The city of Brookhaven started at lightning speed.
The mayor and City Council members, elected just days before the city was scheduled to begin operations, relied heavily on the work of the Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven to make important decisions. They used the commission’s research to make decisions about everything from a location for City Hall to which firms should provide key city services — though the council didn’t always take the commission’s advice.
The five members of the commission were appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve as a quasi-governing board that would help set up the new city until a mayor and council members were in office.
One of the commission’s main responsibilities was to post requests for proposals to private sector firms interested in partnering with Brookhaven to provide municipal services.
After reviewing all of the submitted bids, the members of the Governor’s Commission wrote a report recommending five vendors to operate city departments, such as municipal court and public works.
But City Council chose to deviate from the commission’s recommendations on two major contracts, those for finance and administration, and community development.
Mayor J. Max Davis said City Council members wanted to do their own analysis before awarding any bids.
“We took our job very seriously and we were all of the opinion that we need to make our own decision because we were elected, and we can’t shirk our responsibility to the voters of Brookhaven to … look out for their best interests,” Davis said. “Saving nearly $1 million on our first contract award deviating from the Governor’s Commission was, I think, one of the benefits. After we awarded the bids, we continued negotiations and the prices continued to go down.”
J.D. Clockadale, now Brookhaven’s interim deputy city manager, was a member of the governor’s commission who was heavily involved in the procurement process. He said as a body with no authority, the commission’s report was only meant to serve as a guide to City Council.
“The biggest part of the commission, our biggest job, was not so much making recommendations as it was getting information together so the council and mayor would be in a better position to make a decision,” Clockadale said.
He said he is not surprised that the mayor and City Council made a few different choices than the commission.
“We were a group of six individuals who vetted the proposals. Council was a whole separate group of individuals,” Clockadale said. “You can still look at the same information and come up with different conclusions.”
For finance and administration, the commission recommended Brookhaven hire a company called Severn Trent, which estimated it could operate the department at an annual cost of about $1.7 million. The commissioners noted that Severn Trent had “current, very relevant local experience rated ‘exceptional.’ Staffing detail addresses all required job functions.”
However, the City Council voted to award the bid to UHY, a firm that estimated its annual costs would be just under $1 million.
The commissioners noted that UHY’s references were “limited only to audits and special projects, thereby limiting performance confidence.”
But Davis said City Council felt very comfortable with UHY’s local experience. Dunwoody’s Finance Director Chris Pike is employed by UHY, for example.
“The bidder recommended by the commission was nearly twice as much in cost as the vendor we awarded the bid to. That caused us to look further and deeper into things,” Davis said. “We reviewed who the people are, what their experiences are and if you have people on your team who have vast experience or superior experience within the county which you are situated, I think that does figure into your decision.”
However, when it came to Community Development, which handles zoning and permitting, City Council awarded the bid to a more expensive vendor than the one recommended by the commission.
The Governor’s Commission selected the Collaborative as its top recommendation to the City Council. In its report, the commissioners said the Collaborative’s “satisfactory proposal includes current, very relevant performance confidence. Price is 35 percent below next higher bid.”
But City Council chose Clark Patterson Lee to run its Community Development Department, taking another cue from the city of Dunwoody. That firm, which also heads Dunwoody’s Community Development Department, estimated it could do the job at a cost of $1.5 million.
The commission noted that although Clark Patterson Lee’s proposal included “current, relevant references with substantial performance confidence,” the proposal was about $400,000 more than the Collaborative’s bid of $1.1 million. The commission did not recommend the low bidder, saying its proposal was “inconsistent” with the city’s needs.
Davis said all five companies that submitted proposals for community development were asked to give a presentation to City Council members.
“We came to believe that Clark Patterson Lee would be the best fit for the citizens of Brookhaven and would be in the best interest, too,” Davis said. “Community development is something where you’re going to have a staff interacting directly with your public and development community. You’re going to have to have a firm of people dealing with the public that you have 100 percent confidence in.”
Many of the companies that submitted proposals for city work donated to the political campaigns of Brookhaven politicians or the advocacy groups that campaigned to create the city.
State campaign disclosure records show that Kevin McOmber of Clark Patterson Lee, who was named the head of Brookhaven’s Community Development Department, donated $1,000 to Brookhaven Yes and $1,000 to the Brookhaven Ballot Committee. Lowe Engineers, which will operate the city’s public works department, donated more than $2,000 to Brookhaven Yes in addition to in-kind contributions.
And Charles Button of Jacobs Engineering, who will head the city’s Municipal Court, donated $250 to Davis’ campaign for mayor.
Davis said political contributions were not considered at all when City Council voted to award contracts.
“The fact that a company or individual contributed to anybody’s campaign had zero bearing on any decision we made and that’s how it should be,” Davis said. “Making a decision based on a campaign contribution to me doesn’t even enter my mind. It doesn’t even come up on my meter. It’s not how I operate. My word is the most important thing to me and my integrity.”
Clockadale said he feels confident the mayor and council had a good foundation to work from when they took office.
“The best thing (the Governor’s Commission) could have ever done, and I think we did it, was get good information in the hands of council so they could make decisions,” Clockadale said.
He said remarkable progress has been made since officials took their first steps into City Hall on Dec. 15.
“We were able to go from Dec. 15 to Jan. 18, when we were able to fill potholes and issue business licenses,” Clockadale said.