Mentor-Protege Program Used to Pay Councilman Doesn’t Exist

January 11, 2016

Investigative Reports

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Payoff

Newman paid for work with firm he oversaw contracts with at CMRTA, City

In the latest revelations surrounding the unfolding penny tax scandal in Richland County, a then-sitting Columbia City Councilman who pleaded guilty last week for failing to file income tax returns for two years has received $82,000 in payments over the past year from the penny tax’s Program Development team under the guise of a county program that doesn’t exist.

A story in Saturday’s edition of The State newspaper described a 2014 contract between engineering firm Davis & Floyd and then-councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman that has paid him $82,325 thus far, including $38,000 up front, as part of the county Office of Small Business Opportunity’s mentor-protege program, the story reported. “The payments are billed through the Richland County Office of Small Business Opportunity’s mentor-protege program, according to the documents,” it read.

No payments could have been processed through the Office of Small Business Opportunity, however, because the mentor-protege program only exists on paper and has yet to be created, The Nerve has confirmed.

“There is no mentor-protege program in effect at this time with Richland County,” Richland County spokeswoman Beverly Harris said Monday morning. “It does not exist. It may in the future, but it does not right now.

“When it does, the intent is that it’s simply a matchmaking tool. No funds would be involved, and no funds currently go through the Office of Small Business Opportunity.”

Even had the mentor-protege program existed as described, it would have been the county who appointed potential mentors and proteges, not the PDT. Harris said any possible mentor-protege program would pair like businesses with like businesses rather than, say, an engineering firm (Davis & Floyd) with an attorney learning to do legal title work he had no experience doing (Newman).

“The intent is to pair like industries,” Harris said. “A large cement company would be paired with a small cement company. But if I’m a cement business and you’re a flower shop, you would not be matched up.”

Attempts to reach Stephen L. Davis, president and CEO of Davis & Floyd, and David Beaty of ICA, who is the PDT program manager, were not successful.

In a review of official Richland County Council minutes, the only time mention is made of a mentor-protege program is from an April 28, 2015, special called meeting revealed county council gave unanimous approval to develop, in six months time, a mentor-protege program. That date indicates it would have begun, at the earliest, in October 2015. The contract including the mentor-protege language between Davis & Floyd and Newman was signed into effect in November 2014.

The relationship between Davis & Floyd and Newman is significant. As part of his Columbia City council seat, Newman served on the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority’s COMET Board of Directors as its chairman. As such, he oversaw contracts and was in a position to award work to Davis and Floyd. Davis & Floyd also performed work for the City of Columbia (Three Rivers Greenway Riverwalk) while Newman was on council.

A call to Missy Lawlor with the CMRTA confirmed that Davis & Floyd is under contract with the CMRTA and has been for some time, including during Newman’s tenure up to the present. A copy of the contract between Davis & Floyd and the CMRTA was requested but has not yet been received by The Nerve.

Davis & Floyd also has an interesting relationship with the PDT. Back in January 2014, Davis & Floyd was a key part of the initial bid-winning PDT team (along with ICA Engineering; Brownstone Construction Group; Campbell Consulting; Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung and Grice & Associates) in a vote that immediately (and successfully) was protested by Columbia-based Civil Engineering Consulting Services (CECS).

CECS had received the highest marks in thorough, independent scoring by Richland County staff and the public Transportation Penny Advisory Committee (TPAC) and had been presented by both to council as the unanimous No. 1 choice.

When it lost, CECS appealed. John Schmidt was the attorney for CECS in that action.

“The county violated its own ordinance when it selected ICA the first time,” Schmidt told The Nerve Sunday of the closed-door vote that chose Team ICA, which was the third-ranked bidder, over CECS. “It begs the question why would county council override the number-one bidder presented by staff and TPAC and thoroughly vetted and go to the number-three choice? It made no sense then and smelled, frankly.”

The winning bid was rescinded and voting was re-opened, but by this time ICA had dropped Davis & Floyd as a managing PDT partner and combined its bid with losing bidder M.B. Kahn and original partner Brownstone Construction Group (which is one-third owned by Darrell Campbell, who subsequently won a $1.5 million contract from the PDT).

With a pared-down team featuring a more local focus (though while ICA is based in Tennessee, while Hussey Gay Bell & DeYoung and Grice are both headquartered in Georgia), ICA won again.

“At that point, it wasn’t worth it for us to fight anymore,” Schmidt said. “I hate to see what has happened since.”

Reached Sunday, Newman’s attorney Bakari Sellers declined to comment on the PDT contract with Newman until he had more time to review how the language for a non-existent program was used to pay his client using penny tax funds.

“Really, we have no comment at this time about the mentor-protege program,” Sellers said. “I hate telling reporters that, I truly do, but I really don’t know enough myself to say anything about it until I learn more.”

Reach Aiken at 803-254-4411 or email him at ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC