Winston-Salem council members threaten to hold up road project over contracting

In a split vote of 4 to 3 the Winston-Salem City Council scuttled an agreement with Charlotte-based Morris-Berg Architects to design the new City Yard on Lowery Street at a cost of $1 million to house sanitation, engineering, employee medical services and employee training facilities.

But then, at the urging of Southwest Ward Councilman Dan Besse, North Ward Councilwoman Denise D. Adams switched her vote, flipping the result and allowing the contract to go through.

The three holdouts were Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward; East Ward Councilman Derwin Montgomery and Southeast Ward Councilman James Taylor. Taylor said the council members objected to the agreement primarily because of the process, which does not allow the city to select the company that is able to perform the work at the lowest cost to taxpayers. Secondarily, he said, council members would have preferred a local firm.

City Manager Lee Garrity said after the meeting that state law requires local governments to use a competitive request for proposals to advertise contracts for engineering and architectural services, ranking the responsive bids by competence and qualification. Under the state law, local governments must negotiate price with the first-ranked company, but if they are unable to reach an agreement they may move on to the second-ranked company.

In this case, staff selected the first-ranked Morris-Berg Architects.

"What we can do is provide more information [to council members] about those criteria," Garrity said. "As far as price goes, our hand are tied."

He added, "Local is not one of the criteria."

The resolution approving the contract cites a state law dating back to 1987, which reads in part: "It is the public policy of this state and all public subdivisions and local governmental units thereof, except in cases of special emergency involving the health and safety of the people or their property, to announce all requirements for architectural, engineering, surveying and construction management at risk services, to select firms qualified to provide such services on the basis of demonstrated competence and qualification for the type of professional services required without regard to fee other than unit price information at this stage, and thereafter to negotiate a contract for those services at a fair and reasonable fee with the best qualified firm."

Relocation of City Yard from its current location on Rams Drive to the old Flakt-Bahnson plant on Lowery Street is necessary to allow the construction of Salem Creek Connector. The NC Department of Transportation selected Charlotte-based Blythe Construction to build the new road in January. Pat Ivey, District 9 engineer for NC DOT told YES! Weekly last week that the company is ready to begin work on the project. Completion of the new road is considered crucial before Business 40 is temporarily closed for renovation and bridge repair — currently scheduled for early 2017.

Adams thanked City Attorney Angela Carmon for offering to hold a workshop to explain the law to council members, after switching her vote.

"We just need to understand it," she said. "I know there's some council members that's been here and they may — but we need to understand that one."

Mayor Pro Tem Burke took shots at staff and her fellow council member, but ultimately acknowledged in her typical elliptical fashion that any fix would have to come from Raleigh.

"I don't think they understand it," she said. "They've just been going along, going along. And I think at least they know there's three of us are concerned that we wouldn't change. Maybe that will help them to understand it. And I'm going to go back to these laws. Those people can lobby effectively. And that's a shame. You have to challenge them."

On another item, the council voted to send a resolution allowing deed restrictions to be lifted from two properties owned by Judge Logan T. Burke, the mayor pro tem's son, in an urban renewal area back to the finance committee. Mayor Pro Tem Burke was excused from the vote. Councilman Derwin Montgomery said he had trouble with the resolution had not been previously reviewed considering that the last finance committee meeting was canceled, and was concerned with the precedent that would be set by approving it.

A summary provided with the item states that Logan Todd Burke, who is the councilwoman's late husband, purchased two parcels of land from the city in September 1988 in the East Winston Urban Renewal Project 3. The deed restrictions stipulated that "a building was to be constructed on each parcel."

Both parcels are vacant lots on corners of North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, including a 1.2-acre lot at East 5th Street valued at $5,300 and a 0.2-acre lot at Lawrence Street valued at $39,000, according to Forsyth County tax records.

The resolution also affects a property sold by the city to William R. and Martha D. Carpenter in 1994 in the Kimberly-North Urban Renewal Project area.

The resolution reads, "Whereas these three properties were sold subject to deed restrictions stating that a building was to be constructed on the properties; and whereas, it became known that these deed restrictions were not fulfilled, but that now, the redevelopment plans under which the properties were sold have now expired; and whereas, since the redevelopment plans under which these three properties were sold have now expired, it is requested that authorization be granted to pursue the release of deed restrictions on these three properties.

"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the mayor and city council of the city of Winston-Salem, upon the recommendation of the finance committee and the community development/housing/general government committee, hereby authorize the release of all deed restrictions on [the three parcels] previously imposed upon them by the city relating to the East Winston Urban Renewal Project 3 and the Kimberly-North Winston Urban Renewal Project which have now expired."

The city council also voted to continue a rezoning request allowing Wal-Mart to build a neighborhood market on Country Club Road. Councilman Robert Clark, who represents the West Ward, said the delay would give developers and residents an opportunity to resolve differences.

No comments: