May 29, 2012 9:39 am
RIVIERA BEACH --
It’s not just MAOS, it’s also the folks at the Palm Beach Post.
[cleeng_content id="505657326" description="Why stop now? It's just getting interesting!" price="0.99" referral="0.10"]by Rhonda Swan
for The Post Editorial Board
Riviera Beach officials claim that loosely defined words, not intentional wrongdoing, caused the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office to conclude that they improperly hired an engineer without competitive bidding. “The city,” City Attorney Pamala Ryan said, “did nothing wrong.” Actually, city staff played loose with the facts to justify the contract.
Lal Samadi retired as the city’s engineer in 2008. Community Development Director Mary McKinney hired him soon after, with a no-bid contract, to work on a federally financed State Road A1A project. He earned more than $600,000 from 2008 through March, when he resigned after release of the inspector general’s report. The council voted May 16 to approve a final $33,000 payment.
Ms. Ryan was answering Riviera Beach resident Tina White’s allegations of criminal conduct. She asked council members to seek charges against Ms. McKinney and others who had knowledge of the contract. Criminal or not, their conduct was wrong.
Yet Ms. Ryan and City Manager Ruth Jones, the only employees who report to the council, are in denial. The council signed off on Mr. Samadi’s contract based on the advice of employees who report to Ms. Jones. The inspector general’s office found that the contract violated state law and city code, which require engineering contracts to be competitively bid. Ms. Jones’ written response was that “the term ‘engineer’ is used loosely by the city in the agreement” and that Mr. Samadi actually performed non-engineering services.
An engineering contract is just that. And in response to council member Cedrick Thomas, Ms. Jones said, “It was a decision to continue Mr. Samadi because his actual function was as the engineer.” Did she mean that “loosely”?
In her defense of the contract, Ms. Ryan said Mr. Samadi’s qualifications under the Florida Department of Transportation’s Local Agency Program (LAP) enabled the city to receive federal stimulus money for the A1A project. “The only reason the city of Riviera Beach was LAP-certified was because of Mr. Samadi.”
That’s not true. Ms. McKinney made the same false assertion, erroneously or intentionally, to the inspector general’s office about why she gave Mr. Samadi the no-bid contract.
The FDOT does not certify or qualify individuals under LAP. It certifies agencies, such as municipalities. To be LAP-certified, a city must have a team – not just an individual – qualified to carry out a project. “Perhaps,” Ms. Ryan said, “the words ‘LAP certification, LAP certified’ were used loosely.”
Council member Billie Brooks insists that the city is “taking corrective action and we just will not see this happening again.” How can that be true if staff members still do not know what they are doing? Ms. Jones told the council that the city isn’t likely to face this situation again because two of its three engineers have become LAP-qualified by taking a state course. That course, according to the FDOT, does not guarantee the city’s LAP certification. It’s for informational purposes.
City employees who should have known the rules – Ms. McKinney and Purchasing Director Ben Guy, who have been in their positions 13 years and 10 years, respectively- either didn’t know or chose to ignore them, based on their testimony to the inspector general’s office.
Council members often complain that the media create a negative image of Riviera Beach. In fact, the city does that on its own. In October, the city will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2009 case, when it confiscated and destroyed former marina resident Fane Lozman’s houseboat.
“No city,” Ms. Ryan said, “is perfect.” Riviera Beach isn’t close to competent.[/cleeng_content]•••
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