Atlanta audit of $250 million bond program finds weak contracts, no improper deals

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s $250 million construction program to improve the city’s roads, bridges and facilities is being conducted with business contracts that expose the city to “unnecessary risk,” according to an audit that’s to be presented Monday to the Atlanta City Council.

MLK complete streets

Atlanta is in the process of installing a complete streets project along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Northside Drive to Ollie Street, a distance of about a mile. File/Credit: David Pendered

The audit did not report any improper financial transactions. The bulk of the findings involve contracts that the audit team determined don’t fully protect the city and/or don’t comply with best practices.

The council is slated to refer the audit to its Finance/Executive Committee for further consideration. Councilmember Alex Wan chairs the committee.

The audit was conducted by city Auditor Leslie Ward’s office. It was authorized in legislation the council approved unanimously on March 16, 2015, the day before Atlanta voters approved a $250 million bond referendum to improve the city’s infrastructure. Audits of Renew Atlanta are to be conducted every six months, according to the legislation.

The audit produced two recommendations:

  1. “We recommend that the General Manager of Renew Atlanta work with the departments of procurement and law to strengthen contract language for Renew Atlanta construction projects to meet the requirements of city code.
  2. “We recommend that the General Manager of Renew Atlanta work with the departments of procurement and law to further align language in Renew Atlanta construction contracts with best practices regarding business ethics expectations, the city’s right to audit, and change orders.”

Faye DiMassimo, the general manager of Renew Atlanta, responded that she agreed in part with each recommendation, according to the audit.

DiMassimo noted that the contracts at issue are, “not specific to the Renew Atlanta Bond Program and are available for use by other City departments and programs.” DiMassimo said the city’s Law Department had updated contracts to comply with city code. DiMassimo said Renew Atlanta and the Law Department will continue to collaborate to identify other clauses in contracts that can be improved.

Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

In addition, DiMassimo noted that Renew Atlanta has created a Project Controls Board to keep projects on schedule and on budget:

  • “Specifically, the Renew Atlanta Bond Program has developed a Program Management Manual for the purpose of defining roles and responsibilities to manage costs and schedules. Additionally, the Renew Atlanta Project Controls Board, as established in the Program Management Manual, is specifically designed to review major projects with the intent of controlling change orders, cost overruns and schedules. The Renew Atlanta Bond Program will also utilize a third party program management contractor, which will assist the program with oversight, project management and cost controls.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed hired DiMassimo in November 2015 for the specific purpose of overseeing a project the mayor said in a statement was, “the single largest investment in the look, feel and experience of the city in modern times.”

Reed expressed his support for DiMassimo, whom he hired from Cobb County where her work included plans to expand public transit: “Faye DiMassimo will ensure we execute this program on time and on budget. Faye has my confidence, and the residents of the City of Atlanta can be confident in her as well.”

Renew Atlanta bond auditRenew Atlanta bond audit

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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