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Tobar chided by commissioners for use of engineer

Grady County commissioners took issue with Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar Tuesday night for his repeated use of a consulting engineer on county projects.
During a discussion of a proposed rehabilitation of Old 179 north of Whigham on Tuesday night, commissioners pressed Tobar for his justification for bringing in an engineer on the project.
In his briefing of commissioners Tuesday, Tobar said that consulting engineer Stacy Watkins was working on estimates for extending culverts on each side of the highway and at one crossing to replace five pipes underneath the road with a new culvert.
According to the county administrator, Watkins is proposing extending the culverts six feet on each side. “It’s not going to be a cheap project,” Tobar said.
Commissioner Charles Norton questioned the need for involving an engineer on the project and asked how much Watkins was being paid.
According to Tobar, Watkins is not charging to prepare the engineer’s estimates for the project. He also said that in order to apply for grants to assist with the funding an engineer’s estimate would be required.
Norton also questioned the need to replace pipes with a culvert when the pipes accommodate the flow of stormwater 98 percent of the time.
“Why would you want to spent $300,000 to $500,000 on culverts if those pipes serve the purpose?” Norton asked.
The Dist. 3 commissioner said that the six percent engineering fee on top of the cost of the culverts was coming out of taxpayers’ money.
“We’ve never had an engineer on projects like this up until a year and a half ago,” Norton said, which is approximately the length of time Tobar has been administrator.
“It’s turned out we have an engineer on anything that comes down the line. He’s making a good salary off of us and I don’t blame him if he can get it,” Norton said.
Tobar admitted that installing longer pipe would be a fraction of the cost of a new culvert. However, he also said that the cost of extending the existing culverts would be an expensive project.
Road Superintendent Stanley Elkins estimates there are 20 to 25 crossings with either culverts or pipe under the section of road to be rehabilitated.
Norton asked the road superintendent if water had ever gone across the road where the engineer was suggesting replacing five pipes with a new culvert and Elkins said only once when Tropical Storm Faye came through.
“You’re talking about taking out good pipes and putting in high priced culverts. I’ve got an issue with that,” Norton told Tobar.
Chairman T.D. David suggested that Tobar should have invited Watkins to the meeting to defend his recommendations.
“We need to decide if we use him or not. We got by a long time without him and these extra costs. If Stanley can’t connect a culvert then we need to get someone who can,” Commissioner Elwyn Childs said.
“That makes me nervous. We have a lot of projects we are working on here and they are similar to ones I worked on when I was in California and working without a civil engineer would make me very nervous,” Tobar responded.
“How did we get by all these years then Carlos?” Commissioner Norton asked.
Tobar suggested he could share more behind closed doors and Chairman David suggested the conversation be continued in a closed session.
County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley said that such discussions would not be permissible under Georgia law.
“You cannot discuss that in closed session. Mr. Watkins is not a county employee,” Cauley said.
Tobar then pointed out that due to the abundance of current projects he needs the extra help that Watkins provides.
Vice Chairman LaFaye Copeland asked Tobar how he intended to pay for the Old 179 project and the county administrator said the only way was to seek alternative sources of funding.
Childs questioned why an engineer was needed when the road already exists and the areas where crossings are needed have long ago been identified.
Commissioner Billy Poitevint agreed and said, “we are talking about widening and resurfacing a road. The road is already there. You don’t need an engineer to resurface a road and the culverts are already there. They just need to be widened.”
Tobar again noted that when applying for grants an engineer’s estimates are a requirement of the majority of grants.
Chairman David asked if Tobar was seeking any action from the commission and Tobar said he was only updating the board on the project and was not seeking any action.
In other business Tuesday night, the board:
Heard an update from Tobar that work on the fisheries plan at Tired Creek Lake was slated to begin Dec. 1 under the direction of the Bill Dance Signature Lakes group. He also said that the Department of Natural Resources currently has the fish for the lake in the state’s hatcheries.
Learned that Tobar will be requesting the Department of Transportation mitigate an off-site detour for the Hwy. 112 bridge replacement project by paving approximately nine miles of Ridge Road, which he said will be used by motorists detouring the Sapp Creek bridge during the bridge replacement. According to Tobar, the bridge project will be let in August 2015 and it will take four to six months to complete so it should be completed by summer 2016. Commissioner Norton suggested the board go to Atlanta to meet with the DOT commissioner on the mitigation proposal.
Took no action on a request from Doug Taylor to begin parking his Vietnam-era helicopter on county owned property located at 1309 U.S. Hwy. 84 East.
Heard an update on the county’s 2013 audit. According to Tobar, he has been presented the draft copy and he is working on the management portion of the audit currently. Chairman David suggested the board schedule a worksession to review the audit before approving it. The county has been granted an extension by the state until Dec. 31, 2014 to submit the audit for 2013.

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