|Augusta Attorney Jim Plunkett|
May, 30, 2012
By Al Gray
Veteran Augusta attorney Jim Plunkett has found himself at the epicenter of the controversy over the City of Augusta’s TEE Center and Parking Deck contracts since January. Commissioners blasted him with suggestions that he be fired, questions about his ability and even hints that suspect his work. How did such a mild-mannered lawyer find himself in this mess? Does he deserve to be under fire? What caused the uproar?
There were so many questions the answers for which are not in the public domain and empathy from reading the morass of legal documents that existed before Mr. Plunkett was brought on board by Augusta as its outside counsel, that this writer decided to meet with him to explore these questions. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle graciously facilitated the meeting in mid-March, which occurred in the offices of the Shepard, Plunkett, Hamilton & Boudreaux, LLP firm to negotiate, draft, and have executed the documents for the new Trade Center and the associated parking decks.
The primary objective was to see where the City stands with regard to the unexecuted TEE Construction, Operating and Reciprocal Easement (CORE) agreement that the Augusta Commission authorized and directed Mayor Deke Copenhaver to execute in December 2009. The CORE agreement is a critical piece of the legal work, as it sets forth the basic terms of the partnership agreement between the City and TEE Center Manager, Augusta Riverfront, LLC. This CORE agreement is in the process of being finalized as the City elected to have as-built surveys done once construction is complete, rather than chance changes as the project was prosecuted. Mr. Plunkett explained that set-backs between the various parcels underlying the TEE center were a complication that he and the City sought to either avoid or handle in the final CORE agreement.
We discussed the challenges of having a smaller firm like Shepard Plunkett tasked with having to revise hundreds of pages of legalese on the various tracts under the TEE Center, parking deck, and particularly, the existing Conference Center. These legal agreements first arose with the initial conference center agreement in 1989 and were revised in 1998, with the expansion of the conference center at that time.
Whatever one’s position on the wisdom and viability of building the TEE Center, they should understand that Jim Plunkett was tasked with the unenviable tasks of cobbling together enforceable and defensible legal agreements in conformity with the myriad ownership arrangements, funding sources, and negotiations agreed to by the City Administrator. City counsel has little or no exposure to how existing agreements and construction contracts are being directed and coordinated while this legal work is being completed. Those things are the duties of the City Administrator and the city’s program manager, Heery International.
We activists at Augusta Today and CityStink.net appreciate the difficulty and complexity of the legal tasks. Too many harsh words and hinted accusations were made during the Reynolds Street Parking Deck controversy. There are plenty of valid criticisms of that project, but we hope to keep them focused on policy not personalities going forward.
Jim Plunkett has expressed the intention to work with the commissioners to draft as good of a document as possible for the City. As the TEE Center CORE, management, catering, and room block agreements move closer to commission consideration, we trust that getting access to the draft agreements with sufficient time to evaluate them will go far toward alleviating misunderstandings. Going forward it is our desire at Augusta Today and CityStink.net to provide helpful input into having effective operating controls implemented.
Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to meet and review many of the complications with the TEE Center project.***
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