By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—What do big money, big construction and no-bid public works projects have in common? A keen interest in passing a bill named [email protected]
“Marketing” is a way to make a bad idea sound like a good one, or a sub-par product seem like an absolute must-have. Sometimes, this “marketing” is as simple as changing a name from what it really is to something more interesting, especially if there is a claim of better, cheaper and more efficient.
So, it would appear that [email protected] is a new way to say no-bid contracts on public works projects, without alerting the public, according to its critics.
“[email protected]” stands for, Construction Manager at Risk. According to the lobbyist for the American Institute of Architects: “Construction Management At-Risk is a process that allows the client of a project to choose the CM before the design stage is complete. The CM is chosen based on qualifications, and then the entire operation is centralized under a single contract.”
In this case the “Client” is the government and the payee is the tax payer.
HB275 is sponsored by Rep. Mark Tuggle and its companion, SB239 by Sen. Paul Sanford, would do away with the age-old protocol known as, “Design-Bid-Build” which has been the public works standard for decades. This is to be done in the name of efficiency.
[email protected] removes decades of no-bid laws, allowing State agencies, universities and school boards to approve massive construction projects, based on who they think is best for the job. Gone are sealed bids, the lowest bidder and some might say, transparency.
According to the American Institute of Architects: “The client [State entity] hires the construction manager based on qualifications, thus better ensuring a construction manager with a strong allegiance to the client, [State entity] because their business relies on references and repeat work.”
But a Florida Grand Jury called that State’s use of [email protected], an “abomination that has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.” The Grand Jury also discovered that, “Using this method [Construction Manager at Risk]…typically results in paying about 20 – 30 percent more than if the project had simply gone to the lowest bidder through a hard bid process.”
With billions in taxpayer dollars going to fund public projects, opponents of the bill believe it will harm small to medium-sized contractors and subcontractors, and reward those who have thousands of dollars to “reward” legislators.
In a State where the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard stands accused of 23 felony counts of public corruption, including lobbying the Governor and using his own office for personal gain, is it really difficult to believe that a particular construction management company might be awarded a lucrative project because of its political ties?
Its CEO, Robert Barton, is named in one of Hubbard’s indictments. According to the indictments, Barton gave Hubbard $150,000 for his business interest, Craftmasters Printers.
The 70 year old company is one of the largest building concerns in the State. Hoar Program Management was recently awarded the contract to oversee design and construction of the $600 million aircraft assembly plant for Airbus Americas Inc., in Mobile. AirBus has been a lobbying clients of former Gov. Bob Riley’s lobbying group, who is also named in the Hubbard indictments.
Court filings show that Hoar Construction is represented by Swatek, Azbell, Howe and Ross. Two of the four principles listed here are also named in Hubbard’s felony indictments.
Hoar has also managed multi-million dollar construction projects for Auburn University, and is listed on the school’s Honor Roll of Donors.
Currently, Auburn University has at least $500 million in construction projects to come on line.
Barton, Swatek, and Howe are material witness in the Hubbard case according to the prosecution.
The bill is being pushed by Alabama Builders and Contractors, and could be a boom for certain companies while leaving others behind.
One of the most lucrative area for [email protected], are universities and other high education facilities. There is approximately $1.9 billion in construction work scheduled to take place over the next few years at the University of Alabama campus. And around $500 million at Auburn.
Auburn University’s Associate Vice President for Facilities, Dan King, serves on the Board of Directors for Alabama Builders and Contractors, who are hoping for the bill’s passage.
Tim Leopard, Assistant Vice President of Construction Administration, University of Alabama also serves on the Board of Directors for Alabama Builders and Contractors. Both men who are pushing for the passage of [email protected] And the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tuggle’s brother Michael holds a prominent position at Birmingham-based mega-builders Brasfield/Gorrie.
The [email protected] bill is slowly making its way through the legislature, a substitute is expected that would create a pilot program for “four-year public institutions of higher education.”
This approach has been suggested by outgoing Alabama Bar President, Jim Pratt, who was selected as the bill’s mediator. Pratt sits on the Board of Trustees at Auburn University. A “pilot program” was used in Indiana to move a similar bill forward in the face of opposition. Pratt, is also one of Hubbard’s criminal defense attorneys.