City attorney questions courthouse contract issues
City General Counsel Cindy Laquidara appeared before the City Council Courthouse Oversight Special Committee on Monday and called for a “shade meeting” to discuss issues concerning the contract between the City and Turner Construction Co. for the Duval County Unified Courthouse Facility.
The new building is scheduled to open Monday for public business.
“There are many legal issues in this contract. I have begun putting together a team to review it,” Laquidara said.
She told the committee she wants to discuss the issues with the four-member committee in private. A shade meeting is conducted under the protection of attorney-client privilege and not subject to the state Sunshine Law in regard to public meetings.
Laquidara said she is “trying to piece together” the contracts, amendments and legislation. The original contract was executed Dec. 10, 2007. It was amended 13 times through Jan. 21, 2011.
Laquidara said she is concerned about the original contract that authorized Turner Construction to begin work on the building’s foundation before the courthouse project was fully funded.
She said that her predecessor, former General Counsel Rick Mullaney, provided a legal opinion at the time that was different from hers, allowing the contract and work to proceed.
Laquidara said the contract was executed at the request of former Mayor John Peyton’s Chief Administrative Officer Alan Mosley and the document may have been provided to the City by Turner Construction.
“It’s in the City’s best interest not to litigate this case in the sunshine,” said Laquidara.
The renovation of the former federal courthouse into the State Attorney’s Office and adjacent to the new County courthouse also was discussed.
City Director of Public Works Jim Robinson said he expects to receive bids on the project in August, with construction to begin in October. Robinson said the 14-month project is scheduled to be complete in December 2013.
Robinson said Elkins Constructors already performed about $2 million of work on the project for the removal of lead paint from the building and for remediation of mold and mildew. The agreement for the project between the City and Elkins was terminated in April by the City.
Council Vice President Bill Bishop questioned pending legislation that would designate $30 million of the courthouse budget for the prosecutors’ office space. The legislation calls for a $28 million budget with $2 million in contingency funds.
Bishop asked City Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton how the figure was derived, particularly since the administration terminated the agreement with Elkins and its $27.4 million budget for the project.
When the agreement was terminated, the reason given was that the administration believed that competitive bids could reduce the City’s cost for the project.
“I came up with $28 million. We want to make sure we have the money available. We wanted to have permission (from Council) rather than forgiveness,” Belton said.
“That does not mean we will spend $28 million. It’s an amount of money I think is sensible to put aside,” he said.
Bishop said he could not support designating any of the courthouse budget for the federal courthouse renovations until the bids are opened and it is known how much the project will cost.
Belton said the administration has to “take things day by day.”
The project “appears to have evolved into an unmanageable situation, but we are managing it,” Belton said.