Only a few of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority members present at the November 17 quarterly meeting knew when they sat down at the table that they were about to get a $6 million slap in the face. It’s a slap that may be amended in the near future, though, as the bridge’s executive director said on Wednesday, Nov. 23, that the costs may have already been taken down to $15 million.
The news that the replacement bridge budget has gone over by that amount was not taken well by members of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority Board at their annual quarterly meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17. Their shock was compounded by a change in the agenda, at the request of Chairman Jerry Lusk, who asked that other business, such as Executive Director Jim Cooper’s contract and bonus negotiations, be put before the $6 million announcement that virtually no one was aware of yet.
Once the meeting began and a few matters of minor business were concluded, Lusk announced that the meeting would be skipping ahead of the published agenda to the Finance and Administration/Governance Committee updates, and returning later to the announcement of the low bid firm for the fixed bridges. During the rest of the regular business of the meeting, a recommendation was made that Cooper’s contract be extended four years beyond its current January 15, 2013 expiration. When the option to renew annually that is in the current contract was raised, Cooper stated that the bridge replacement project is a four-year project, and that he wants the assurance of those four years.
He also stated that while the annual renewal is in the contract, the four-year extension was what was on the table. The offer, he said, was from him to the board, not vice versa. The board approved the extension unanimously.
Next on the agenda was Cooper’s annual review. While it was a common theme that a new review form needs to be designed, Cooper received top marks. The board debated the amount of his merit performance bonus, which was 8 percent last year, for several minutes. Some concern was expressed over awarding too high a bonus, especially in the current economy. Eventually, a majority of 4-1 members voted to approve a 12 percent 2011 bonus, with David Hayes the only dissenter. Hayes had suggested a 9 percent bonus.
At the end of the meeting the discussion of the fixed bridge bids was broached. Information that the bids were far and away from the bridge consultant’s projections had been known by those who opened the bids on Thursday, Nov. 10, and those who attended the two closed meetings, which were also held on the morning of the quarterly meeting, November 17.
When asked why the agenda had been suddenly changed, when some members of the Authority were already aware that the finance conversation would take much longer than anticipated, Cooper said it was Lusk’s suggestion just that morning.
“Jerry sets up the agenda,” Cooper explained. “He mentioned to me that he felt, because the amount of discussion there was going to be, that it was better to save it for the end of the meeting. He was afraid if there was an hour or more of discussion prior to the other items, it would be difficult to concentrate on the other matters at hand, which were very important, too.”
He added, “We already have the price down to somewhere around $15 million right now. We had a meeting yesterday (November 22) with the low bidder, and they found $1 million in ways to help save money. It’s already been reduced. We plan to get back together with them next week, and I believe we can find some more savings on more items. Where we end up, I really don’t know. We’re hoping to get the cost down to $14, or maybe a little lower. I suspect if it gets down to a reasonable point they may bid the whole package, or the board could decide to throw the bids out entirely if they don’t accept it.”
The basics of the $6 million discrepancy are these:
In other board business:
The next GIBA meeting will be for the engineering committee, and will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. in the GIBA adminstration office. The following day, a special board meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. in the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium.
Meetings are also scheduled for January 12 and February 15.
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