Statement from Mayor John Peyton

January 14, 2009  

Mayor John Peyton issued the following statement today in response to a Duval County grand jury's release of its final report regarding the courthouse project.

“I am very appreciative of the time and effort the members of the grand jury spent examining all elements of the courthouse construction project and their recognition that the city needs to continue on its current path toward completion of the courthouse construction. They noted specifically the unquestionable need for a new facility, urgency to proceed with the project and their confidence in the current team.

“However, this report clearly demonstrates their frustration that after eight years and millions of dollars, construction has not started on the Duval County Courthouse.I share that same frustration and understand the disappointment expressed by the grand jury.We must do better, and with the team now in place, we will.

“Since the approval of the Better Jacksonville Plan in 2000, four factors have changed the cost assumptions associated with the courthouse.Those include:

  • The acquisition of land and the relocation of utilities associated with moving the courthouse from the riverfront location to LaVilla,
  • Increased security requirements following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
  • Increased size requirements for the courthouse as a result of 2000 census data, and
  • Rising prices of commodities worldwide.

“Looking back on this history, I recognize that the city could not control all of those factors. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have terminated the original construction and design team contracts earlier than we did.I believed at the time that completing the project with that team would have been less costly than starting over. However, we ultimately made the right decision to terminate these contracts and proceed with a new team.

“The team now in place has my confidence, the confidence of the city council, the council auditor and the grand jury. Their work will earn the confidence of the taxpayers. In fact, I would note that both the April 2008 council auditor's report and this report from the grand jury strongly recommend moving forward with the team that is in place.

“Moving forward at this time will allow the city to take advantage of the competitive environment that exists in the construction market, resulting in better costs. In addition, this will create thousands of jobs in our community at a time when our unemployment rate is nearing 7 percent, the highest we've seen since the early 1990s.

“My hope is that this community can focus on moving forward with the construction of the courthouse. As such, my team will be working to address all of the recommendations put forth in the grand jury's report.It is imperative that we have a transparent process as we work to bring this project to completion.”

As part of that process, Mayor Peyton offered the following in response to the conclusions and recommendations outlined in the grand jury report.

Recommendation 1 – A consistent and periodic public monitoring of the city's actions and plans in regard to the courthouse project.

City's Commitment:

  • The city will provide regular updates to the three oversight committees created as part of The Better Jacksonville Plan. Those committees are Finance Advisory Committee (FAC), Project Advisory Committee (PAC) and the Citizen Oversight Committe.
    • FAC/PAC meets quarterly and will continue to meet and be updated on the courthouse and other BJP projects until the program is completed.
    • The Citizen Oversight Committee will be convened on a regular basis to discuss significant benchmarks (such as acceptance of a guaranteed maximum price from the design/build team) in the courthouse project.

Recommendation 2 – That city policy/procedure be enforced on all contracts out of compliance and “change orders” procured.

City's Commitment:

  • The city will ensure that the procurement office evaluates and brings all bid evaluations and change orders to the appropriate committees (Professional Services Evaluation Committee and General Government Awards committee) as established by the city's municipal code.
  • The city's Inspector General and the Procurement Ombudsman will work to ensure that governmental policies and procedures are followed with an emphasis on contract management.

Recommendation 3 – The city needs to re-negotiate the contract with JEA for the Chilled Water Facility to reduce the payment until the actual courthouse is built.

City Commitment:

  • The city intends to discuss the restructuring of the chilled water service agreements with JEA as part of the discussions related to the 2009/2010 fiscal year.

Recommendation 4 – The city should pursue every legal means to reduce the losses associated with the parking garage. Expedite the purchase of the parking garages as early as possible.

City Commitment:

  • The city will explore an option in our contract that would allow us to purchase the garage in fiscal year 2011. The budget office is currently working within the city's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in an attempt to make the necessary funding available. It is important to note that the parking garage is currently being operated in compliance with an operating agreement executed in 2004.

Recommendation 5 – Every effort should be made to get back money from Skanska that may have been paid above its contract fee. Under no circumstances should Skanska be paid additional monies.

City Commitment:

  • No additional money will be paid to Skanska for this project. It is important to note that the contract with Skanska was terminated and no money has been paid to them since 2005.

Recommendation 6 – The commitment to hire any vendor, contractor or consultant should be preceded with by a financial background check to insure the solvency of those businesses, especially in this time of economic uncertainty

City Commitment:

  • The current city review process includes a review of the financial viability of companies that offer to provide the city contractual services.
  • This process is continually refined and subject to oversight by the Professional Services Evaluation committee (PSEC), General Government Awards committee (GGAC), Competitive Sealed Proposal Evaluation committee (CSPEC) and the Office of the Inspector General.

Recommendation 7 – Committees involved with construction projects, should have a balance of construction experts and users of the facility for vendor and design selection. Committee involvement should be carried through from inception to completion.

City Commitment:

  • The city utilized three types of evaluation committees for the procurement of all goods and services. Those committees are PSEC, GGAC, and CSPEC. Standing members of those committees include finance, engineering, procurement, and construction professionals. Subject matter experts and user groups are added depending upon the matter before the committee.
  • These committees are involved in the evaluation of the proposals and significant benchmarks (contract execution and change order application) as the project moves to completion.

Recommendation 8 – An immediate, and thereafter periodic audit, should be performed and reported to the Chief Administrator and the Project Manager and, of course, be available to the public.

City Commitment:

  • In the past eight months, the courthouse has been the subject of an extensive city council auditor report and an expansive grand jury review.
  • As discussed above, FAC/PAC and the Citizens Oversight Committee regularly receive updates on the project. Those reports will continue.
  • The courthouse project reports will be prepared by the Project Manager and the city's Chief Administrative Officer serves as the chair of the BJP Finance Advisory Committee.

Recommendation 9 – Creation of a citizen's board or ombudsman selected for and from the lay community to facilitate community involvement and knowledge of major projects is strongly suggested.

City Commitment:

  • The BJP did go to great lengths to ensure community involvement as demonstrated by the FAC/PAC and Oversight committees that have been mentioned above. As noted by the grand jury this may be an appropriate model for future large scale construction projects.
  • The city has previously created an Office of Inspector General and Procurement Ombudsman in an effort to ensure that the community has many points of access to this local government.