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FEATURE: UPDATED: Supt. Lockamy asks Board to buy out his contract; Denies Cumming's protest over SCCPSS Board vote

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

March 7, 2017 – UPDATED 2:40 p.m. - Savannah-Chatham School Supt. Thomas Lockamy has today denied the legal protest filed last week what could be a multi-million lawsuit by a national project management firm against the SCCPSS regarding the next ESPLOST construction phase for new schools in Chatham County.

It seldom happens:  a company not awarded a major public construction contract files a legal protest after a decision goes against them. The thinking is that doing so will damage the protesting company’s ability to gain contracts in the future. 

But, based on what appears to be a clear scoring error, and due to the decision by Supt. Lockamy to ignore the unanimous decision of his own five-person independent purchasing review board that recommended Cumming Construction Management, Inc. over Parsons Environmental & Infrastructure Group, Inc., Cummings filed a formal “Notice of Protest and Request Contract be Awarded to Cummings,” dated Feb. 22 that asked for SCCPSS to hold up in moving forward with the contract to Parsons.

And, as news stories begin to emerge last week about Lockamy’s actions, according to multiple sources, Dr. Lockamy sent a letter to all members of the SCCPSS Board of Education asking that the Board immediately buy out the balance on his contract if they do not stand behind his recommendation to support Parsons. One board member who asked not to be identified said today, "He has threatened to quit."  

The exact language in his email to the board members is: “If the majority of the school board has any doubt about how the process was handled and question the validity of my justification for the Parsons recommendation, I will be pleased to submit my resignation immediately and the board can pay my last few months of contract.”

Dr. Lockamy is set to retire in late May, at the end of the school year.  He is blaming School Board President Jolene Bryne as “undermining” him, and sending the letter puts pressure on the School Board that may want to reconsider their vote, in light of new information they received after their vote.   

Cumming’s legal firm Walker, Hulbert Gray & Moore of Perry, GA. has notified Sabrina Scales, Purchasing Director for SCCPSS, that they are protesting the awarding of the multi-million dollar project management contract for the school system’s next round of ESPLOST construction contracts to Parsons, a vote taken on February 16 by the SCCPSS Board of Education.  The letter is dated Feb. 22.  SCCPSS had 10 days to respond, which ended today.

Parsons is the current project management firm overseeing hundreds of millions in school construction contracts under the current ESPLOST five-year funding program.   The bid was for the next ESPLOST round that begins in July.

Following the Selection Committee’s Phase 1 and Phase II qualifications criteria evaluation and interview process, Cumming was the highest-ranked firm as evidenced by the January 31, 2017 notice selecting Cumming, even before a scoring error was alleged by Cummings. Cumming's bid was also $800,000 less that Parsons.

And, if the scoring is corrected, it can be argued that Parsons was ranked third in a summary of 'Evaluation Criteria.'  

There were five business professionals on the Purchasing Review Committee, many of whom have worked closely with Parsons over the past four years on their current project management contract.

There were five basic Evaluation Criteria:   References; Overall Approach, Methodology & Program Management; Project Team (Firms Professional Capabilities); Cost, Schedule Control & Quality Assurance; and Local & M/FBE Development Plan.  

The Cummings firm also states in their protest letter that Dr. Lockamy misled the Board in his presentation:  "The RFQ (Request for Qualifications) was not based on two categories, it was based on three criteria in Phase I and six criteria in Phase II.  The Phase II criteria were each weighted, with fee being worth 20% of the total.  Dr. Lockamy arbitrarily removed one of the weighted criteria, i.e., fees, from his consideration in recommending Parsons to the Board.  In doing so, the Superintendent afforded more weight to an evaluation criteria than was disclosed in the RFQ.  Further, as stated above, the proper procedure and requirements of the RFQ were not followed.  Cumming never was given a chance to negotiate its fee in good faith, as the RFQ requires."

The scoring and rankings of each firms are looked at in varied ways.  Numbers are added up, and one point of information is how did the five members of the Selection Committee rank each company, from their top choice to their lowest.  

Cumming's representatives met with Supt. Lockamy and staff on Feb. 2, a part of the normal process to negotiate its proposed services and fees, “However, during the meeting, the subject of fee was never discussed. Instead qualification matters such as MBE participation, Project Management software, and budget/cost control were discussed despite Cumming already having emerged from the rigouous Selection Committee and interview process as the most qualified firm under the selection criteria,” states their protest letter.

The protest letter also outlines that Lockamy, “made misrepresentations and applied evaluation factors or criteria that were different from those contained in the RFQ," and that Lockamy misrepresented their MWBE participation levels and their track record in that area. 

The protest letter also states that public works bidding is regulated by Chapter 91 of Title 36 of the Official Code of Georgia wherein contracts are to be awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. 

A Problem with Parsons’ Subcontracting firm “Vanguard”

An additional issue uncovered by the Savannah Business Journal relates to the subcontracting firms that Parsons and Cummings included as part of their qualifications and bids. 

Cummings’ subcontractor on the bid is Brownstrone Construction Group, a nationally-respected contract management firm, and Arneja Riley of A. Riley Consultants, LLC. of Savannah, the former MWBE manager for both the City of Savannah and Chatham County.

On the other hand, Parsons listed “Vanguard.”  School Board member Connie Hall made a motion at the February 16 meeting, in fact, that the Parsons vote specifically include “Vanguard” as the MWBE subcontractor.

The SBJ filed an Open Records Request to gain the actual corporate name of “Vanguard,” a Savannah firm reportedly owned by Sylvester Formey.  The response from Kurt Hetager for SCCPSS was that Parsons stated that Formey’s company is Vanguard, TM/CM, LLC.  However, there is no such company incorporated in the State of Georgia. 

A second Open Records Request was filed by the SBJ to get a copy of the incorporation documents provided by Parsons to validate its subcontractors in its bid documents.  The response received from Hetager:  “We have searched for the record in question and SCCPSS does not have copy of the document referenced.”

Attempts to reach Mr. Formey were unsuccessful.  His firm has been the subcontractor for more than four years by Parsons in the current ESPLOST round, with Formey and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz attending monthly meetings of the SCCPSS’s facilities committee, representing “Vanguard,” according to the monthly minutes. 

Whether Shabazz would be part of the next ESPLOST project management contract is not known.  Calls to Shabazz were not returned.

A Clear Error in the Interview Screening Criteria Math

A review of the ranking documents prepared by the members of the Purchasing Review Committee who looked at – and met with – the four bidding companies that survived the Request for Qualifications phase, shows there is a obvious scoring error that benefitted Parsons’ total score.   The error was apparently not caught by the Purchasing Dept. nor the Superintendent’s Office.  

And second, a review of all documents shows that the Superintendent’s public statements that Cumming had “low technical scores” was not accurate, in his recommendation to ignore that all five members of the reviewing board had recommended Cumming over Parsons.

Additionally, the public record shows that the Board of Education members did not have a chance to see the scoring sheets until after they voted.   In fact, School Board President Jolene Byrne refused to vote at the Feb. 16 meeting because, as she stated publicly that day, she had asked for the scoring sheets and they had not been supplied to her by the school’s administration.

The error is easy to spot. 

There were five members of the purchasing review team:  Committee Member #2  ranked Parsons with an 18%, when the maximum points allowable was only 15% in the category “Cost, Schedule Control and Quality Assurance.” 

Further, they may have intended to score them two points below the maximum for the category, or only a 13% of the possible 15%  ( the two previous categories had 20% as the maximum allowable.) 

Whether it was human error, or an attempt to increase the points for Parsons, is not known.  Member #2 is not identified, and cannot be interviewed.  (The SBJ will file an Open Records Request to learn the name of “Member #2”).

Had Parson’s received a maximum of 15 points versus 18, the Total overall scoring would have looked like this:

Evaluation Criteria Max Points 100:  (with three point correction)

Cummings           84.2

Parsons               76.2

Heery                  75.6

Integral               67.8

Evaluation Criteria Max Points 100:  (with a five point correction)

Cummings           84.2

Parsons               74.2     ( Parsons would have been 3rd)

Heery                  75.6

Integral               67.8

And, if corrected, the Combined Committee Member Scores for each Category, if added together, would have produced the following results:

Heery              378

Parsons           384

Cummings       421

Integral           339

Also relevant is how the five members completing the 'Interview Screening Criteria' forms, ranked the four firms from their first choice to their last choice IF the math error is corrected. Cumming would have been the first choice of three of the five members, and the second highest by the other two versus Parsons.   Here is the rankings:  

Committee Member #1:  Cumming, Heery, Integral and Parsons (tied for 3rd)

Committee Member #2:  Cumming, Parsons, Heery, Integral

Committee Member #3:  Cumming, Heery, Integral and Parsons (tied for 3rd)

Committee Member #4:  Parsons, Cumming, Heery, Integral

Committee Member #5:  Parsons, Cumming, Heery, Integral

The Cummings firm representatives also argue that the way of summarizing scores has been changed between the current ESPLOST and upcoming round.  Had the prior methodology been used, Cumming would have had an even higher point differential over Parsons that they already do. 

There is no information yet on whether the SCCPSS Board will reconsider their decision.  

Editor's Note:  This story was updated Monday at 8:30 p.m. after receiving information from the SCCPSS's Communications Dept. on a line from Dr. Lockamy's email to the board.  The complete email, as requested, has not been received, however. 

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