Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 18th 2019


Barker on the Hot Seat

By Rick Outzen

On June 14, the Pensacola City Council voted overwhelmingly to keep the budget for the proposed Bayview Community Center at $8.25 million and, in effect, rejected Mayor Ashton Hayward’s effort to increase the cost to $9.6 million.

At the meeting, Hayward’s chief financial officer, Dick Barker, tried to explain how the budget increased from $6.05 million to $8.25 million to $9.6 million. Barker, who has worked for the city since 1980, tried to convince the council and public that nothing was unusual about how his department handled the project.

Before last week’s meeting, the council had four votes regarding the new Bayview center. In February 2016, they authorized a reimbursement resolution and appropriated money for Fire Station #3 ($3.3 million) and the Bayview Resource Center ($6.05 million). In September 2016, they approved the FY 2016 that budgeted that amount for the facility. In January 2017, the council approved hiring Caldwell Associates Architects to design a $5.5 million center. In September 2017, they voted to increase the budget to $8.25 million after having only a day to review the final design.

Inweekly, Pensacola News Journal and the public have questioned the jump from $6.05 million to $8.25 million in a year, but the project might be under construction had not the bids come back so high and the mayor’s office tried to get the contract awarded as an add-on item at the May meeting.

Barker appeared to be surprised that there was any controversy over the finances when he appeared before the council last week. After all, he told the board the new project estimate was $8.25 million at a budget workshop in January 2017. However, he failed to mention that only two council members attended the meeting, Sherri Myers and Gerald Wingate, and both expressed concerns about the higher estimate.

In his slide presentation, Barker said that on March 9, 2017, “an item was given to council concerning a moratorium on any encumbering of LOST funds at that time. Stated in that item, the Bayview Resource Center was at $6.05 million, and the current estimate is $8.25 million.”

The CFO said that staff proceeded with designing the $8.25 million facility “once the council was informed of that.” However, no vote was taken. A taxpayer reviewing the FY 2017 budget and the CAA contract wouldn’t have known the budget had changed. When the media reported on the public forum about the center two months later, the reporters stated it was a $6.05 million project because that was the budget listed on the city website.

Barker also failed to mention that he had downplayed the $8.25 million estimate at the budget workshop. He said at the time, “This is all preliminary, but instead of having to come back and ask for more funds, we put in what we know at this time. And it is council’s final decision.”

The council held a second budget workshop on Local Option Sales Taxes on March 20, 2017. Barker wasn’t present, which might explain why he didn’t mention it in his presentation. The $8.25 million was presented to the council on a spreadsheet, and several members expressed concerns.

Council President Brian Spencer said the increase didn’t “fall within the standard contingency percentage.” He expected an “action item forthcoming for us to revisit this.” The action item wasn’t given to the council until Sept. 19, 2017, the night before the final budget hearing.

The Bayview Community Center, even at the $8.25 million budget, is the most expensive community center in the city’s history. The facility is $2 million more than was spent on both the Theophalis May and Woodland Heights Community Centers.

Barker tried to convince the council that the two centers in African-American neighborhoods had higher percentage increases in their budgets than Bayview by using the initial $1 million in the 2007 Pennies for Progress spreadsheet for each facility.

“By the time we got to 2012, and I have the detail on this on another slide, both of them were about $3 million,” he told the council. When the centers were built in 2015, the May Center cost $3.14 million and Woodland Heights $2.98 million.

“If you just do percentages—and you have to be careful when you do percentages—but looking at the percentages, we had a 214 percent increase and 198 percent increase for those two centers,” Barker said. “From the bid that we received from the beginning, that’s a 58 percent increase on the Bayview Center.”

Most council members realized the $1 million allocations for the two centers were placeholders in the first Pennies for Progress plan in 2007 and weren’t intended to be the final budgets for them. Mayor Hayward made that clear when he recommended increasing the budgets in 2011, four years before the centers were completed. And the council voted on the $3 million budgets before the design work began.

Councilman Spencer asked Barker, “Are you suggesting those AIA (American Institute of Architecture) agreements started out at a low of $1 million?”

Barker replied, “No, sir, I’m sorry. If I went ahead and explained it—”

“Okay, I just wanted to clarify,” said Spencer. “The AIA agreements had a number perhaps of $3.10 million.”

The AIA contract between CAA and the city was another problem that Barker tried to explain. The agreement, dated Jan. 31, 2017, was for a $5.5 million center. In July 2017, the architect’s invoices began to include nearly $120,000 in basic service costs not listed in the contract. The city paid the invoices without changing the purchase order or asking for an amendment to the agreement.

The additional charges were pointed out to the council by Butch Hansen, the council’s budget analyst, when he reviewed the accounting for the Bayview project. He determined the mayor’s office had a more expensive project in mind than what the city council approved in September 2016.

“My review of the history and available documentation of this project concludes that the project was not planned at a $6 million total cost level from the beginning, as initially approved by council and then prescribed in the A&E contract approved by the council,” Hansen told the council. “Hence cost increases from the initial approved $6 million project are a combination of design enhancement and construction cost increases, the balance of which I have not been provided information to ascertain.”

Barker said the purchase order and contract hadn’t changed because the firm’s invoices hadn’t exceeded the contract amount. The agreement was for $739,328, and CAA has only been paid $597,969. However, there are two invoices that have been received that have yet to be paid.

“They have submitted invoices today over budget of $24,982,” he said. “That will not get paid. Everything else will get paid except that amount of money. I will not pay that amount of money because it exceeds the budget.”

In other words, CAA could have billed the city for anything as long as the total billing didn’t exceed $739,328. Fortunately for city taxpayers, the AIA won’t let its members do that. CAA’s invoices needed to reflect the actual services done by line item. The budget had to be changed on the invoices, regardless of the city purchase order and contract.

Despite the inconsistencies in his presentation, the CFO insisted he had done nothing wrong.

“I never planned to deceive anybody, as the paper said,” said Barker. “I can understand that certain reporters don’t understand the business we do and how it works, but all the processes that we went through, that I have reviewed, that my staff has reviewed, are consistent with the processes that we have used in the past.”