Angela Harris, whose work as a consultant for the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. is examined in my story today, isn’t the only consultant to have received no-bid contracts from SEDC that were not discussed or approved by the agency’s board.
According to invoices and contracts, Herman Collins received more than $450,000 from SEDC for consulting work completed since 2000; transcripts from SEDC board meetings over that time indicate that most of those contracts weren’t discussed or approved by the SEDC board.
Collins has a close relationship with former SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith’s father, the Rev. George Walker Smith. At the same time Collins had the contracts, Rev. Smith rented an office from Collins and the two men worked together on a consulting contract unrelated to SEDC.
Between 2003 and 2008, Collins signed at least four contracts with SEDC for consulting services that were for more than $50,000. SEDC policy states that contracts of $50,000 or more must be approved by the board; the SEDC president has the authority to unilaterally enter into contracts worth less than $50,000, but those must be disclosed to the board.
One of Collins’ contracts was for $55,000, two more were for $70,000 and one was for $80,000. In all, Collins signed at least 13 contracts between 2000 and 2008, all of which were required to be disclosed to the SEDC board.
But minutes from SEDC board meetings between 2003 and this year state that Collins’ relationship with the agency came up only once, in February 2006. The minutes from that meeting do not show that the board discussed how much Collins would be paid or what work he would do for the agency.
Collins wouldn’t comment on why his contracts were not disclosed to the board before 2006. “I don’t get into SEDC issues,” he said.
He said that in 2006 SEDC decided to reexamine his relationship with the agency and put out a request for proposals for consulting and outreach work, which his firm won.
Prior to that point, Collins said, his relationship with SEDC had been on a sole-source basis, where he did not have to compete for his consulting contracts. The decision in 2006 to reevaluate that relationship and to put the consulting contracts out to bid followed best business practices, he said. The 2006 contract was disclosed to the board.
While he has been awarded contracts by Carolyn Y. Smith, Collins has had several ties to the Rev. George Walker Smith, the former SEDC president’s father.
Rev. Smith founded the Catfish Club, a civic discussion group, which is often hosted by Collins, and for which Collins volunteers. Rev. Smith also sub-leases an office in Collins’ offices, for which he pays Collins rent. And the two men have worked on at least one consulting project together.
Between April 2001 and June 2004, Rev. Smith worked as a sub-consultant on a consulting contract Collins signed with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. During those three years, Collins’ company, Collins Strategic Group, Inc., billed MWD for more than $340,000 for a project called the “Catfish Community Education Project.”
Over the same time period, The Collins Strategic Group billed SEDC more than $150,000.
Members of SEDC’s board and people involved in the redevelopment community in southeastern San Diego said, unlike Harris, Collins has been more active in his role as a redevelopment consultant for the agency.
Cruz Gonzalez said that as a board member, he never understood why Collins was employed by SEDC. But after serving briefly as SEDC’s de-facto leader after Smith left office earlier this year, Gonzalez said he began to understand Collins’ role better. Collins represents SEDC at various community meetings, Gonzalez said, and acts as a sort of ambassador for the agency in the community.
“I don’t doubt that Herman did what he was contracted to do,” Gonzalez said. “But what I still have to be convinced of is if that benefited the agency.”
But Gonzalez also said that while he was acting as SEDC’s leader recently after Carolyn Y. Smith left office, he signed a new $80,000 no-bid contract with Collins. He said he would be calling SEDC to see if they could “put the contract on hold” and check whether the contract should have been approved by the board before it was awarded.
Collins and Harris weren’t the only contractors who received contracts from Smith that weren’t disclosed to the SEDC board per agency requirements. According to a recent audit of the agency by Macias Consulting Group, Smith didn’t disclose any of the contracts that she entered into between 2005 and 2007 that were worth less than $50,000.
The auditors found that, in that time, SEDC had 71 companies providing professional and technical services valued at under $50,000.