Salisbury: A Little Peek Backwards in Time at Karen Alexander Bringing in Fibrant’s Customer Service Center

Posted on July 26, 2017

Todd Paris, Staff Writer, Salisbury Attorney, and Candidate for Salisbury City Council

♦ It’s been ten years since the City of Salisbury was financially ruptured by the decision made by Mayor Susan Kluttz, Paul Woodson, Bill Burgin, Pete Kennedy and Mark Lewis to borrow 37 million dollars to build a municipal broadband in Salisbury, NC. Even the print media admits Fibrant loses three million dollars per year from the general fund to pay a debt that will continue to 2029.

Meanwhile, local merchants donate money so that poor city children can pay to swim at a city owned swimming pool this summer. Why should citizens have to pay a fee to swim in a municipal swimming pool?  In Salisbury there is a fee for everything, likely to support the 3 million dollar per year city subsidy to their few broadband subscribers who can squeeze a few bucks together to subscribe. In less poor neighborhoods, subscribers soon discover, if they lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their Fibrant bill, the city would shut off their water.

Today’s installment in the shrinking fish wrapper includes a quote from City Councilmember David Post regarding Fibrant that there was no “malfeasance” on the part of past council or staff, but that city council adopted an attitude of “somebody else will take care of it” and that the city “generally, wanted to avoid bad news”.

The definition of malfeasance from Merriman-Webster is “wrongdoing or misconduct especially by a public official.” There is a similar term called misfeasance which is defined as the wrongful performance of a normally lawful act; the wrongful and injurious exercise of lawful authority. Then there is nonfeasance – the omission of some act that ought to have been performed.

Before she was appointed to Salisbury City Council, Mayor Karen Alexander was engaged to be the architect and construction manager for the Fibrant and Customer Service Center on MLK, Jr. Drive. State law does not require those two positions to be open for public bid and the council may choose the “most qualified party.” That decision has few solid parameters for choice under the law.

Generally speaking, the construction manager’s job is to make sure the project gets done correctly, on time, and under budget. The architect makes the plans, drawings, and designs the structure and grounds. These two jobs may be held by the same person, however, one might question if they should.

Mayor Alexander’s contract allowed her to bill the city based on hourly fees of between $125/hr for construction administration and $160/hr for her work as the principal architect.

Through a public records request last year we learned that the Fibrant building or Hub went $2.7 million over budget. The budget for the facility was $4.4 million while the final cost came in at $7.1M. Mayor Karen Alexander was the architect for the facility and also provided construction administration. Mayor Karen Alexander billed the city and received checks from the city totaling $470,426.69, which was $190,426.69 over the $280,000 budget for architect, structural, & PM&E Engineering Fees for the project.

To pay for the overages the city had to tap the General Fund for an additional $756,350.40, the General Capital Project Fund for $990,747.40, and the Water and Sewer Fund for $900,000. This was in addition to tapping the Broadband Capital Project Fund for $4,548,067.03, which would have been adequate to cover the cost of the facility if the project had not gone over budget.

I do not believe the general public knows that the facility went $2.7 million over budget and that the architectural and construction administration fees alone went over budget by $190,426.69. If a project goes over budget under your watch, I don’t think its right that you should make more money. Where were Council members Susan Kluttz, Paul Woodson, Bill Burgin (an architect himself) and Mark Lewis (a banker) as the costs escalated?

That council would eventually recruit Karen Alexander to be appointed to an open position on city council. She would later be elected and become mayor. She is running for re-election this year.

For future projects, like the new fire stations approved in this year’s capital improvement plan, I humbly suggest that the construction manager and architect be two separate firms or individuals and that the construction manager be paid a flat rate fee, perhaps with penalties for costs and time overruns so that the construction manger has a vested interest in bringing the construction in on time and under budget and riding herd on the architect, subcontractor and contractors. I understand this is routinely done in private commercial construction.

I call on Karen Alexander to repay the $190,426.69 to the city and that those funds be used for poverty reduction measures, specifically jobs and skills training. Maybe we could afford to have free passes at the city owned “Fred Evans Pool.” I don’t know of anyone who benefitted from Fibrant, more than Karen Alexander, based on the checks she received from the city.”

Exhibit A: Budget summary from city showing $2.7M overage:

Exhibit B: Budget showing $280,000 was original amount for fees:

Exhibit C: Hourly rate sheet for KKA Architecture:

Remainder: Copies of checks cut to KKA Architecture:

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