Put Staff To Work & End Reliance On Consultants, Bozar Suggests

Upland City Councilman Glenn Bozar this week took issue with the city’s reliance on outside consultants to do engineering work on standard, routine and relatively simple public improvement projects.
Bozar’s overarching message appeared to be that the city’s in-house engineers should be performing those functions, and that continuous outlays to hire consultants to carry out those tasks are nickel-and-diming the city into financial ruin.
Unstated but loaded into his comments, which came mostly in the form of questions to Upland Public Works Director Rosemary Hoernig, was the councilman’s suggestion that the city’s well-paid engineering staff should get to work doing what they are being paid handsomely to do.
Bozar’s questioning of Hoernig came during her presentation of an item calling for the city to hire TKE Engineering to design pavement rehabilitation, together with street and water system improvements on the city’s $1 million project to spruce up 14th Street between Euclid and Campus.
“I’m trying to get my head around this thing,” Bozar said. “We are going to pave a street and we are going to hire an engineering firm to spec out how to pave the street. We’re [being asked to pay] $52,000 for that. I want to simplify my life and I want to save money. So, in my simplistic view of the world – and maybe it is too simplistic – I’m going to hire a contractor to pave the front of my street, simplistically, and I’m going to say I want you to pave that to a depth of two-and-a-half inches of asphalt spec NC spec whatever, whatever, whatever, and I may ask a gutter guy to do 500 layer feet of curbing to this standard… This is where I’m having trouble … Why are we using consultants all the time and engineering firms to do what I perceive from my background as just simple, normal repair and construction things where it doesn’t seem necessary to have to do this? When I read what they’re going to do, if I’m going to tell a company to pave a street certain so many linear feet and to certain depth, I’m just having trouble figuring out why.”
Bozar said he wanted to know why TKE was being brought in when “You guys [i.e., the city’s public works division] have engineers in your department.”
Hoernig confirmed that “We have two capital engineers within the department” but went on to note that their focus had been directed elsewhere. “We have an $8 million program to deliver for the city,” she said.
The money paid to TKE, she indicated, represented a reasonable ratio of the expenditures toward engineering services given the extent and scope of the project being undertaken. “This is a million dollar project,” she said. “We’re talking about $50,000 in a million dollar project.”
Hoernig then sought to explain the type and scope of work TKE would be engaged in. “We need to be able to prepare plans and specifications and bid sheets so that every contractor who bids on this project bids apples to apples to apples,” she said. “That’s part of the public contract code requirements, so that we’re getting the best value for the community in terms of the project construction. It’s not a design build where we can just go out and make it black or what have you.”
“I realize that,” Bozar said, “but here’s my point: This isn’t the first road we’ve paved in Upland. We just paved Mountain.”
Bozar said the issue wasn’t the exact nature of the engineering work to be done but rather that an outside engineering firm was doing the work when the city had the personnel on staff to do the work without having to expend money to hire the consultants.
Hoernig again returned to explaining the scope of the work and its necessity to the completion of the project.
“This is a road where we’re removing all of the asphalt and we’re creating potentially new drainage patterns, we’re constructing new curb and gutter, which is going to change grades,” she said. “This is not something where you just go out and say, ‘Contractor A, please pave me a street.’”
Bozar did not dispute Hoernig’s assertion, but implied that what she was saying was irrelevant to the issue he was attempting to focus on. “That’s correct, and that’s where you put it into the spec of what he is to do and what the deliverable is and this firm is going to monitor the progress to this, correct?” he asked.
Hoernig said, “The firm is going to provide us with the plans and specs so that we can bid the project and our staff will do most of the construction management associated with getting the project built.”
Bozar persisted. “Okay, but like I said, it just seems to me you have a cookie cutter operation,” he said. “I just did Mountain, however many feet of that, and it’s the same type of work. I’m asking a contractor to pave my street. I have certain specs that are generic to every street and it’s a template. That’s where I’m trying to understand why it’s so unique that I need to keep getting a consultant involved for paving a street. That’s my difficulty…”
Hoernig again returned to describing the work TKE is to do in detail.
“Not only is it preparing the plans and specs so we get a competitive closed room bid from a number of contractors that’s based on apples, apples and apples but that we have a set of specs that are prepared in such a manner that while we’re constructing the work, which is a million dollars, that we’re able to control the construction costs on a project of this magnitude,” she said, “that we’re able to make sure the contractor is doing his work in such a manner that it doesn’t impact the residents, that they just don’t just rip it all up and we have no control over how the work is being phased or managed and controlled for the benefit of our customers and our citizens who have to live in that neighborhood while that construction is ongoing. These documents are very important to our business.”
Bozar refocused to having the work Hoernig represented as being so important done in-house rather than by consultants. Without bluntly stating so, Bozar subtly suggested that Hoernig, herself an engineer who is paid $167,666.33 in salary, $60,511.21 in benefits and $14,098.12 in other pay for a total annual compensation of $242,275.66, actually perform the needed engineering work.
“I just think as we talked about with the mid-year budget and what we’re looking for, we have to think out of the box on how we do this and save money,” he said. “That’s really what we need to do. I asked for a report on all these contracts and it’s amazing how many contracts and consultants we’ve got floating around here. I think that’s something that needs to be part of the strategic plan of the city manager as we move forward. How do we minimize this amount of consulting fees?”
Hoernig balked at Bozar’s suggestion.
“You can’t have it both ways,” she said. “You can’t have it no staff and no consultants or limited staff and consultants or maybe all staff… It is a public private partnership that we’re undertaking right now to get a project done.”
Bozar, who cast the lone dissenting vote in the council’s endorsement of Hoernig’s request to hire TDK and pay it $52,000 under a contract, gave indication he would continue to pursue eliminating the city’s reliance upon consultants.
“Again, I think it’s something we need to talk about in the future,” he said.
Former city manager Stephen Dunn, who observed the back and forth between Bozar and Hoernig, told the Sentinel, “Councilman Bozar is correct. The city does have engineers on staff to do the engineering work. It would be logical to have them do the engineering on that project and most city projects.”
He said the problem was that the public works department no longer had project managers on staff and that engineers were being detailed to take on the function of project managers, leaving them unavailable to perform engineering work.
Dunn said that engineering was a higher order of function than project management and that a project manager’s compensation would run roughly 70 percent of what an engineer is paid. Thus, he said, by using its engineering staff to perform project management and then contracting outside engineers to take on the engineering assignments, the city was paying somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent more for the project management work than it should.
He said Hoernig was caught in a bind because the city had eliminated its project management crew.

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