Invoices show same consultants billing Vero, Town of Indian River Shores

Update: An extended version of the following article ran in the Oct. 28 edition of our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963. Based upon or reporting, the Town of Indian River Shores on Thursday voted to delay payment of fees to GAI Consultants pending investigation of the potential conflict of interest. The motion to do so was made by Councilman Gerard Weick.The City of Vero Beach has already paid GAI for recent invoices, with payment being sent out on Oct. 21.

INDIAN RIVER SHORES — Despite official denials, not only the same consulting firm, GAI Consultants, but the same four professionals are advising the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach as they consider whether to enter into new water and sewer franchise agreements, according to invoices obtained by Vero Beach 32963.

In our Oct. 14 issue, we ran an article with the headline “Does conflict of interest stink?” which suggested that the fact that GAI Consultants was working for the City of Vero Beach and the Town of Indian River Shores – both potential parties to a new 30- year franchise agreement — seemed to pose a conflict of interest.

Former Shores Mayor Tom Cadden, who was appointed by the Town to head up efforts to explore options for the Town’s utility service, had asked for a correction of the story.

“There is no conflict because GAI is working on different issues for the city than they are for us,” Cadden had told us after the Sept. 23 Shores Council meeting. “And GAI is a big outfit, they have different people working on the different projects.”

“I think we better talk about your article about conflict of interest,” Cadden said in a subsequent voicemail message. “You have a mistake in there that needs to be corrected in the newspaper. You’ve got to correct the article. It’s wrong.”

But public records obtained by Vero Beach 32963 clearly show that our story was right on target.

The Principal Engineer on both cities’ projects is Gerald Hartman, who bills at a rate of $220 per hour and charged the City of Vero Beach $440 to analyze the Town of Indian River Shores water-sewer proposal, which he and his team drafted and sent to the city just days earlier.

Professional Engineer Manjiang Chen, Senior Designer Steven Holmes and Consultant Daniel Friedman also invoiced both the Town and Vero for time spent working on their projects.

At the last Indian River Shores Town Council meeting, Councilmen Gerard Weick and Mike Ochsner expressed their concerns about GAI’s seeming conflict of interest working for two parties to the same negotiation.

Cadden assured the Council that there was no conflict.

Meanwhile, GAI sent a proposal over to Indian River County that was so rife with legal pitfalls that the county did not even feel comfortable responding, for fear that it could be accused of trying to interfere with the Town’s existing franchise agreement with Vero, which expires Oct. 31, 2016. Instead, County Administrator Joe Baird sent a letter requesting the Town gain a release from Vero so it could broach the franchise topic with the county.

The Town has invited officials from both Indian River County and the City of Vero Beach to attend a workshop on the matter at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Town Hall.

The City of Vero Beach received its September invoice from GAI on Oct. 11 and it has already paid the firm the $7,525.00 that was due upon receipt. The invoice was recommended for approval by the Water and Sewer Department and paid on Oct. 21 by the Finance Department.

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