Jacksonville State University may not have followed state law, according to auditors, when it awarded a no-bid construction contract to a company that had been clearing the campus of debris from the March 2018 tornado.
According to a report, released Friday by the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, the university paid the company in May 2018 $4.4 million for mitigation services and $8.2 million for construction services. By January, the company had billed for more than $52 million in construction work at 48 sites on campus, according to the report.
“The University exceeded the emergency provision of the public works law ... by awarding the no bid construction addendum which allowed the construction work to proceed for months after the emergency event occurred,” the report reads.
The auditors’ report is a regular examination of JSU required by state law at least once every two years. The finding about tornado-related construction is one of four specific instances in which the university may have been out of compliance with state law, according to the auditors.
In addition to the tornado-related work by ServPro of Birmingham, auditors found that work on JSU’s new baseball stadium included four change orders totaling $1.8 million, bringing the total cost of the project to $10.7 million. At least one of those change orders, according to auditors — increasing the number of suites to seven from four — may have been out of compliance with state law and an attorney general’s opinion requiring extra scrutiny of such changes.
The two other findings include a failure by JSU’s board of trustees to file minutes from meetings of its subcommittees and a failure by the university to properly advertise or require bonds on two unidentified public works projects before awarding contracts.
Attempts to reach the construction company, ServPro of Birmingham, were unsuccessful on Monday. An attempt to reach the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts was not immediately successful. Attempts to reach JSU administrators for comment about the audit report were also unsuccessful Monday.
According to state law, “awarding authorities” must advertise for sealed bids for three weeks before entering into a contract for any public works project that costs more than $50,000. Contracts may be awarded before then in the case of an emergency.
In the finding on tornado-related work, auditors recommended in the report that JSU use “competitive procedures,” to the extent possible when seeking to award emergency contracts.
Auditors also found that the school had paid ServPro for employee overtime that had been calculated on a daily basis instead of the weekly basis required in its agreement to clean up storm damage.
“This increased the cost billed to the University when employees worked in excess of 8 hours on a given day but did not work in excess of 40 hours in the applicable week.”
Auditors wrote in the report that the contract should have specified that the university had access to the company’s records, allowing the school to ensure that the terms of the contract were met.
The audit report comes less than six weeks after JSU’s trustees terminated John Beehler’s employment as president of the university. Trustees would not say why they’d chosen to part ways with Beehler, but before his departure had granted him a 90-day leave of absence, citing family medical reasons.
Some tornado-related recovery work at JSU is still in progress or waiting to begin. The university agreed in June to pursue arbitration with its insurance carrier, the state Finance Department, to settle a dispute over the value of the storm damage. JSU had earlier in the year agreed to borrow $34 million to finance a project to replace the now-demolished home of its business school and other recovery work while it waited for the settlement.