ALBANY — Dougherty County School System Superintendent Ken Dyer said Thursday the proposed construction management contract that builder Freeman and Associates of Columbus is negotiating with Albany-based Dukes Edwards & Dukes Construction for work on a Sherwood Acres expansion project is a service contract that does not require a formal bid.
Dyer’s comments on the project were in response to a claim by Artesian Contracting Co. principle Glenn Singfield that other small, minority and disadvantaged business owners should have had an opportunity to bid on what he said was a “$50,000 contract.”
“There is a system in place with the school system,” Singfield said. “What that system is supposed to do is assure other folks who look like me — minority business owners who are qualified and certified — that they will get the same access to taxpayer-funded projects as others.
“Now this is not about Mr. (Winfred) Dukes or his business, and it is not about Mr. Ken Dyer. I trust Mr. Dyer and believe he always tries to do things the right way. But I also know he serves at the pleasure of the board and it’s not very smart to bite the hand that feeds you, so to speak. All I ask is that things be done the way the system was designed.”
Dyer said that staff involved in the procurement process recommended that since contractor Freeman and Associates, whose bid on the project was $186,000 less than Albany-based LRA Constructors, was not familiar with local small, minority and disadvantaged subcontractors, the contractor might do well to hire a manager to help in that area.
“My board is very sensitive to the use of small, disadvantaged and minority business contractors,” Dyer said. “They asked if Freeman could be made to show their subcontractor list before being awarded the contract, but we couldn’t do that. When they were awarded the bid, though, and they showed us their sub list, it did not really look good (as far as small, minority and disadvantaged business participation). So a suggestion was made to use a contract manager to assure higher participation.
“I believe the folks in procurement suggested a couple of people who had experience in that area, and Dukes Edwards & Dukes was one of the companies recommended. Frankly, I didn’t even know that Glenn was interested in that kind of job. I wasn’t aware of him doing contract management work, or I would have recommended that he be contacted, as well.”
Dukes, who serves as the state representative of House District 151, said he’s built a reputation in construction management, building small, minority and disadvantaged business participation to levels that exceed even federal requirements.
“(Construction management) is something I did for free in the ’90s when there was a push to build minority, small and disadvantaged business participation,” Dukes said. “On the Dougherty Middle School and Morningside Elementary projects, I helped them get 38 and 33% participation. This is something I’ve done in Atlanta, Fulton County, Liberty County, Terrell County ...
“I understand the challenges that minority business owners go through, and the biggest of those is communications. I help them with the specs, with estimating, I provide facilities where they can look at plans. People say you can’t get qualified minority participation in Dougherty County, but I’ve proved that you can. We had a little more than 18% participation on (local) Magnolia and the 4C Academy (Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy) projects. I’ve shown that (minority contractors) can overcome the challenge.”
Dukes said he rarely has an issue with challenges to his work unless the job is in Dougherty County.
“When I get ready to do something in Dougherty County, it becomes an issue,” he said. “In fact, your newspaper helped deep six a project for me recently when the school board selected me as the primary contractor. All of a sudden, I’m on the front page of the paper, above the fold, three days running.”
Dukes Edwards & Dukes was recommended by a School Board committee to serve as primary contractor for a $4 million-plus project at Sylvester Road Elementary School even though committee members acknowledged that DED was not properly bonded. As news of the recommendation surfaced, Dyer made it known “in no uncertain terms” that he would not sign off on an unbonded contractor.
“My first priority, outside the safety and education of our children, is to protect the taxpayers’ money that we’ve been entrusted with,” Dyer said.
Singfield, whose family also owns the successful Albany Fish Co. and soon-to-open The Flint restaurants, said that when elected and appointed officials “play games” with funding that has been entrusted to them, they tear away at the public’s trust.
“Essentially, what some of these folks are doing, is pitting the majority (white) business owners against the black community,” Singfield said. “That fosters distrust and bitterness on all sides. I think we’ve reached a point even in our community where, if the process is fair, people accept it. What they don’t accept is underhanded deals. It it’s white, has webbed feet waddles and shakes its tail, most people are going to assume it’s a duck.
“I don’t want to be — nor do I think I should be — hired for a job because I’m short or tall or any other such nonsense. I want to be hired because I’ve proved I can perform. If the system is utilized properly, it precludes that kind of corruption of money. As it is, people like me — taxpayers whose children went through the local school system — feel disenfranchised. I can’t help but wonder what the State Board of Education would think about this.”
Dyer indicated that the management contract between Freeman and Dukes Edwards & Dukes is still being negotiated, but he said the use of contract managers has proven useful in the past.
“Will this contract (which reportedly ranges between $50,000 and $68,000) be worth it in this case?” the school superintendent asked. “The answer will come from the results of the job.”