Peyton Wants to Change the Way Jacksonville Handles Contracts; City Official's Arrest Led Mayor to Act

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

Mayor John Peyton plans to change the way Jacksonville monitors its contracts with vendors and handles change orders in some of those contracts.

The move for changes comes less than a year after the city's chief of public buildings was arrested on a bid-tampering charge. Billy Watson was accused in March of accepting bribes in exchange for renewing some city janitorial contracts. The criminal case is still pending.

Peyton said that highly publicized arrest, along with reports of city contracts being dramatically increased after the competitive bid process is complete, led him to want change.

City attorney Tony Zebouni, who specializes in procurement and construction law, led an internal review of the city's purchasing policies.

Watson was the head of a division with a $24.9 million budget and oversaw the city's landscaping, maintenance, janitorial and security contracts for 420 public buildings. He is accused of accepting payments of between $1,000 and $2,000 each month from a janitorial service, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

In Watson's position, he had the power to extend some contracts at his own discretion.

The Department of Procurement in June added another layer of scrutiny of city contracts for janitorial and other services. Now options for renewals must be put in writing and get the approval of the General Government Awards Committee.

Procurement director Devin Reed said it's hard to say if the change could have prevented allegations such as the ones against Watson, but it would have made sure more people were looking at the contracts.

Other professional service contracts already have to be reviewed by another city group, the Professional Services Evaluation Committee.

Other issues that haven't yet been dealt with include monitoring and streamlining change orders on city contracts and including contingency in those contracts.

Zebouni looked at city construction contracts -- except Better Jacksonville Plan projects -- since 1994. He said the value of those contracts was about $574. …