A longtime Portland bureaucrat has been put on paid administrative leave as the result of a city audit into a Bureau of Environmental Services building project that went out of control.
BES director Dean Marriott was sent home Tuesday because of the $11.5 million services building that opened this spring at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The audit was triggered by stories in WW and on KOIN-TV that revealed the building tripled in cost without any debate by the Portland City Council.
The audit found BES failed to verify the credentials of the building's design contractor, Skylab Architecture, and kept the City Council in the dark about the project's growing scope.
"Projects funded by taxpayers or ratepayers require a higher level of vigilance, transparency, and stewardship," City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade writes. "City managers were remiss on all three counts."
When Commissioner Dan Saltzman rejected further increases to Skylab's fee in 2013, BES went around him and paid the contractor another $95,581 anyway.
Commissioner Nick Fish, who now oversees BES, has asked the Barran Liebman law firm to conduct an outside investigation.
"They sort of jump off the page," Fish says of the audit's findings. "The findings on this project trouble me greatly. If the bureau is not transparent with the Council, then the Council cannot do its job."
Marriott, BES director since 1994, makes $199,160 a year. He tells WW he expects the investigation will clear him and the bureau.
"I do welcome all the facts coming out," Marriott tells WW. "There's a lot in the audit that I think is incorrect. I hope that when the facts come out, people will see that the record is clear."
KOIN-TV first reported the building's increased price tag in March. Records obtained by WW in April showed how the city turned what was supposed to be a utilitarian office building, originally estimated at $3.2 million, into a "poster-child facility" for wastewater engineers in North Portland.
Fish responded in May to WW's report by mandating that any BES and Water Bureau spending over $500,000 be discussed by City Council. He also asked Griffin-Valade to audit the project.
Among the findings released today in the audit: Skylab Architecture won the contract to design the building by highlighting experience with another office building that was never finished.
The audit says BES managers approved a design so ornate and inadequate that it required 85 change orders during construction, mostly to fix design problems like the ecoroof covered in wetland grasses.
"The warranty on the steep roof required adding soil barriers to prevent wet soil from sliding off," the audit says. "A less-steep roof design may not have needed these additions. Adding the barriers during construction cost the city $30,000."
The audit also highlights Skylab Architecture hiring a BES design project manager while still under city contract. The hiring was first reported in May by KOIN.
"The contractor [Skylab] was prohibited from hiring any city employee who participated in awarding the contract," the audit says. "For eight months, BES allowed the employee to continue as design project manager while working for the design contractor at the same time."
In his written response to the audit, Marriott says the project grew more expensive because of additional security and roads, an earthquake-resistant emergency operations center, and a public meeting space. "These are [a] long-lasting investment to this critical public facility," Marriott writes.
Fish is making the announcement of the steps he's taking in a letter going out to BES employees today.
"Given the gravity of the issues raised in the audit, I have placed Dean Marriott on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the outside investigation," Fish writes. "Jim Hagerman will serve as acting bureau director."
Marriott was hired by then-City Commissioner Mike Lindberg to head BES in 1994. He oversaw the Big Pipe project, a $1.4 billion series of huge sewer pipes that mostly prevent raw sewage from spilling into the Willamette River.
But Marriott also took criticism for the cost of construction projects. In 1996, then-Commissioner Charlie Hales told WW that Marriott's department had become the "Bureau of Excessive Spending."
In 2005, then-Mayor Tom Potter asked Marriott to resign, while forcing out three other bureau chiefs. Marriott refused to resign, and Potter couldn't make him leave because he had civil-service protection that meant he could be fired only for cause.
WW staff intern Dakota Smith contributed reporting to this story.