City fires engineer, pushes ahead on bridge

CLEWISTON — Commissioners voted 4-1 on April 15 to terminate Clewiston’s contract with its lead engineering firm, Johnson-Prewitt & Associates, because of improprieties in their official paper trail and how work was done for the C-21 waterfront bridge replacement project.

The local firm has had a relationship with the city dating to 1977.

The City Commission was about to vote on a resolution pushing forward the state/SFWMD grant agreement for design of the new C-21 bridge for the Lake Okeechobee waterfront park. The resolution was to OK two amendments to the project agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. City Attorney Gary Brandenburg said he recommended approval but pointed out that they’d need to deal with one paragraph, which states that Johnson-Prewitt had been retained as subcontractors.

“It does not appear they were, in fact, subcontracted to do any of those services,” he said. Apparently the commission had thought the firm had been hired, which Mr. Brandenburg said was reasonable since Johnson-Prewitt associate Tommy Perry was the city engineer and had made presentations under former City Manager Al Perry (no relation) to the commission about the C-21 work. Also, the commissioners had directed him to continue the work.

He said he the commissioners could have expected “that their city manager and their city engineer would come back and do the appropriate paperwork to make that so. It does not look like that ever happened.”

So when T. Perry submitted to the city a one-page invoice for $350,000 under the contract even though the final part — the bridge design itself — still had not been delivered to the SFWMD, and also failed to supply documentation of his firm’s hours worked and of a subcontractor he had procured to do the design, Mr. Brandenburg said he was informed the payment would be illegal. The bridge design, for which Mr. Perry said he would get a subcontractor, would constitute more than 50% of the project cost, the city attorney explained, and thus could not have been engaged by the engineering firm or even the city manager because of the amount involved. Purchases over $25,000 must receive formal city commission approval

According to Mr. Brandenburg, Mr. Perry then caused a disturbance in City Hall the previous week, made an irate, threatening phone call to him and visited the workplaces of several city commissioners to berate them also. Mr. Brandenburg said that beyond the improprieties in their arrangement, Mr. Perry’s outbursts were unprofessional and unacceptable. “I do believe Tommy’s firm should be terminated as your city engineer. And I believe that we should hire another one of your engineers to pick up this job and move it forward,” he said.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee made the motion. Commissioner Julio Rodriguez seconded, saying that despite their ability previously to work together for many years, Mr. Perry had embarrassed him by storming into his business the previous week and yelling about people thinking he was a criminal.

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson said he was voting against the motion, stating his support for Mr. Perry and his firm and saying that he remembered the commission itself authorizing him to do the work.

Mayor Mali Gardner agreed with Mr. Rodriguez and said she’d support the motion; Commissioner Kristine Petersen lamented the loss to the city of its “historical information” but said she’d side with the majority.

Mr. Brandenburg pointed out that Mr. Perry is “required at no charge to the city to turn over all public records in his possession from the beginning of his representation until now, upon the request of the city” and that the city’s action gave him 10 days’ notice of termination. He suggested that the acting interim city manager, Finance Director Shari Howell, designate which of the two other firms should replace it, and commissioners requested she do so. Mr. Perry said, simply, “I’d like to say that we enjoyed working for the city for many years.”

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment