The Fort Smith Board of Directors and the Sebastian County Quorum Court voted Tuesday (Sept. 3) to hire Flintco as construction manager for the Ben Geren Aquatics Center for a fee of $371,250 divided our between a pre-construction fixed services fee of $37,500 and a construction services phase fee of $333,750.
The overall project cost is estimated at around $8 million.
Approval of the Flintco hiring was not without heartburn over ethical concerns with the company by some of the elected officials who voted no on the hiring.
Flintco was recommended to both bodies by a committee comprised of county and city officials, including County Judge David Hudson and City Administrator Ray Gosack. The recommendation came in the midst of allegations and eventual pleas of guilty to bribery charges associated with the construction at a Choctaw Casino location in Durant, Okla.
According to an Aug. 5 report in the Tulsa World, six individuals have plead guilty in connection to the investigation, including Cordell Alan Bugg, a former vice president of pre-construction services. The World report states that some of the bribes included "lavish trips by private jet, vehicles, hunting and golf trips, an African safari, firearms," and more than $1 million in expensive gifts, including at least $855,000 spent at Louis Vuitton.
According to a memo from Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, Flintco launched an internal investigation into alleged breaches of the company's business ethics policies even before knowing about a federal grand jury investigation which had already been underway. A statement from Flintco said two employees were eventually let go from the company as a result of the investigation, while a third had already left.
Even with the cloud hanging over the company, Hudson said he had the full faith and confidence that the company, which recently completed construction of the city of Rogers' aquatic park, would be able to do a quality job using ethical business practices.
"In evaluating this matter, the integrity and reputation of the Flintco management, based upon experience and track record, continues to be demonstrated in forthrightness and the deliberate manner in which this issue has been addressed by the company," he said.
While the bribery case was strictly limited to staff in Flintco's Tulsa office, and not the Springdale office that will be used for the Ben Geren project, Fort Smith Director George Catsavis was not convinced that moving forward with Flintco was a wise decision.
"This company's had some legal issues, and I'm just not going to get in bed with them. … It's a possibility (that the bribery may have been isolated), but still, I believe in supporting our local business and I know that there's two companies here that can do that job," he said. "And if they're employing Fort Smith people that spend their money here and live here, then that's the way I'm going to do it."
Philip Merry echoed those sentiments, advocating for the use of SSi, which just this year completed the construction of a water park facility in Clarksville, which had a similar budget to the $8 million budget approved by the Board and the Quorum Court.
"They are local. I do not know why we would not want to stress that versus a Tulsa-based firm," he said. "If there's a branch office in Springdale, odds are the head of that branch spends an awful lot of time in Tulsa, Okla. … I go out of town when I can't find what I need locally. But when it's here locally, why can't we go to Structural Systems Incorporated? They're local. They've done it."
A point Merry made was pointing to SSi's customer service, adding that when a flaw was discovered at the Clarksville facility, the company made it right at no extra charge.
"I think there was a minor leak issue and they fixed it and now that the water's out, they're going to majorly fix it at not one penny more to Clarksville. ... So they're already proven to stand behind it if something happens."
Merry and Catsavis joined Director Pam Weber in voting against hiring Flintco.
Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge was one of eight Quorum Court members to vote in favor of hiring the company, adding that concerns about ethics and previously expressed concerns about the possible quality of construction would be solved with one section of the contract approved tonight.
"So if these apparent problems that they've had in other areas do spill over into this project, because this says, 'Disregards applicable laws, statutes, ordinances, codes, rules or regulations or public authority,' we can have a way to get out of this. And it's withholding funds, among other things, until it is completed by someone else we select. So I would hope there is nothing that would come forward, but in the event it does, we have a way to get out and we also have an surety bond for the $8 million to protect us the best it can."
JPs voting against the contract were Tony Crockett, Phil Hicks, Shawn Looper, Linda Murry and John Spradlin.
With the contract now approved by both bodies, Hudson said he was ready for Flintco and aquatics center designer Larkin Aquatics to formally begin work tomorrow for an eventual Memorial Day 2015 opening.
"It will happen, most likely, tomorrow," he said, adding that the companies were already sharing information related to the project on the assumption that the contract would be approved.