Where do we go for answers?
Updated: Jan 22
Isaiah Hugley doesn’t always get it.
Our City Manager can be supremely confidant or extremely naïve.
As he was at last week’s gathering of Columbus Council.
Hugley seemed to have the idea that he could wait until the opening gavel at the council meeting on Jan. 28, to throw out 5 million reasons for councilors to support his proposal to relocate a cluster of health agencies from midtown to an abandoned college campus on the north side. He had the impression that despite him waiting until the very last minute councilors would still fall right in step behind him.
But Mr. City Manager, it doesn’t always work that way, does it?
Last Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge was presenting the first public report on relocating agencies from Comer Avenue to the $5 million site on Veteran’s Parkway that council first voted to buy in November.
Before she spoke Hugley tried to set the stage.
He was clear that in two weeks he anticipated a positive vote on the Virginia College proposal at the very same meeting where councilors would finally receive details and numbers.
This didn’t set well with councilors Walker Garrett and Judy Thomas who wanted time to study a transaction that had been floating around city government for several months.
Hugley demanded a prompt decision. He wants to close the deal in time for renovation work to begin promptly on the 45-year-old building so tenants can move in by June.
“For me to do my due diligence it isn’t responsible to expect me to vote at the same meeting where I get this information,” Thomas said. “We need a chance to look over this material.”
If all the numbers aren’t on the table before that meeting on Jan. 28, Thomas said she would move for a delay on the Virginia College vote. Neither Hugley nor Mayor Skip Henderson want that to happen.
“When the numbers come in we will share them with council,” Henderson said. “That’s just prudent.”
As far as I know, I'm the only one out here asking questions publicly about this deal, And for the past 4 weeks of asking, the answers still remain elusive. But these, and probably many more, need to be answered before the City Council can do their job properly. I just wonder if we'll get answers before council votes to spend $5 million in tax dollars:
Shouldn't the public know:
• What prompted the original decision to purchase the Virginia College property? Did missing out on the sale of the Carmike building or the situation at the Municipal Building have any impact on pursuing this sale?
• Why were the HHS departments chosen to move to this particular building and not some other city services? HHS was constructed specifically for this purpose and has been in service without complaint for over 20 years.
• Why the quick deadline? Several council members have privately complained having only 3 months to do due diligence puts pressure on council to make a reasoned decision with only limited input and debate.
• Are there other prospective buyers the city is competing with? Can and should the process be delayed?
• What will the move actually cost and what is the expected savings? Are the financials based on estimates or formal bids?
• The city has already selected an architect and two contractors to provide estimates. Were these choices subject to normal RFP processes? How were these particular contractors chosen?
• Several local contractors have complained about not being included in the process. Will this construction process eventually lead to “competitive” bids?
• When remodeled, will the Virginia College property provide the same level of functionality as the HHS building, which was designed specifically for those purposes? Waiting rooms? Labs? Etc.
• It has been rumored that a potential buyer passed on the building due to mold and mildew issues? Is that true? And are remediation costs included in the estimate? When complete, will it resolve the problem or is the possibility of future health issues a liability?
• Does the financial case and approved bond amount include any contingencies for future maintenance costs?
• The HHS facility is currently subject to standard property taxes. The city owned Virginia College building will be tax exempt. How much tax revenue will be lost in the transfer and is that factored in?
• Why the discrepancy between the City Manager’s numbers and the current landlord on how much the new lease will actually cost/save? The city says if they stay at HHS it will cost “an additional $400,000 to $900,000”. Where do those numbers come from? The landlord says the cost will go from $4 per square foot to $6 per square foot, or an additional $50,000 per year. That's about an 88 cents per square foot increase. Whose numbers are accurate?
• Have city officials and the landlord ever met to negotiate rates or discuss possible alternatives?
• How much will the physical move for all these departments actually cost and is that included in the cost?
• What will the “free” shuttle offered by the City Manager cost? And is that figure included in the financials?
• The city manager says he will make his case for the purchase at council meeting on January 28 at 5:30. Councilors must then make a decision and vote. Considering the complexity of the project, will an hour or two provide sufficient time for the public and council to consider and debate all the implications before council is forced to commit to a $5 million bond issue?
Like the headline says, where do we go for answers?