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Friday, September 20, 2019
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EXCLUSIVE: SMG Alleges Open Meeting Violation Tied to Contract for Arena Operation; Granted City Staff Appeal Weds Morning

Category: Local Govts & Politics

By Lou Phelps, SBJ
April 23, 2019 -  The law firm of Wilson Brock & Irby, LLC of Atlanta, working with Savannah governmental consultant and lobbyist Mike Vaquer, has been granted a hearing to appeal exclusion from an executive session centered around the recommendation of City Manager Rob Hernandez to select Oak View Group and Pat Mathis Construction, jointly, for the next critical stage in the construction of the city’s new arena project.
Wilson Brock & Irby represents SMG Venue Services Joint Venture, LLC ("SMG"), which submitted a proposal in response to the City of Savannah’s request for proposals for a major contract for the arean, and was ranked second in overall points by the Purchasing Dept’s review committee.
SMG representatives have questioned what they believe are significant inaccuracies in the scoring of each firm, and the stated qualifications of the firm Hernandez has recommended.  But, tomorrow's session with the City's staff is to first address their alleged violations of the Georgia Open Meeting laws. 
“On April 8,2019, SMG submitted a written request for you to explain how the RFP scoring was conducted, due to gross inconsistencies between the published scores and the submitted proposals.  SMG has not yet received any response from the city to its request,” their appeal states. 
The Savannah City Council held a workshop on April 11, to prepare for its regularly scheduled public meeting later that day. The agenda for the afternoon meeting included the following agenda item:   "Motion to Award a Design Assistance Contract to Oak View Group Facilities, LLC, as part of a Phased Contract to Include the Future Operations and Management of the New Savannah Arena (Event No. 6488).”
SMG objects to the fact that “Immediately upon opening the meeting at 9 am, the City Council went into executive session to discuss this agenda item, among other things, claiming that the RFP was a real estate matter...” they state.  The executive session was attended by an eight City Aldermen, the Mayor, the Clerk of Council, the City Manager, a Deputy City Attorney, and an Assistant City Attorney.  SMG contends that the contract was not a legitimate matter for an executive session.
“Approximately two hours after entering into executive session, the City Council invited several members of the OVG Team to join its unlawful closed meeting and make a detailed presentation of their proposal. At the same time, the City Council barred two SMG representatives and other interested parties from the room,” the complaints outlines.
According to Alderman interviewed by the SBJ, because a number of questions were raised in the executive session, there was sufficient votes to delay a decision on the contract for two weeks.
“The city's exclusion of SMG from an 'executive session' that had been opened to other se]ect members of the public violated Georgia statutory law requiring open meetings and deprives SMG of its constitutiona1ly protected rights to due process of law and equal protection under the law,” the appeal states.

 Understanding the Scope of the Request for Proposals

 The scope of work for the Civic Center first includes taking over operations and management from the City, then at a later date providing design assist for a renovation project, followed by continuing operations and management of the renovated facility. The selected firm will also provide design assist services for the new arena and then become the operator of the completed facility as part of the contract – it isn’t just a contract to operate the arena.   In addition, the City is planning on a renovation project for the Water Works. The selected firm will provide design assist services for the renovation and then become the operator of that renovated facility.   SMG contends that the OVP team does not have the required professional experience.  And the scope of the RFP has nothing to do with the acquisition or disposal of real estate – legitimate reasons for an executive session, SMG contends. 

The City contends that they have not violated the Open Meeting Law, but that will be the substance of the Weds. morning appeal.  It appears at this time that is it not a public meeting, but rather a staff and legal counsel session.

Atty. Jennifer Herman is currently Deputy/Acting City Attorney, after the retirement of City Atty. Brooks Stillwell.  The City Council is currently interviewing candidates for the position; an announcement is anticipated at this Thursday’s City Council meeting.

SMG is asking for answers to its questions about the points awarded to each firm, already submitted on April 8, and for a reasonable opportunity to meet with the City to identify and discuss any deficiencies in its RFP proposal.  

Hernandez has prior experience with OVG principal Peter Lucco, owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team, which is based in Broward County.  In Hernandez’ prior post in that county, he was involved in an $86 million investment by Broward County in an arena for the Panthers. 

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