Ethics dispute over park project still unresolved

Published 6:00 am Friday, May 11, 2018

Parks & Rec gives refund check from city commissioner back to ad hoc committee

Like a boomerang, the conversation surrounding security camera work at Millennium Park just keeps coming back, and on Wednesday, the Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation Board voted to give a check to the Millennium Park capital improvements ad hoc committee for $2,298.31.

It’s the same check given to the board on Feb. 21 from Bluegrass I.T., the company that installed cameras at the park. Bluegrass I.T. is owned by Danville City Commissioner Rick Serres; he provided the refund check in an attempt to resolve ongoing debate surrounding whether or not his company should have been hired to do the work at the park and receive payment for it.

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The Parks & Rec board had not previously made any decisions regarding the check, other than to tell Parks & Rec Director John Drake not to cash it.

On Wednesday, however, Parks & Rec Chair Roger Ross made a motion to give the check to the ad hoc committee — a joint committee formed by Danville and Boyle County to oversee spending of additional capital funds on improvements at Millennium Park. The ad hoc committee meets on Monday, when it could decide what to do with the check.

“This check, this actual project, was approved by the ad hoc committee. This check is not our check. I know that he gave it to us; it’s not ours,” Ross said. “In my opinion, we give it back to (ad hoc) and let them decide what they want to do with it. If they want to give it back to us, that’s fine.”

Before Ross’ motion could be seconded, Danville City Commissioner Denise Terry, who attended the Parks & Rec board meeting, questioned Ross on why the board wanted to give the money to the ad hoc committee.

“This has bounced back and forth a couple of times,” she said.

“— I understand, but it’s not our check,” Ross said.

“—Just understand, that the ad hoc committee is probably going to cease at the end of June,” Terry said.

“I understand, but it’s not our check. It may be written to us, but it’s not our money,” Ross said. “I can’t in good faith take the check … One government body said it’s fine, one says it’s not.”

Ross said if the committee chose to return the money to the board, that would be fine; then he would be comfortable accepting it. But he was not comfortable doing so at the present moment.

Terry said, “I understand. I’m just saying, you’re on a timeline … Chances are, it’s going to bounce back to you. It’s kind a moot point to bounce it back and forth three or four times.”

Ross said the check, which had been given to them by Bluegrass I.T., had not been given to anyone else yet.

Drake said the most fair thing would probably be for the money to go to Boyle County, since it had paid its portion of the bill to Bluegrass I.T. But he agreed with Ross’ motion to allow the ad hoc committee to decide what to do with it.

Terry repeated her statements and said, “the ad hoc committee is probably going to cease to exist, whether it’s June or some future date and time. I thought they were going to make a decision last month, after they met … It just keeps bouncing back and forth, someone needs to make a decision. Ultimately, Rick’s going to pay the price here.”

Drake told Terry she had more information than he did. He said he knew the ad hoc committee had a “sunset,” but that date had been extended in the past.

Danville City Manager Ron Scott said Thursday that the current ad hoc committee sunsets on June 30 unless the city and county vote to extend its life.

Scott said even though Danville and Boyle County are planning to provide $50,000 apiece for Millennium Park improvements in the coming fiscal year, the ad hoc committee may not continue to exist. Instead, the soon-to-be-completed master parks study being paid for by Danville could produce a need for the city and county to have “broader conversation” about parks than is possible in the ad hoc committee, he said.

“I think a lot of good work has been done by that committee but it’s now probably time for a broader discussion to take place between the two legislative bodies,” Scott said Thursday.

At the Parks & Rec board meeting Wednesday, Ross’ motion to send the check back to the Ad Hoc Committee was seconded by board member Bryce Perry and unanimously passed.

The security camera project — what the check is all about — was initially planned by the ad hoc committee. However, City Manager Ron Scott expressed concerns as the project was underway about using a city commissioner’s business to complete the work. According to news archives, Drake said he believed the project was a continuation of one that began in 2014, before Serres became a commissioner, and therefore was permitted.

The work was stopped, but then ultimately completed. Boyle County Fiscal Court paid its portion of the bill and the Parks & Rec board covered the $3,800 that would have been up to the city to pay. Scott said he couldn’t approve that bill because he felt it was “inappropriate” and violated the city’s ethics ordinance.

According to the ethics ordinance, “No officer or employee of the city or any city agency shall directly or through others undertake, execute, hold or enjoy, in whole or in part, any contract made, entered into, awarded or granted by the city or a city agency.”

There are certain instances where that is permitted, Scott said previously. If an elected official held the contract prior to running for office, they can keep the contract, until time for renewal. For renewal of a contract or the beginning of any other contract, the work must be bid out.

The person with the conflict must disclose their conflict and must leave the room during the vote.

Scott has said he believes the ethics ordinance does not keep Bluegrass I.T. from working on the cameras at all, but rather that the projects must be bid out and only if the company is the best price for the work could it receive the contract.

“It would be possible to hire (Bluegrass I.T.) at that point, if the proper steps were followed,” Scott said previously. “It’s not an absolute prohibition against a city official having work with a city.”

When the check was given to Parks and Rec, Scott told The Advocate-Messenger that he felt if the check was accepted, the work would be a donation and therefore should pass muster with the ethics ordinance.

Amber Shartzer, administrative assistant for Parks & Rec, said the agency was also given two vouchers, each for 10 hours of work, to use in the event that the cameras needed further adjustments after completion and before a new vendor could be arranged.

Drake said Parks & Rec had been using the vouchers.

“We’re still tweaking it. We really haven’t finished all of it,” Drake said, explaining that there were adjustments being made to the system to ensure it worked most effectively. “We’re still fine-tuning that.”

Ross said he saw nothing wrong with letting Bluegrass I.T. complete the work that had already been paid for.

Shartzer said she had checked with another vendor, Sensera Systems in Danville, who sent her a quote for $100,259.20 in order to put in a system of their own.

“Every company’s going to want their own stuff that they’re using. They’re not going to want to come in and use a previous person’s camera, hardware and all of that,” she said.

Drake said he knew of other companies they could check with, too, but didn’t imagine it would be much less in price. He said he had also talked to an independent contractor who was interested in providing maintenance on the project and maintaining the existing equipment.

The board, Drake said, paid about $15,000 several years ago for a service, which was the one Bluegrass I.T. had replaced. The service with the prior company was “bad,” Drake said, and the company was not responsive to the park when they needed them. He said that was in 2014 and they checked with three others — one that was too expensive, one that ended up backing out and Bluegrass I.T.

“I didn’t know it was connected to Rick. At that point, he was not a commissioner. It was never any attempt to jump through a hoop,” Drake said. More than $20,000 over the years has been invested into the security camera project, he said.

Advocate-Messenger Editor Ben Kleppinger contributed to this report.