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City Rehired Jail Consultants for $3.3M

As snafus mounted, city gave consultants a hefty pay raise.

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A week after Hurricane Irene ripped through Richmond, and the city was licking its wounds after bungling plans to build a new city jail, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall rehired a consultant working on the project -- for $3.3 million.

The scope of the work and the amount of the contract changed dramatically from the year before, when the Ridley Group and Associates were hired to provide “technical assistance and site design” on the jail project for $620,000.

But the new contract wasn’t put out for public bid. Ridley went from being a technical design consultant to a construction manager through January 2014, at a cost of about $115,000 a month.

“It’s a function of having to work with the architect as well as work with the contractors to make sure they are doing what the city said it wanted built,” Marshall says. “They make sure that both of them are doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

But the contract is in the process of being rescinded, Marshall says Monday afternoon. To avoid any questions of impropriety, Marshall says the city expects to put the work out for public bid in the next two weeks.

Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight Jones, says in an email that the mayor instructed Marshall to rescind the contract “some weeks ago” as part of a “full internal review of the needs of this Phase of the Jail Project.”

Walter Ridley, president and chief executive of the Ridley Group, said Monday morning that he had yet to receive any official notice that the city was terminating the contract. “I have verbally been advised, but it’s not been in writing,” he says. “I have heard only rumors.”

Marshall says an official letter was sent to the Ridley Group Monday afternoon notifying the company that the $3.3 million contract is being canceled. Ridley will continue working with the city for the next 120 days, Marshall says.

The mammoth contract is likely to increase criticism of the Jones administration, which acknowledged multiple mistakes in how the $134.6 million jail contract was handled. Questions about how the city selected Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction to build the jail -- and the city’s misrepresentations to City Council -- set off intense criticism of the mayor in late July. In early August, city officials were informed that they needed to resubmit plans to the Virginia Department of Corrections if the city wanted to receive state funding for the jail, representing about $30 million. City officials had mistakenly informed City Council on July 29 that the project had state approval.

The most recent contract with Ridley was signed Sept. 2, 10 days after the city signed a letter of intent to hire Tompkins/Ballard Construction Co. to build the jail.

Ridley was first hired in August 2007, in a contract valued at $199,487, to be the project manager, assisting in the jail’s construction and to “oversee recommendations of the Mayor’s Jail Commission Report issued on Sept. 29, 2006,” according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Ridley pocketed only $82,624 of that in the first year. The contract was renewed in 2008 for $199,487, but on Dec. 2, 2009, the contract was increased to $620,333. That renewal was for 130 days worth of work, from Oct. 1, 2010, through Feb. 15. During that time Ridley oversaw the technical phase of procurement and helped the city pore over proposals from four qualifying bidders.

During the 130-day period, the contract called for paying a principal architect $288.12 an hour and a senior architect $228.94 an hour. Ridley also provided a project administrator for $285 an hour.

Virginia law doesn’t allow the state to modify contracts by more than 25 percent, or $50,000, without prior written approval from the governor or his designee. The city’s procurement laws, however, require only the chief administrative officer to approve contract modifications that exceed $100,000.

Marshall says the work is being put up for public bid because the mayor wants to ensure that the process is transparent. “This is not related to the performance of the consultant,” he says.

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