Operational Management International Inc. vs. The City of Swainsboro: City Council approves settlement payments to Jacobs/OMI despite company’s failure to provide contracted services at time of hire

Councilperson Collins abstains vote due to deliberately not being informed of negotiation prior to executive session

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by WHITLEY CLIFTON

Members of Swainsboro City Council and Mayor Greg Bennett met for a special called meeting on Thursday, July 21. The meeting session began at 6 p.m. and was held via a zoom conference call, wherein the council immediately entered executive session after Julian Sconyers made first motion. Upon re-entering regular session, Council approved the repayment of a settlement to Operational Management International Inc (OMI) in the amount of $390,000. The motion passed on a 5-0 vote, with Councilperson Bobbie Collins abstaining. According to Collins, the reason she abstained was because she was deliberately not informed of any negotiations being made on the matter prior to Thursday’s executive session. She did advise of knowing of the hearing that recently took place but was not informed that any negotiations had been made prior to last week’s voting.

The total amount is to be installed in payments as follows:

• $50,000 by September 1, 2022

• $100,000 by December 31, 2022

• $100,000 by January 31, 2023

• $140,000 by February 28, 2023

Making first motion for approval of the installment payment plan was John Parker. Dr. D.J. Davis seconded, and all remaining council voted accordingly. Mutual releases to resolve the lawsuit between OMI and the city of Swainsboro are pending in the southern district of Georgia case #6:21-cv-00068-JRH-BKE. However, some are questioning… Should the city spend its allotted funds on a voided contract for lack of service?

Recap

OMI first signed a contract to perform work with the City of Swainsboro in 1992. Since that time, the company has undergone various structural changes and versions of corporate branding. In 2016 OMI became affiliated with Jacobs Engineering. Through these changes however, the basic contract remained in effect until issues began to arise approximately 3-4 years ago. In a September 2018 meeting, Councilperson Sue Bragg introduced a motion in council committing the City of Swainsboro to an early renewal of the existing contract with Jacobs, also known as OMI. Though questioned by Mayor Charles Schwabe and other council members as to whether entering an early contract would be beneficial to the city rather than checking for lower bids from a more suitable company, Bragg’s motion passed on a 4-2 vote. Councilpersons Bragg, Bobbie Collins, Rita Faulkner, and Johnny Parker voted in favor while Councilpersons Sconyers and Johnny Ray Stafford opposed.

The following month in October, Mayor Schwabe addressed council on old business discussion that included the need for clarifications of the contract between the city and OMI. At that time, the city had already received multiple complaints on job performances of Jacobs/OMI. At this meeting, issues discussed with Jacobs /OMI included the upkeep of the City Cemetery, Recreation Department, storm debris clean up as well as the property of Matthew Bright. With complaints already made with this issue, City Administrator Al Lawson requested log information from Jacobs/OMI to go along with a Recreation Department log to be submitted with a letter to address this issue.

In one month, during the city’s September 2019 regular meeting session, the contract between the City of Swainsboro and Jacobs/OMI was again a topic on the table. Bragg requested to inquire as to the upcoming rebate contract that needed to be made with Jacobs for the month of September. This rebate contract, estimated at $40,000, was voted to be discussed at a workshop meeting scheduled for that month and included topics such as prison crew detail work not being performed, trash and debris along roadways, an inquiry of a possible sinkhole not being investigated into, as well as Jacobs’ status of short staff and multiple turnovers in jobs to have occurred.

By the November 2019 meeting, Stafford addressed a reported water leak issue had yet been fixed in an appropriate timeframe by OMI employees. All members of council as well as Mayor Schwabe addressed concerns about the matter and were appalled that no representative from Jacobs was present to discuss the issue. By this time, the business relationship between the City of Swainsboro and Jacobs/OMI was strained as Jacobs/OMI still refused to perform and meet the specific needs of the city, and, pending legality, council voted 6-0 on not signing an extended contract with Jacobs/OMI and was forced to consider other suitable options for maintaining city services. By May 2020, Mayor Schwabe received the council’s approval to conduct further clarification of the contract with Jacobs/OMI.

During the July 2020 regular meeting of city council, City Administrator Al Lawson addressed council with an internal problem faced by the City of Swainsboro with one of its contracted companies, Jacobs/OMI. According to reported complaints of residents and council members, the company, who is contracted to perform public works for the City of Swainsboro, had been denying requests to perform services, under the pretense the requests were not covered under the contract. Requests included correcting water drainage issues, potholes, ditch draining, washouts, sidewalk services, property clean-up of cemeteries and right- of-ways, and other similar matters. It was also stated that OMI had made changes to the contract within the recent 45 days. Mayor Schwabe advised council that Jacobs/OMI representatives had until the end of July to resolve issues and respond to requests before legal action would be pursued. Council then discussed the future of the city of Swainsboro' s agreement with Jacobs/OMI. Discussion included the dissatisfaction with OMI’s performance and compliance with job requests. Taking action, a motion was finally made to terminate all services provided by Jacobs/OMI. In doing so, a deadline of September 15, 2020, was set for Jacobs/OMI to allow the removal of all equipment and personnel. With Parker and Collins opposing said action, the vote passed 4-2. Ricky Stevens made first motion for approval, Sconyers seconded, and Stafford and Faulkner were in favor. After the approval to terminate services with Jacobs/OMI, Council then entertained discussion on the future of the city’s water/wastewater and public works departments. A motion was made to hire ClearWater Solutions from South Carolina to provide city services on an interim basis until a request for proposals from qualified firms could be written to allow for competing bids to be received by council.. ClearWater started operations for the city on a month-to-month basis and also offered continued employment to all current employees who had formerly worked under Jacobs/OMI. In favor of said discussion, Stevens motioned for approval and Stafford seconded. Faulkner opposed and Collins abstaining from the matter of voting on the item, but the vote passed on a 4-1 vote. By November 2020, despite OMI removing crucial information regarding city operations and their refusal to provide the city with needed operation-related documents, the presence of ClearWater Solutions and the company’s work performance had made a significant improvement in city services and the company was commended on job performance as shown in minutes of council meetings.

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