The first meeting of the Town of Payson’s new subcommittee to review capital improvement projects resulted in an expansion of its scope after it hired a consulting attorney to help.
“I’d like to go back and look at projects to maybe find ways to save substantial money,” said Jim Ferris, a subcommittee member and town councilor during the Sept. 20 meeting.
The original council resolution authorized the subcommittee to review past contracts, like some of the $52 million in contracts for the C.C. Cragin pipeline. But at the first meeting, the committee members said they want to look at contracts before they go to the town council.
Suzy Tubbs-Avakian, subcommittee member and town councilor, hoped to make “a checklist of policies moving forward so we don’t have projects run over and what points are taken to the council,” she said.
Mayor Tom Morrissey read a prepared statement outlining the proposed mission of the subcommittee.
“The mission is to review past capital improvement projects such as the C.C. Cragin and others, which have brought the Town of Payson many improvements and many challenges such as cost overruns and schedule delays,” he read from the statement. “Through analysis, the subcommittee will seek to identify previous challenges to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of future projects.”
The establishment of the subcommittee proved controversial after three council members voting against the motion questioned whether the subcommittee will cross over into staff responsibilities and have trouble avoiding a violation of the open meeting law. The council established the committee on a 4-3 vote and added citizen members.
Morrissey’s suggested wording of the committee’s mission spurred a question from Sally McCormac, a 36-year employee of Bank of America where she handled operations, risk management and audits.
“I would probably want to ask — do you have to mention C.C. Cragin? Or is that an example?” she asked.
“That is just an example of what we will be looking at,” he said.
Morrissey assured her the C.C. Cragin project was just one of many projects he hopes the subcommittee will analyze.
To accomplish the mission of the subcommittee, Morrissey plans to assign specific tasks to council members to pore over past contracts for signs of mismanagement.
A significant part of the subcommittee’s job will require asking for source documents to analyze the fine print of the deal.
To help, Morrissey suggested hiring Lee Miller, an attorney who worked in the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. The two said they have known each other for 10 years.
“The reasons would be I can see from the questions asked ... there would be a lot of legalese,” said Morrissey. “We are trying to get into the weeds on this stuff. We would benefit greatly to have a special counsel.”
The acting town attorney from the firm Pierce Coleman agreed, “It would be a good thing to have legal counsel.”
The committee has a spending limit of $25,000 to hire consultants, but the acting town attorney said procurement laws require the town attorney hire outside attorneys.
This brought up some financial questions.
“Your outside budget to hire counsel has been exhausted,” said the attorney, “(the budget) ... money set aside to do whatever auditing, we may have to use some of those funds to do that.”
Subcommittee member Bob Graziano then asked if the scope of work could be expanded to include looking over contracts before the council votes.
Acting Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf said the committee could do that, but only if the council votes to expand its role.
“That can always be reworked — if it was a contract coming before us, the purpose of the subcommittee can be amended,” she said.