Friday, April 1, 2016

UPDATES: Ask the Times: Related parties at the University of Arkansas

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 9:53 AM

click to enlarge CHRIS WYRICK: UA advancement chief.
  • CHRIS WYRICK: UA advancement chief.
The decision this week by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees to bypass the administration's recommendation for a general contractor on a $160 million Razorback Stadium expansion project prompted  reader questions to the Arkansas Times.

UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, his vice chancellor for facilities and the athletic department recommended a joint venture including the Arkansas-based Nabholz Construction as project manager. They scored slightly higher among competing proposals than a joint venture with CDI Contractors of Little Rock as the local partner. Trustees John Goodson and Ben Hyneman argued successfully  to "spread around" the business. They came prepared with information that indicated Nabholz had done more UA projects in recent years — four of seven projects.

So now answers to the questions posed by a reader:

* UA Trustee Reynie Rutledge  is chair of the  UA Board and thus sits as ex-officio member of the Building and Grounds Committee, which first reviewed the stadium project. He is also a member of the board of directors of Dillard Department Stores. Dillard's owns CDI, which was formed to build department stores for the company, but has broadened its work considerably. He did not vote on the award of the general contractors work on the stadium, in either committee or before the full board. In November, Rutledge requested that he be recorded as abstaining from any votes dealing with CDI on account of his Dillard's role. He additionally asked to be shown as abstaining from any votes dealing with First Security Bank, which he heads, or Crews and Associates, which the bank owns. 

* William Dillard II, CEO of Dillard's, is  a member of the executive, campaign steering, and corporate and foundation relations committees for Campaign Arkansas, the current fund-raising drive for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

* Chris Wyrick, vice chancellor for university advancement (chief fund-raiser for UA), responded to a question for him through UA spokesman Mark Rushing. 

Chris Wyrick, the vice chancellor of the division of advancement, did go on a trip earlier this year with Bill Dillard, an executive member of the Campaign Arkansas steering committee. Mr. Dillard paid for a majority of the expenses. The construction management/general contracting related to future improvements to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium was not discussed between Mr. Dillard and Mr. Wyrick during the trip or at any other time. 
Rushing has said he'd attempt to get more details about the Wyrick-Dillard ski trip.

UPDATE: The trip was in Aspen in February. Wyrick stayed at Dillard's vacation home there and Dillard provided the transportation.

PS: Speaking of related parties. Another reader reports having attended a fund-raising reception  at Nabholz Construction offices in Conway for Judge Dan Kemp in his race for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.  You may recall Kemp defeated John Goodson's wife in that race.

UPDATE: A piece of mail arrived anonymously at my office this afternoon. It contains two spread sheets — one with construction projects awarded  the last 10 years at UA-Fayetteville and one with projects awarded the last 10 years in the UA System. I can't vouch for the accuracy, but it looks legitimate as to projects and dates. It shows CDI had 11 and Nabholz five projects at Faetteville between 2007 and now. Systemwide, CDI had 13 and Nabholz 11. Perhaps John Goodson needs to recheck his list indicating Nabholz favoritism.

Here's a spreadsheet with system projects. Here's a spreadhseet of Fayetteville projects.
UPDATE II: I sought comments from Hynemann and Goodson about the additional data. Goodson didn't respond. I heard from Hyneman April 4. He wrote:

Thanks for your inquiry and the additional information concerning construction projects in the UA system. It is my understanding that the information provided to us prior to the board meeting was prepared by the system personnel at the request of John Goodson. In reviewing the information you have provided, it also seems to show that in 2014 and 2015 that Nabholz had been awarded five (5) projects and CDI two (2).

I regret that much is being made of this issue. I emphasize that this is in no way a less than favorable reflection on the Nabholz organization or the work they perform. They enjoy a very good relationship with our various institutions and have an excellent business reputation. I am confident that they will continue to provide construction services to the components of the UA system in the future.

As a state supported institution, it has been my position as a trustee that after considering qualifications and costs, firms that are Arkansas based or provide substantial employment to Arkansans should be awarded contracts and those contracts should be distributed among the qualifying bidders. In this instance, it was my opinion that the evaluations of Nabholz and CDI were essentially equal, that CDI had been the number two qualifying firm in the original evaluations for this job in 2013, and that in recent times Nabholz had been awarded more contracts than CDI. I was told that the firms were both very qualified to perform the job and that either firm would be acceptable. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to make a motion for CDI to be awarded the contract.
Also worth noting is the April 3 editorial in the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Democrat-Gazette (not yet in the Little Rock edition) encouraging attention to David Pryor's questions about the project and the need for the athletic royalty to demonstrate the "compelling case" for the $160 million project.

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