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Martinsville Mayor Shannon Kohl responds to report's criticism, vows to improve city procedures

Mayor responds to law firm's report
Posted: 12:11 PM, Nov 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-28 17:40:42Z
Martinsville Mayor Shannon Kohl responds to report's criticism, vows to improve city procedures

MARTINSVILLE, Ind. — The mayor of the City of Martinsville is refuting a law firm’s report that criticized her administration’s handling of a no-bid, no-contract deal.

In his report, Bloomington attorney William Beggs panned the city administration for not responding to council’s questions about Roberts Construction dating back to mid-2017, and said the Martinsville city council’s concern about Roberts Construction prompted the city administration to improve its procedures.

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But Martinsville Mayor Shannon Kohl said it’s simply not true.

“To say that the Investigatory Report prompted the city, to create written policies and procedures, is inconsistent with the facts,” said Kohl in a statement to RTV6. “The city started looking into issues in October of 2017.  The facts are that this administration inherited many practices and unwritten policies that were followed for several years, including the sidewalk program, which we discussed in multiple public meetings.”

The city paid Roberts Construction $564,130 during 2017 without a bid and without a contract to perform sidewalk improvement, concrete work, and vegetation excavation, said the Beggs report.

Call 6 Investigates found taxpayers had paid Roberts Construction $662,310 since 2016.

Records show Kohl’s former brother-in-law and the president of Roberts Construction, James Roberts, donated $1,000 to Kohl’s mayoral campaign in 2015.

“This administration, with deference to the council, actually halted sidewalk work in November 2017 to address concerns with the long-standing sidewalk program,” Kohl said in her statement. “Additionally, in deference to the council wishes, we hired an attorney to investigate their allegations, including any ‘conflict of interest’ allegations.  The allegations were found to be, ‘unfounded’ as stated in the administration’s report.”

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Kohl emphasized the city used its previously established sidewalk procedure when it hired Roberts Construction without a bid.

“The administration sought the expertise of Roberts Construction, represented by a local Morgan County resident, with an interest in seeing the improvements we are making to the City,” said Kohl. “We have been happy, and our citizens have been happy with the work they have done.”

The City of Martinsville released its own review in May 2018  that suggested Martinsville make numerous changes, including establishing rules for purchases of services, setting up specification policies, and designating city departments as separate purchasing agencies.

“We are not surprised by the findings of this (Beggs) report, because we have always strived to be better and do more—more transparent, more efficient, and bring more value for the citizens of Martinsville,” said Kohl in her statement to RTV6. “We are in constant communication with our team of professionals to ensure we conduct the people’s business appropriately.  We have reviewed numerous existing long-standing policies and procedures throughout the City and the departments, and are crafting new written procedures that will bring the level of not only accountability, but the efficiency and value to which we strive.”

Kohl said one such policy is public purchasing, which will be introduced at the next Board of Public Works meeting.

“This administration promised things would be different, and that together we would end the old way of doing business,” said Kohl. “All of the city processes are being analyzed, with an eye on efficiency and accountability.  We view this as an opportunity to continue to deliver on that promise and tell our citizens that it is a new day in Martinsville where the old motto of ‘because that is how we have always done things’ is a thing of the past, because our citizens deserve better.”

City records show the city paid Beggs $8,256.65 to do the three-page report.

Martinsville City Council President Eric Bowlen said it could have cost more, but the council asked Beggs to use the city’s report for suggestions in the process.

“Likewise, professional fees are not cheap by any means,” said Bowlen. “We will do whatever it takes to safeguard the money for our citizens and taxpayers. We feel it is imperative to make the process transparent and open for all businesses and to safeguard the taxpayers’ money while getting the city's needs met.”
 

Bowlen said the current administration failed to meet Indiana Code requirements in the procurement process.

“The administration blamed previous administrations for the position we were in,” said Bowlen. “However, this was not the case. Previous administrations had meet the requirements (minimum) of Indiana Code. We do feel that we need to make the process more stringent moving forward.”

Beggs’ report criticized the city administration for not responding to council’s questions about Roberts Construction dating back to mid-2017.

“We conclude that it is regrettable that the City administration was not forthcoming with responses to requests for information about sidewalks that started as early as the summer of 2017,” Beggs said in his report. “It seems to use the better course would have been to address the requests, identify the non-compliances early, and correct them promptly so as to dispose of this problem much sooner and without the Council being left with no choice to take the action it eventually took.”

Beggs said doing so put the city at a financial risk.

“Some of the effects of these deficiencies were that Martinsville had no written contractual remedies in the event of non-performance, and Martinsville had no evidence of insurance or any assurance of ability to satisfy damages in the event of claims,” said Beggs. 

Beggs said he did not find any evidence that Martinsville was charged for work that was not performed nor did he find complaints about the quality of work.

The report ended with a recommendation for the city to follow the procurement practices outlined in the city report released in May.

City attorney Anne Cowgur with Taft Stettinius & Hollister issued a statement last week on the Beggs document.

“The report acknowledges that Mr. Beggs was retained to in connection with investigating purchasing policies and procedures followed by the City with respect to Roberts Construction,” said Cowgur in a statement to RTV6. “However, in the end, the letter is more of a report on the report of the City Attorney and a recommendation that the City follows the policies and procedures outlined by its City Attorney in that report.  To the extent that Mr. Beggs opined that if the Council had not insisted on an investigation the Council had no reason to believe the City administration would have instituted any changes, this is inconsistent with the reality that the new City Attorney (having just replaced the resigning City Attorney a year ago when these issues were first raised), had already begun to identify the need for changes from long-standing practice in multiple areas.”

Read the full 70-page city report here .

Read the full statement from Mayor Shannon Kohl:

“We are not surprised at the outcome of the council’s investigatory report (Investigatory Report), as it verifies our administration’s internal report (Administration’s Report) which we released to the public in May of 2018.  To say that the Investigatory Report prompted the city, to create written policies and procedures, is inconsistent with the facts. The city started looking into issues in October of 2017
 
The facts are that this administration inherited many practices and unwritten policies that were followed for several years, including the sidewalk program, which we discussed in multiple public meetings.
 
This administration, with deference to the council, actually halted sidewalk work in November 2017 to address concerns with the long-standing sidewalk program.  Additionally, in deference to the council wishes, we hired an attorney to investigate their allegations, including any “conflict of interest” allegations.  The allegations were found to be, “unfounded” as stated in the administration’s report.  
  
Using the previously established sidewalk procedure, the administration, sought the expertise of Roberts Construction, represented by a local Morgan County resident with an interest in seeing the improvements we are making to the City.  We have been happy, and our citizens have been happy with the work they have done.
 
Again, we are not surprised by the findings of this report, because we have always strived to be better and do more—more transparent, more efficient, and bring more value for the citizens of Martinsville.  We are in constant communication with our team of professionals to ensure we conduct the people’s business appropriately.  We have reviewed numerous existing long-standing policies and procedures throughout the City and the departments, and are crafting new written procedures that will bring the level of not only accountability, but the efficiency and value to which we strive.  One such policy is public purchasing, which will be introduced at the next Board of Public Works meeting. 
 
This administration promised things would be different, and that together we would end the old way of doing business.  All of the city processes are being analyzed, with an eye on efficiency and accountability.  We view this as an opportunity to continue to deliver on that promise and tell our citizens that it is a new day in Martinsville where the old motto of “because that is how we have always done things” is a thing of the past, because our citizens deserve better.”

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