Hinesville’s history with public-works contractor CHM2HILL OMI began in 1984 when it was contracted to operate the city’s water-treatment plant, according to City Manager Billy Edwards.
“That was a five-year contract. Then in the fourth year, we renewed it for 10 years,” Edwards said. “Our thought at that time was the longer the contract, the more likely the contractor would use good preventive maintenance procedures to maintain city-owned equipment.”
He said the city expanded its contract with OMI in 1992 to include operating public works. At the time OMI took over public works, Edwards said several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints had been made by employees against the city’s public-works department.
“Part of our agreement (with OMI) was that they would extend an offer to all of the city employees, provided they passed a drug-screening test,” he said, explaining the scope of public-works duties has changed quantitatively since then. “We’ve got a lot more households and more roadways, so there is more garbage to pick up, more streets to sweep and more areas to monitor for mosquito control. We also have two water-treatment plants now.”
In 2006, the city rewrote its contract with OMI, refining the scope of services for public works and enumerating pump stations and water wells. He summarized the new contract as much more comprehensive.
The 2006 contract was the subject of another heated discussion by the city council during its meeting Thursday. Councilman Keith Jenkins and Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier had questions about the contract. They did not recall a vote to extend it. Edwards explained it was discussed in 2011 as part of the 2012 budget.
“We approved a contract (in 2006) with an option to extend the contract for five more years,” Mayor Jim Thomas said. “We didn’t have to go back to the city council to vote for an extension.”
Edwards said there had been some questions raised during that budget discussion about whether the city legally could enter into a long-term contract. He said the question was referred to City Attorney Linnie Darden, who reported that a long-term contract was OK. The city then entered into the second five-year contract with OMI beginning in November 2011.
Included in Thursday’s council meeting discussion was a proposal by Frasier to have an outside agency conduct a feasibility study about whether it is cost-effective for the city to resume operation of its public works.
Councilman David Anderson reminded council members that the city already is operating under a budget shortfall before they “pay somebody to do something we already know.”
Councilman Jason Floyd agreed, saying he would be shocked if any savings would be found. He added that he is willing to look at another contractor at the end of OMI’s current contract.
In addition to repeating his concern about not knowing OMI’s contract was extended in 2011, Jenkins said he was not satisfied with OMI’s performance. Although Jenkins didn’t specify performance areas of concern at Thursday’s meeting, Edwards acknowledged that Jenkins had expressed concern last summer about grass not being cut on right-of-ways (the shoulder of the roads) in his district.
Frasier explained he wasn’t saying he had anything against OMI, but that he wanted to see if the city could operate public works more efficiently and cheaply. Jenkins said he would not be opposed to keeping OMI’s contract to operate the water-treatment plants, but he believes the city or another contractor could operate public works better.
In November 2012, Allenhurst resident Jack Scott spoke during the public comments session, asking why OMI employees were exempted from Hinesville’s 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise for city employees. Edwards reminded the council that the city has no control over how contractors pay their employees. In December, Scott again appeared before the council, this time charging OMI with racial discrimination.
The issue of OMI’s contract temporarily was concluded Thursday with Thomas assuring the council he would present a proposal to them for a cost analysis by a third party.