City manager disputes process for approval of new security cameras at Millennium Park

Published 8:41 am Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An ‘inappropriate’ bill?

A security camera upgrade project at Millennium Park has been halted due to a disagreement over whether it was appropriate to pay a company owned by a city commissioner to do the work.

Email newsletter signup

But there may be a resolution in the works: The commissioner said Monday night he may reimburse the money paid to his company.

Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation’s ad hoc committee hired Bluegrass IT Services last year for an approximately $7,200 upgrade project for the park’s security cameras. Bluegrass IT Services is owned by Danville City Commissioner Rick Serres, but it has been providing IT services at Millennium Park since around 2014, prior to Serres’ election to the commission.

At a Parks & Rec ad hoc meeting Monday, city and county officials got into a lively debate over the fact City Manager Ron Scott has refused to ask Danville City Commission to pay for its half of the bill. Boyle County Fiscal Court has already paid its half.

The ad hoc committee oversees the spending of additional funding, allocated outside of the normal Parks & Rec budget by Danville and Boyle County, for improvement of Millennium Park.

“We were appropriated money to upgrade and update the system. That money has not flowed through our budget and we have not been able to continue,” said Roger Ross, Parks and Recreation chair.

Danville City Manager Ron Scott said the city has not paid its portion because he didn’t approve of the way the project had been handled and he felt it was questionable to use Serres’ business.

Scott said he is “responsible for proper payment of all bills, and the examination of the merits of those and the basis of payment.”

Scott recommends to the city commission which bills “are appropriate to pay.” He said he declined to include the Bluegrass IT Services bill on the list of bills the commission approved because the bill is “inappropriate.”

Scott said he “raised questions” about the bill with the Parks & Rec ad hoc committee in October, but “the committee took a different view.” But the ad hoc committee’s decisions is “not a substitute for the judgment of the city manager and the processes we have. I stand by my decision.”

Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley serves as secretary for the ad hoc committee. She said no vote was taken by the committee on the upgrade project, but its members did offer informal approval.

Conley said quotes for the project were circulated to all members of the committee and she gave a deadline for everyone to respond with support or questions, “otherwise, Parks and Recreation was going to go forward with the project at hand.”

Conley said two committee members gave their consent and she didn’t hear from anyone else.

“I even sent follow-up emails saying that since I heard no disagreement, we authorized (Bluegrass IT) to go ahead,” she said.

Conley’s emails were sent in August, and a payment was made to Bluegrass IT by September, Conley said. Boyle County authorized payment for it’s portion of around $3,800; the remaining $3,800 was paid out of Parks and Recreation’s department fund when the city failed to pay.

Ross said Parks & Rec paid because it “(does) not want it said that the department doesn’t pay its bills.”

Even though the Bluegrass IT bill has been paid, work was stopped prior to activation of a final security camera in the park.

Parks & Rec Director John Drake said during the ad hoc meeting that someone “higher up than this office” had the work stopped. Because of that, the final camera needed wasn’t active a few weeks ago when vandals struck the park.

“We had an opportunity to have that work completed,” he said.

Serres said Monday night he was told by City Attorney Stephen Dexter the situation was a “gray area,” so his company continued working on the upgrades. Then Dexter told him to stop working until it could be determined if there would be an issue.

At that point, all the cameras were installed, but one was not hooked into the system. “Unfortunately, it was that close,” Serres said.

Serres said he knows no formal vote was taken on the upgrade by the ad hoc committee because he was planning not to vote if that happened.

“I remember thinking, ‘if we have a vote on it, I’ll recuse myself,'” Serres said Monday night. “It never came to a vote. It was like, ‘this is an ongoing project, we don’t have to vote on it.”

Serres said he plans to attend the next meeting of the Parks & Rec board and he will likely reimburse the money paid to his company.

During Monday’s ad hoc meeting, Scott said if the upgrade project was part of continuing work that Bluegrass IT was doing from prior to Serres’ election to the commission, it would have been OK. But Danville City Attorney Stephen Dexter reviewed the situation and determined it was a new project, which raised questions of ethics given Serres’ role in city government, Scott said.

Drake said the upgrade project was part of continuing work at Millennium Park by Bluegrass IT. If Parks & Rec had to consider IT work at the park to be a totally new project every time it was needed, it would not be a “functional” way to operate, he said after Monday’s ad hoc committee meeting.

“It’s been a continuation this whole time,” Drake said.

Parks & Rec originally hired Bluegrass IT to work in Millennium Park in 2014; if Parks & Rec had gone with a different company for the upgrade, it likely would have meant paying for additional work, even replacing the entire security system, he said.

Conley said a discussion about paying for the upgrade should have been held prior to the work being authorized, rather than a complaint while the work was underway.

“Communication is a key to this group and key to the city and county whenever we’re doing projects together,” she said.

Conley read from a prepared statement during the ad hoc committee meeting, taking issue with what she perceived as an attempt to push the matter to the side.

“As a member of the committee, I volunteered my time to do the minutes, and I circulate those to you and give you ample time to look through them … As the city manager, Ron, you volunteered to prepare the agenda and to advertise those meetings. As a member of the committee, I emailed you and asked for an item to be put on the agenda, and it’s this item, which I knew we were going to talk about,” she said. “When the agenda was prepared, it was purposefully omitted, and to be honest with you, there was no communication as to why that was omitted.

“The first thing I can think of, there isn’t that mutual respect … Equal to the rest of the members, we should all have the same consideration and respect for one another.”

Scott said the item wasn’t omitted and was included in the “other” category on the meeting’s agenda. He said he had been out-of-town at a city managers meeting last week and unable communicate that decision.

“I was under the opinion that we’ve discussed this item multiple times already, going back to October, when I expressed disagreement with the process of making that payment,” Scott said. “The minutes that you prepared reflected the consensus of this group to proceed with this project. I still differ with that conclusion … In my capacity, I cannot make a payment that is improper to make.”

Scott said he couldn’t make a payment to cover the city’s share unless the city commission directed him to do so. He said he would not be presenting the bill to the commission.

Conley asked if the county could pay the rest of the Bluegrass IT bill and then Danville could make a payment toward a different cost in the same amount, essentially swapping the disputed cost for a different one.

Scott said, “No. I will not swap it for something else. If it’s an improper payment, it’s not going to go in as a credit for something else.”

Judge-Executive Harold McKinney asked why the matter wasn’t addressed prior to the project moving forward, instead of after the bill was delivered, leaving Parks and Rec to “eat that bill.”

Scott said Parks & Rec would have to conduct “due diligence” to meet the requirements of the city’s ethics ordinance, meaning a special process would be needed before Serres’ company could be hired.

McKinney said he would “defend” the Parks & Rec board.

“I can’t lay this at the feet of a group of volunteers … We all knew who the vendor was going in,” McKinney said.

Scott and Mayor Mike Perros both said they did not.

“You got an email,” Conley said. “I don’t know why no one reads my email.”

Magistrate Jack Hendricks said he believed the project to be a continuation of Bluegrass IT’s previous work in the park.

“Other vendors don’t want to tackle it. It’s foolish to not continue what we’ve been doing for four years or more,” he said. “… How are we supposed to know what to pay now? If anyone can just say, ‘I’m not paying that.’”

Near the end of the ad hoc committee’s conversation, Perros said sometimes in business, there can be an “innocent oversight.”

“I know in my area of business, when you make an honest mistake like that, you disclose it, explain it, everyone says, ‘OK; We get it,’ and move on,” he said. Looking at Scott, Perros asked, “Is that an option for us?”

Scott agreed that a conversation could be had with Dexter.

“I don’t know what his response would be,” Scott said.

Advocate-Messenger Editor Ben Kleppinger contributed to this report.


The next meeting of the Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation Ad Hoc meeting will be 10 a.m. March 12.