At the request of four City Council members, City Auditor Umesh Dalal is delving into Mayor Dwight Jones selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction to build a $116 million jail in the East End.
In a letter to Dalal June 28, Council members Marty Jewell, Bruce Tyler, Doug Conner and Reva Trammell are requesting the city auditor’s “professional assistance in determining whether the procurement processes and procedures regarding the Richmond City Jail procurement was conducted properly in accordance with state law” and the city’s procedures.
In the letter, written by Jewell and signed by Tyler, Conner and Trammell, the council members request a “review and/or audit, if you deem it necessary in order to advise council prior to a vote on this contract.”
Dalal’s involvement is heightening tensions as City Council weighs Mayor Dwight Jones’ proposed agreement with Tompkins/Ballard. Some have questioned whether the process was fair, and whether the East End, where the current jail now sits, is the best location for the new jail. The mayor has asked for City Council’s blessing by the end of July, in order to have an official agreement in place by Aug. 5.
Following a two-hour work session Thursday night, wherein in Council members quizzed city officials about the jail procurement process, the Dalal letter sparked a heated exchange between Council President Kathy Graziano and Jewell.
“We could have avoided sitting here for two hours with questions being asked one way, another way, up the way and down the way,” Graziano, visibly unnerved, told Jewell as the meeting was breaking up.
Jewell shot back: “I challenge anybody in this room to tell the public that we, this council, don’t want to be confused by the facts,” Jewell said, adding that Dalal would provide much-needed expertise. “Does anybody here find something wrong with that? Does that sound like it’s something crazy?”
Dalal told Council members that his office could complete an initial review of the jail contract procurement process by July 13, council’s next work session. Afterward, however, he said it was certainly unusual to be asked to review a contract before it’s been awarded. “It doesn’t happen all the time,” he said, adding that in fact it was the first time he’d been asked to review a proposed contract.