A Richmond-based project management company says it was squeezed out of a contract to oversee planning for the city’s new jail in favor of a company that had been found unqualified for the job by a city selection committee.
According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by PEAC Consulting Inc., city officials responded to the company’s complaints over the action with a proposition: Keep quiet and we can promise you a $700,000 city contract down the road.
PEAC instead opted to sue the city and Ridley for nearly $500,000. The company alleges breach of contract, conspiracy and violation of the city’s public bidding procedures.
The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of snafus that have cropped up as city officials work toward construction of the new jail, with the NAACP and a handful of City Council members raising concerns over the way the project has been handled.
Mayor Dwight Jones has acknowledged problems. In October 2011, Jones instructed Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall to rescind a $3.3 million no-bid contract awarded to Ridley Group and Associates, the project management company that had been handling the planning process for the new jail. At the time he said the decision was part of a “full internal review.”
The project that had been handed to Ridley was then put out for public bid. The winner? The Ridley Group, along with two other companies, PEAC and Carter Goble Lee. The three companies submitted a joint proposal. The only other bidder was BFE Strategies Inc., which is affiliated with Bowers Family Enterprises. BFE Strategies, according to the suit, was deemed unqualified by the city’s selection committee.
When employees from Ridley, PEAC and Carter Goble Lee began meeting to work on the project, the suit says, things started to unravel. According to PEAC’s suit, managers from BFE were present at the meetings even though they’d lost the bid. When asked why, Ridley allegedly told PEAC that BFE would be part of the support team. Shortly after that, the suit alleges, PEAC was directed to cease work on the project.
PEAC claims city officials and Ridley had “secretly conspired to have PEAC removed from the project in favor of the ‘unqualified’ BFE.” The suit further alleges that Ridley told PEAC “the city ‘strong-armed’ Ridley to give PEAC’s contract work to BFE.”
Now, BFE is handling the largest portion of what ultimately turned into a $3.5 million contract, according to the suit.
Bowers, whose family owns BFE Enterprises, says PEAC’s contention that they were deemed “unqualified” is inaccurate. “It takes people or entities with knowledge to determine or come to a conclusion whether the entity awarded part of a contract was qualified or unqualified,” he says. “but neither of these entities has such knowledge.”
As for the suit, Bowers says he “deems it to be trivial.” “My grandfather told me, ‘When you see a fool coming, cross the street,’” Bowers says.
PEAC says in its suit that it submitted a formal complaint with the city but received no written response. Instead, it was “advised that if it withdraws its complaint, the city would see that PEAC is awarded a future contract, specifically the commissioning on the jail project, a proposed contract with a value of $700,000,” according to the suit. “The new contract would be given in exchange for PEAC’s silence on the project procurement improprieties.”
PEAC, according to the suit, concluded that it was exactly that kind of back-room dealing that led to the alleged conspiracy to bring BFE into the project.
The mayor’s office didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. Neither did lawyers representing PEAC.