City Should be More Proactive on Siemens Oversight

Nearly four months ago, Jackson's Director of Public Works Kishia Powell brought the Siemens water-meter project to a screeching halt when one of her deputies discovered a major mistake that had the potential to cost water customers thousands of dollars in erroneous charges.

For critics of the $91 million Siemens contract, the stoppage was a welcome respite from the project, which has remained under intense scrutiny since its inception for its sheer scope and price tag.

Could the City of Jackson terminate the contract? Could we sue to get some of the money back for taxpayers? Could we renegotiate the contract to get a better deal?

So far, none of that has happened despite the fact that a close look ("Troubled Water Parts I and II" at jfp.ms/water) raises question about whether the Siemens contract is nowhere near the sweet deal the city was sold on in 2012. Scores of government officials and citizens now also agree.

Yet, from the beginning Siemens has been in almost complete control. The contract is by design so incredibly complicated that the City has been at the mercy of Siemens' representatives; Powell even urged the City to hire a consultant to interpret the document because no one on the City's payroll fully understood.

Part of that is because of the shortcomings in the original agreement, the negotiations of which are murky. Making matters worse, the City also failed to set aside funds for a project manager to protect the city's interests. Now, nearly three years later and under the weight of myriad budget pressures, the city may be past the point of no return on hiring a project manager, which can cost upward of $10 million.

It's worth noting (and applauding) that it was Powell's deputy, Jerriot Smash, who is filling the role of Siemens project manager, who found the bad water meters that led to the shutdown.

The result of failing to have a project manager is that we now have a project that is less than half complete but is 80 percent paid for.

Last week, Siemens and the City announced that the company had addressed concerns sufficiently enough to restart the water-meter replacement project, an announcement that met with consternation across the city. But with about half of the work on the meter project remaining, the City must be aggressively proactive in overseeing the remaining $20 million.

As Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester told us this week, if the City can spend millions on out-of-town consultants, certainly the council and Mayor Tony Yarber can find a way to help staff up the public-works department.

We must take back control from Siemens, and take charge of our financial destiny.


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