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April 25 - OVG Awarded Arena Contract; Bates Lovett and Pat Monahan Named as Key City Consultants

Category: Local Govts & Politics

By Lou Phelps, SBJ

April 25, 2019 – In a marathon City Council session that lasted until 7:30 p.m. Thursday., the Council voted 5 - 3 to award the Arena management contract to Oak View Group (OVG), headquartered in Florida, despite a long and detailed presentation by SMG’s representatives, the bidder that came in second-place in the scoring by the Purchasing Dept., and over the strong objections of three Aldermen.  

Represented by attorneys Harold Buckley, Jr. and Larry M. Doyle of Wilson Brock & Irby, LLC of Atlanta, SMG’s legal team outlined their contention that the City Council violated the Open Meetings Law in sessions with OVG, and that the City's Purchasing Dept. and City Manager did not follow approved practices in the bid review process or in their scoring methodologies.  

Alderman-at-Large Carol Bell abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest because of her son’s involvement with the OVG team, including leaving the Council chambers during portions of the debate. Her son's company, BellKlean, was named by OVG as a subcontractor, for work that will be worth millions over the five year period of the bid award. 

Voting in opposition was Aldermen Van Johnson, Tony Thomas and Estella Shabazz. Ms. Shabazz took great exception to the procedures used to compute what she viewed as OVG’s inflated minority participation projections.  The number of points they were awarded for that portion of the bid - alone - pushed OVG over the much more experienced firms of SMG and Spectra, the third-place company in the scoring of the Request For Proposals.  SMG significantly out-scored OVG in the area of experience, having been in business for 42 years.  SMG is currently operating 65 arenas in the U.S., and for many years managed the Savannah-International Trade and Convention Center.  

“I voted 'No' (against OVG) because I disagreed with the process – all the things they (City Purchasing Dept.) were supposed to do were not done.  SMG’s attorneys laid it all out.  We looked horrible, as a city,” said Johnson after the meeting.  “Eddie (the Mayor) starting verbally attacking SMG’s attorney, taking many things personally,” he added.

In an interview after the long afternoon session concluded, Mike Vaquer, of The Vaquer Group - government affairs consultant for SMG - said, “While the SMG team is disappointed with the decisions by the city, we understand that this is a process, and the senior management group and attorneys of the company will be determining the next steps over the next few days."  

In other business, the Council voted to retain Atty. Bates Lovett of Savannah as City Attorney, replacing former City Atty. Brooks Stillwell who retired at the end of December.  The position was advertised, and a number of candidates were interviewed by the Council over the past month. 

Atty. Lovett, with the Savannah, Atlanta and Washington, DC. firm of Fisher Broyles, LLC, will be a contractor versus an employee at a fee of $148,000 for the period of May 1 through Dec. 31, subject to a mutually-agreed to final services contract.  He will oversee the management of the City’s Legal Dept, the operating budget, and will provide up to 700 hours of legal advice during that period. 

Johnson voted against appointing Lovett because the position was advertised to be an employee, though he said that he recognized that many candidates for the job would be hesitant to leave their current employment in an election year – a new counsel could fired by a new Council in January. 

Johnson, who is an announced candidate for Mayor, running against Mayor Eddie DeLoach who is seeking a second term, said that he felt that is the City was willing to accept a contractor versus and employee for the position, it should have been re-advertised.   

In other business, the Council retained business and government consultant Pat Monahan as a consultant to the City Manager, Rob Hernandez, who has resigned effective the end of June. At that point, consultant Monahan will become Interim City Manager at least through the end of year, while a standard search process goes forward.  The Council agreed that they would not bind another Council to a decision on a new City Manager past the end of year.  Monahan is a former Asst. Chatham County Manager, under Russ Abolt.

There was discussion that both decisions were designed to give a new Council in January the opportunity to choose their own City Attorney and City Manager, two of the three employees the Council is responsible for hiring.  The third is the City Clerk. 

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