By Meghan Christian
While personalities continued to clash at meetings, the Flint City Council (FCC) made key decisions at their two December meetings, awarding contracts to implement a $30 million housing grant and adding $1 million more than the original contract to AECOM for continuing water pipeline replacement.
AECOM supplemental funds opposed but approved 5-4
One of the most divisive decisions facing FCC in December was whether to approve a change order to AECOM’s contract, which would give the LA-based global engineering firm an additional $1,101,477 to “complete all tasks necessary to manage additional exploratory water line replacements, as requested by Public Works”, according to the resolution on the Dec. 10 FCC meeting agenda. [AECOM is the company’s official name; the letters of the acronym stand for Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Maintenance].
As reported in EVM in April, AECOM took over water service line replacement project from General Michael McDaniel in the Fall of 2017. The firm received a 13-month, $5 million contract from the city which began Dec. 1, 2017,
For some FCC members and residents, giving AECOM more funds when, to them, the company had not met all of the obligations of their contract was the last thing the FCC should do. Three specific obligations mentioned by FCC members included the excavation and removal of 6,000 lead pipes, the use of hydrovacing, and the use of the predictive model when looking for lead-tainted service lines.
“We need an answer as to why we’re not going after, at the very least, a contract dispute resolution,” Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields said. “Because why should we take another $1.1 million to pay you more money to dig more holes – because the resolution says to do more ‘exploratory work’ – when you didn’t fulfill this contract?” she asked AECOM’s representatives present at the Dec. 10 meeting.
“I cannot understand how this administration could in any way support giving you additional money instead of making you adhere to the terms of your contract,” Fields added.
According to Flint resident Arthur Woodson, “Do not vote for this… It’s wrong. They do not need this $1 million.”
“You need to look at this as businessmen and women,” Flint resident and local attorney Linda Pohly said. “If you are going to hold people to their contracts, then you need to hold people to their contracts.”
Some thought that regardless of any current issues with the implementation of their contract, AECOM was not the one to bother with. According to Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, “They don’t want to say who told them not to do these three items, which is a shame because I think that’s who we need to be fussin’ with…not them.”
Others supported AECOM’s work. “I’m going to vote to pay the million because when they got hung up on money, that’s when we got into the disaster,” First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays said, referencing the Flint water crisis.
“It’s easy to sit back and complain, but at least the Mayor and the Administration, along with this body, we made some choices to move this City the best we can out of this disaster,” Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis said. “I’m going to support whatever the Administration is doing along with them,” he added about AECOM.
“I think you guys are doing a great job,” Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter said to AECOM’s representatives, AECOM Vice President Mike Winegard and AECOM Project Manager Ed Thorp.
Ultimately, the resolution passed with a vote of five in favor and four opposed. Those in favor of the resolution were Mays, Davis, Third Ward Councilperson Santino Guerra, Winfrey-Carter, and Sixth Ward Councilperson Herbert Winfrey. Those opposed were Fields, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway, Griggs, and Worthing.
While he voted in support of granting AECOM the $1.1 million change order, Guerra voiced disappointment that the firm did not host another community forum as they promised at their first forum at Mott Community College on Feb. 1, 2018. “I want to know why you haven’t hosted that,” Guerra said.
Winegard responded the company was asked not to until they “were further along in the program.” Guerra asked Winegard who asked them not to hold a community forum to which Winegard replied, “I believe someone in the administration, I’m not sure.”
“It’s not a secret. Everyone sitting here knows that it’s the Mayor who told (AECOM) to do this. However, Council also needs to sign off on it,” Eva Worthing said, referring to the allegations that the engineering firm is not abiding by terms of their contract like hydrovacing and using the predictive model
In response to the claim from Worthing and to address other issues raised by FCC members, City Administrator Steve Branch approached the council. “The Mayor has never directed AECOM to not use the predictive model. The Mayor does not get involved with the selection of addresses that are being excavated and explored,” Branch said.
“The decision to stop hydrovacing was made by the Administration. It was made because hydrovacing was missing lines that were spliced. The decision was made that we did not want to miss any spliced lines, so we suspended…hydrovac,” Branch added. Spliced lines are lines that are made from lead or steel that have been patched with copper.
Choice Neighborhoods Grant Update
On Dec. 18, the FCC unanimously approved contracts for three entities to implement the $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Grant secured in July 2018 for the Imagine Flint South Flint Community Plan Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.
The three contractors are Norstar Development, developers of the project, approved for $18,324,000; Mott Community College’s (MCC) Workforce Department, the human resources overseer for the grant, approved for $4,524,000; and the Flint Housing Commission, approved for $192,280.
As EVM reportedin July 2018 when Health and Human Services Secretary Ben Carson came to town, “The grant project focuses on the troubled Atherton East housing complex, a set of apartments built illegally, two-thirds on a floodplain, in 1967. Through the decades, Atherton East has been a symbol of substandard circumstances for poor people, as it deteriorated in an isolated and partially unpaved street east of Dort Highway between Atherton and Lippincott Streets, and became the nexus for a plague of crime.
All 192 units are set to be demolished. Over the next two years, residents will be relocated to new housing provided by the grant, built on more felicitous sites.”
“We are humbled to be a part of this effort and we commit to doing our very, very best for the city,” Laurie Harris, representative for Norstar Development, said.
Outlook for the New Year
Despite any issues, members of FCC said they look forward to 2019 optimistically. “We will return in 2019 ready to work,” Winfrey-Carter said. “I wish for all of my colleagues that we can come together and be on one accord.”
“We’ve made some huge progress this year, 2018, and in 2019, we can go even further,” Guerra said, adding that any residents with issues should reach out to him.
The next FCC meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 in City Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall.
EVM Managing Editor and City Council beat reporter Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.