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Ohio Jail Construction Corruption?

Questions arise as to whether a contract for the Franklin County jail renovation was legal. The county commissioners awarded the unbid contract in May 1995 to Voinovich-Sgro Architects, Inc., a subsidiary of the Voinovich Group, owned by Paul Voinovich, the brother to Governor George Voinovich. John Hay, a man who keeps his eyes on local officials, filed a complaint with the county prosecutor's office, charging the contract is illegal because it was not competitively bid as required in Ohio.

Assistant prosecutor Bill Shimp dismissed Hay's complaint, then retired. Shimp said that the contract was awarded to Voinovich-Sgro for an architect, not construction manager. Under Ohio law, architectural contracts do not have to be competitively bid. Hay said he was resubmitting the complaint to Shimp's successor, Jeff Glasgow, and requesting a special prosecutor.

The contract seems to have been awarded to a construction manager. Draw your own conclusions. County commissioners spokesman Gary Gudmundson wrote a memo to WCMH-TV that the commissioners awarded a "Construction Manager contract to Voinovich." In a May 4, 1995, purchase order, the county's director of public facilities management, Ron Neutzling, said the contract was for construction management. Also, in at least four other letters written in September 1995 to subcontractors for the project, Neutzling wrote: "The Voinovich Group is serving as construction managers on this project."

Another subsidiary of the Voinovich Group, Voinovich Cos., signed its contract with the county as "consultant to the architect." In 1992, Voinovich Cos. was ruled, by the Ohio Board of Examiners of Architects, to have violated the law by accepting contracts without an architectural license. Now the company is not allowed to represent itself as an architecture firm.

Voinovich Cos. name is on the jail renovation contract. Shimp said, "I have no idea why they signed 'the Voinovich Companies' at the bottom of that contract, because our contract's not with them." He said that Voinovich-Sgro is providing the architectural and design services, and that company is allowed to represent itself as an architect.

Regardless, Voinovich-Sgro is getting more than the county expected to pay. In 1994, the company was paid $17,500 by the county to estimate the construction costs of the jail renovation. The estimate was $5.4 million. The company's contract with the county entitled the company to 11 percent of the construction costs. ($591,250 of the $5.4 million estimate).

The construction bids were $3.6 million higher than estimated though, costing the county $9 million for the project. Voinovich-Sgro's fee was capped at $892,343, which is still $300,000 more than it would have received if its estimates would have been correct.

Chuck Hetman, the Voinovich organization's project manager says that the jail renovation project has no construction manager. Lewis Smoot Sr., CEO of Sherman R. Smoot Co., a construction company with experience in jail renovation, said, "in many cases, architects are providing services for construction management along with their architectural services." Assistant prosecutor Glasgow said, "architects do provide a lot of construction supervision. I can see how they'd get confused."

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