line item amount budgeted next to their name if neither we nor they know exactly what they’ll be doing?
Hill says those amounts are estimates provided by the prime contractors, CSRS and Stantec, who have a general idea of what services they need and which of their subs will be best able to provide them. He likens it to any other budgeting process, where expenses are estimated months in advance based on prior experience.
Fourth, will there be one website for both programs or will they each have their own, and which of the four firms will maintain the website?
Hill says the city-parish will likely use its own website, which was recently overhauled, to provide basic information about the status of projects in both programs. As for which firm(s) will populate the site with information and how that process will work, those details, again, have yet to be determined.
Fifth, why is MetroMorphosis, a nonprofit organization that works to affect systemic change in underserved areas of the community, getting paid $371,200 under the Stantec contract to provide outreach to small and disadvantaged businesses?
Hill notes that a key component of the MovEBR RFQ was to provide capacity to reach out to DBEs and get them engaged in the MovEBR process. MetroMorphosis was brought on board the Stantec team to fill that niche and has a track record of providing those services through its mentoring and workforce training programs.
Hill says the hope is to engage as many DBEs as possible in the smaller contracts that will come out of the community enhancement projects under MovEBR.
Finally, is this the most efficient way to manage a major capital improvements program?
Hill believes it is and says the two prime contractors and their subs will function as extensions of city-parish and that they and their 14 subcontractors between them will function as one.
“We want it to appear to the public as though there is only one entity doing these 70 projects,” he says. “We will put in place these systems so everyone will be on the same page … I feel good about the deals we have negotiated.”