Library process transparency —John S. Quarterman

John S. Quarterman videoing SPLOST VII Kickoff Speeches It’s good to see that someone responsible for allocating millions of dollars of taxpayer money is willing to answer questions about related decisions, as Kay Harris is doing! It would be even better if there were a regular process by which the taxpaying and voting and library-using public could ask such questions and get answers.

If there were such a process, it’s pretty likely Ms. Harris or the Library Board or the County Commission would have been asked about the architect selection, considering I wasn’t even involved in that selection and my ear was scorched with complaints as soon as it was announced. Maybe Ms. Harris can suggest a way to produce such a process.

Let me take Ms. Harris’ points in order.

“First, they were the only one of the four finalists who did a full cost evaluation of the project, estimating $16 million while others were more than content to use the state’s estimate of $21 million.”

That’s very interesting news, which clarifies for me what she was getting at in the VDT writeup on that selection:

“CRA not only read through the entire packet of material and tailored their presentation based off the material but did homework regarding the amount of money the library actually has available for the project, which is heavily dependent on the passage of SPLOST in November,” said Harris.

SPLOST dollars represent two thirds of the funds needed, with the sale of the current property and a state grant supplying the remainder. Harris said the library’s total is about $18.5 million, which is less than the state’s consultants estimated for the project, which was $21 to 22 million.

The library is required to have a final cost estimate for the project by Aug. 8, which is 90 days before the Nov. 6 election, in order for the project to be included on the next SPLOST. Under Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax statutory requirements, each project on SPLOST must be identified and estimates must be specific and accurate.

“CRA came in under the amount at around $16.5 million,” said Harris, “which was nearly $4 to 5 million less than the other three firms who did presentations.”

The VDT writeup didn’t say none of the other architects made a bid less than the state’s recommendation. Thanks to Ms. Harris for that clarification.

Second, they brought to the project a consultant who is considered the country’s leading library consultant; only one of the other four brought in an outside expert.

Once again, the VDT writeup didn’t say whether any of the other respondants brought in a consultant, or what their qualifications were. Thanks to Ms. Harris for that clarification.

Third, the principals of this firm live right over the county line in Florida—they are within the 50 mile radius that is considered “hiring local”, so they are indeed a local firm.

While I thank Ms. Harris for this clarification, too, I have to ask by whom is within 50 miles considered “hiring local”? Certainly not by the local architects who have been complaining about this decision. Also, CRA’s office address is in Tallahassee and almost 90 miles from Five Points. Perhaps Ms. Harris can clarify who considers within 50 miles “hiring local” and how almost 90 miles counts as within 50 miles.

They also brought a local engineering firm, from Valdosta, to the table, and have agreed to hire as many subs from the local area as possible.

Now that’s good news, and the part about the local engineering firm was not in the VDT article. It also wasn’t in the presentation at the Lowndes County Commission Work Session. So this is especially useful additional information.

So I truly don’t understand the “jab” about hiring non-local…

Why is a simple question considered a “jab”? As Myrna Ballard said to me some time back, we really don’t seem to know how to have a discussion around here. For my part, because I ask a question doesn’t mean I’m opposed to what I’m asking about. It means I’m interested in knowing the answer. Thanks to Ms. Harris for answering.

Library --Kay Harris @ LCDP 2012-10-01 if it was that big a concern, why not just ask me the question? Mr. Quarterman wasn’t even in the room at the time I spoke….

The beauty of videos of meetings, whether of County Commission Work Sessions or Regular Sessions, or Library Board is that nobody has to be there in the room to see them: the whole world can see what went on! South Georgia Library Board

I had planned to be at the LCDP meeting, but was called away to another meeting. I had previously hoped to ask Mrs. Harris about the architect selection at the SPLOST VII Kickoff Speeches, but she did not speak, the final speaker made it clear no questions would be entertained. Nonetheless, I attempted to find Mrs. Harris in the small crowd, but I didn’t see her then, and I don’t see her in any of the videos. Nor was the public invited.

As I pointed out in my writeup on the SPLOST VII Kickoff speeches, to my knowledge there has never been a forum for open discussion of the library selection. Perhaps the Library Board meetings are that forum: I was greatly heartened to see Ms. Harris try to ensure that everyone who came to the recent Library Board meeting who wanted to speak got to speak. But where are the Library Board agendas or minutes posted so people will know when to go speak? And the format of a board meeting is a bit inconducive to actually getting answers, since such boards don’t usually answer directly when citizens speak. Perhaps Ms. Harris can clarify where, how, and to whom citizens should ask questions about the new library project? Maybe even in a public forum where everyone could see the questions and answers? Perhaps also in a public online forum?

Personally, I plan to vote Yes for SPLOST VII. However, as many other people have volunteered to me, it’s a bit of a baby-with-the-bathwater situation, and the bathwater is the library and auditorium projects, because of the opaque nature of their processes. I don’t want to throw the baby (most of the other SPLOST VII projects, especially those water projects). But other voters might be inclined to do just that. More responsiveness on the parts of our elected and appointed officials might help get SPLOST VII passed. Which is one big reason why it is so good to see Ms. Harris is willing to answer questions about the library project!

-jsq

1 thought on “Library process transparency —John S. Quarterman

  1. Who watches the watchers

    The idea that the architect has to be from Lowndes county was and is ridiculous. When building a multi-million dollar infrastructure piece, as a citizen, I want that to be built by the best producer at the best price and if that coincides with a local producer; then fantastic for them, but limiting or granting your selection criteria by “geographic location alone” is not in the best interest of anyone.
    Some local firms, but not all, seemed to have come to the conclusion that because their name was so and so, they were local or they had previously done work for the city, county, VSU, etc. that they were the automatic shoe in and they did not address the over 300 page packet of information that was sent, strayed from the guidelines and failed to present a coherent vision of what a technologically advanced library facility would be.
    CRA did their research, got a fantastic consultant, presented the best presentation and wildly exceeded expectations while sticking well within the budget and being fiscally responsible to the project and the citizens of Lowndes county. CRA could have been from Nome, Alaska and they still would have had the best presentation and pitch out of all the companies that submitted that day.

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