Further upset rocked the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, as it came to light that the second phase of renovations to the C.D. Stamps Community Center was completed prior to a payment agreement being signed with the contractors.
Phase one of the renovation project included the repair of the block wall and repainting of that wall and interior of the gym at C.D. Stamps, which followed repair to the roof and HVAC work.
“This has been a multi-phase project restoring C.D. Stamps, and this is the last item on the list,” said City Administrator Jennifer Moody. “It will be repainted with pickleball court lines, so there will be three pickleball courts for people to use.”
Following Moody’s opening pitch, Alderman Amacher raised a question as to whether the project had already been completed.
“I do believe that the project work is completed,” said Moody. “However, that vendor started the work without an approved contract. We had received the bids, but it had not been carried to the board or any contract executed. All I can say is: I don’t know why they started the work without a signed contract.”
When Amacher asked whether it was under Moody’s purview to oversee that, she agreed.
“I obviously rely heavily on my department heads for their different areas of expertise, and I feel like, in a sense, our internal checks worked. We didn’t execute an agreement without the board’s approval, and we didn’t spend even one dollar. No invoices have been paid. I think that’s part of the reason that this wasn’t caught earlier. They did the work and invoiced us for the work in one invoice. We’re now backing up and making sure we get the board’s approval.”
Both phases of the C.D. Stamps project were approved and bid during a February session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, with the first phase contracts being approved. Responsive bids were not received on the second phase, and those items were rebid, taken up in May.
“Why was that not disclosed in the agenda, and why am I having to ask the question,” queried Amacher. “What if we choose to say no right now, because of the other expenditures? Now we have set the city up for litigation from a vendor who has already done work that is going to expect payment.”
Moody stated she felt confident the city would win such a case, “because the vendor shouldn’t have begun work without a signed contract.”
The Tullahoma city administrator’s purchasing authority is limited to $10,000, which is $15,000 below the authority permitted by the state of Tennessee. The invoice for the flooring project at C.D. Stamps came to $24,048, which is outside of the city administrator’s ability to approve. Any expenditure outside of the city administrator’s purchasing authority is brought before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for approval.
“Of course, we could deny this and very well not pay the contractor for doing their work,” said Mayor Ray Knowis. “He failed to get approval for this phase, but I don’t think it’s the intent of this board to deny a contractor who has done a great job.”
Several aldermen expressed disapproval with the manner in which the item was presented in the agenda, with Alderman Glick calling it “dishonest.”
“I’ve got a real problem with this,” he said. “If you’re going to be upfront and clear and honest, you would say in this agenda item, ‘We made a mistake. We didn’t get this approved ahead of time. It was staff error.’ It does not say that at all. It acts like we’re wanting to get started on doing this work. I believe it could be fraud, or I don’t know what you’d call it.”
The mayor declared this statement out of order, saying that the city administrator and her department had been “very forthright with where they stand.”
Glick then asked city attorney Steve Worsham to direct him to who would investigate the wording of the agenda item for fraud, as he said it was misleading.
“Well, fraud is a crime, so I would suggest maybe you take that up with the attorney general for the county,” Worsham said. “You’ve used the term ‘fraud;’ I think it’s probably a mistake, and a mistake could be a defense for a fraudulent claim. However, if the work has been done and it is satisfactory, we owe them money. If we don’t pay it, the contractor can file a suit against the city under the aspect of quantum meruit, which means that the city would be unjustly enriched if we didn’t pay for it. To avoid litigation, I think it’s probably best to go ahead and approve this. If you think there’s a criminal thing involved, that’s a district attorney’s investigation. The term ‘fraud’ connotes a criminal action, and I think that’s a pretty serious kind of thing to accuse somebody of. I don’t think an investigation is really necessary, because if we just need more facts, we can get those.”
“I actually made an A in contract law, one of the few classes I made an A in,” started Alderman Amacher. “Your illegal assumption, Ms. Moody, was very inappropriate and very misleading in itself: that we would not have to pay out the contract. We would definitely lose out in a lawsuit on that.”
Moody apologized, retracting her earlier statement.
Amacher began to reprimand Moody for her actions, as well as for naming Parks and Recreation Director Dave Anderson as having played a role in the failure to acknowledge chain of command. Mayor Knowis directed her to speak to the board, rather than to the city administrator.
The motion to approve payment to the contractor following the completion of the work at C.D. Stamps was passed.