MARTINSVILLE, Ind. – A contractor is back to work in the City of Martinsville, months after the mayor announced the city attorney would be conducting a review of the city’s bidding policies and procedures.
In November, the city halted work with Roberts Construction after city council members questioned why the contractor received $662,310 in taxpayer money without a bid and without a contract.
“We have asked our city attorney to look at everything, not just the sidewalks, but all policies and bidding procedures with every department,” said Mayor Shannon Kohl in November 2017. “The review will let us know what we need to change and what we need to do differently.”
Nearly five months later, it’s not clear if the city attorney’s investigation is completed or what, if anything, was found.
Call 6 Investigates contacted the city attorney and mayor several times since March 20 and no one responded to our requests for an update on the policy review.
After RTV6 posted this story on April 12, Call 6 Investigates received the following statement from city attorney Anne Cowgur.
We provided a preliminary report on the Roberts Construction issue to the Council at a meeting a couple of months ago. Among other things, we addressed allegations (or more accurately insinuations) of conflict of interest and explained why there was no merit in such claims. We also explained that we would be looking into the processes for sidewalks and other City work as part of a larger review of City policies and procedures.
At the same meeting, Bill Beggs, separately retained by the Council, reported that he had asked the State Board of Accounts to consider the sidewalk issues and was waiting for a determination. We suspended our consideration of this issue in light of a second State Board of Accounts review of the subject matter.
In March we learned the State Board of Accounts has either completed or suspended its review. We have since then resumed efforts to establish the parameters for sidewalk and other work with the approach of spring weather.
As you may know, this is an exciting time for the City of Martinsville with many changes, improvements, opportunities and attendant projects for both my office and the Mayor’s office. We are balancing these needs with the issues you have raised and will address them in due course.
With respect to your specific inquiry as to the work Roberts Construction performed recently, I believe you are referring to one or more of the following: (1) a hydrant project, on which there was a public bid and Roberts was the low bidder; (2) a storm sewer project, on which there was a public bid and Roberts was the low bidder; and (3) an emergency water line project, for which we solicited phone bids and Roberts was the only responsive bidder.
-Anne Cowgur, City Attorney
Roberts Construction resumed work for the City of Martinsville in February 2018, records show.
In January, Roberts Construction submitted a bid of $46,239, the lowest of three contractors, to the city for the replacement of five fire hydrants.
Infrastructure Systems bid $54,650 and Sub-Surface of Indiana bid $66,500.
Records show the city has paid Roberts Construction $72,739 for the fire hydrant replacement following several change orders on the project that raised the final cost of the project.
Typically, change orders go before the Martinsville Board of Works & Safety for approval, said clerk treasurer Becky Tumey.
Board of Works members Eric Bowlen and Terry Buster said they were unaware of any change orders for the project.
“This probably should have been something brought to our attention,” said Bowlen.
Since February 2018, the city has paid Roberts Construction $82,739.
Martinsville resident Jesse Coffman said he’s concerned.
“It’s not good,” said Coffman. “I am a former city employee. I feel that this company is taking away city jobs.”
The Martinsville City Council announced last year it was launching an investigation into how Roberts Construction received $662,310 in taxpayer money without a bid and without a contract.
The plan was to hire Bunger and Robertson, a Bloomington law firm, at $295/hour to investigate whether the city followed proper procedures and laws.
However, in January the city council decided to wait until the city attorney released her findings.
“The decision was made that the attorney retained by the City Council would do no further investigation until the city attorney released her report and findings,” said city council member Kris Fuller. “It was the Council’s hope that this course of action would save tax payer money because the City Council’s attorney would not be duplicating any work already performed by the city attorney in the Mayor’s investigation, if it was not needed.”
The city has also sought the opinion from the State Board of Accounts, the state agency that audits local government, but Martinsville has not yet received a written opinion.
The State Board of Accounts does not plan to issue a written opinion or conduct a special audit, however, the agency does plan to examine the the city's construction purchasing methods during their next regular audit later this year, according to Mike Bozymski, deputy state examiner with the State Board of Accounts.
Fuller said they are still waiting for a report from the city attorney or mayor on its review of bidding policies and procedures.
“It was the Council’s belief that the Mayor’s investigation through the city attorney would be ending shortly and we would have access to their findings,” said Fuller. “At this time, the Council still has not received the report from the Mayor’s investigation that was discussed at the January 8, 2018 City Council meeting.”
In November, Call 6 Investigates asked Mayor Shannon Kohl why the city’s street department couldn’t perform the work done by Roberts Construction.
"We would get nothing done if we didn’t contract out some help for them,” said Kohl in November. “They work alongside the city employees, so the city employees are doing a ton of work.”
Call 6 Investigates asked Kohl if she has any ties to Roberts Construction.
“I do not. My sister was married to a worker there ten years ago, and he is a former brother in law that I’m not close to and I haven’t talked to in years,” said Kohl in November.
Records show her former brother-in-law and the president of Roberts Construction, James Roberts, donated $1,000 to Kohl’s mayoral campaign in 2015.
Kohl said she was the one who asked Roberts for the donation, and emphasized she called numerous companies at the time seeking $60,000 in campaign contributions.
Call 6 Investigates asked Kohl how an out-of-county company could get half a million dollars worth of work without a contract and without a bid.
“I can’t speak on that right now, and I don’t want to speculate while the review is going on,” said Kohl in November. “We have asked our city attorney to look at everything, not just the sidewalks, but all policies and bidding procedures with every department. The review will let us know what we need to change and what we need to do differently.”
Call 6 Investigates reached out to Roberts Construction, but they declined to comment.
Indiana law says when public works projects cost less than $50,000, the board should seek quotes from at least three companies by mailing them a notice with plans and specifications and the board shall award the contract to the lowest and most responsive bidder.
For public works projects greater than $150,000, Indiana statute has a laundry list of requirements including publishing notice seeking bids and requiring bidders to submit financial statements and proposed plans for doing the work.