ROSWELL, Ga. — Mayor Lori Henry said she is hoping to receive the final report from the investigation into the circumstances that led to delays and cash settlements in the Oxbo Road realignment project by the end of the month.
While some in the community are calling for more transparency, Henry said in an email Sept. 1 she will continue to take a hands-off approach until the investigation is completed.
“As soon as I receive the final report from Jarrard & Davis (the law firm conducting the investigation), I will share it with the City Council and Roswell citizens,” Henry said.
Henry announced in February she was launching an independent investigation to find out why the project had fallen behind schedule. The delay forced the city into a $2.5 million settlement agreement with the White family who owned a hardware store at 685 Atlanta Street.
In 2017, Roswell paid the family $3 million for 0.36 acres of land containing right-of-way for the project and agreed to provide them with a pad-ready site to relocate their business on or by Oct. 25, 2020, a deadline the city failed to meet.
To date, Roswell has paid Jarrard & Davis $71,507.32 using funds from the city’s legal department, but it has shared few details about their findings. During a public hearing Aug. 30, Jason Yowell, a 25-year Roswell resident, asked the mayor and City Council why they had not released any interim reports from the investigation to the public.
Yowell is one of three candidates, including Henry, running for mayor in the Nov. 2 general election.
Kathy Baker, the mayor’s executive assistant, previously said the city had not requested interim reports from Jarrard & Davis, so they could not be released because they did not exist.
But an engagement letter from the law firm sent to Henry March 16 shows the investigators had offered to provide the city with interim reports. The Herald obtained a copy of the letter through an open records request.
“Upon completion of each of the phases of the investigation,” it states, “a detailed report will be prepared and presented to you to include a full synopsis and chronology of what occurred with respect to the progress of the project from its inception to the current and also recommendations for best practices for future projects.”
Henry said she told the law firm from the start the reports would not be necessary for several reasons.
“I knew the investigation was going to take time to complete because the Oxbo project dated back to 2006,” Henry said. “Interim reports were only going to slow down the timeline of my office receiving the final report. I wanted the investigation and the final report to be completed as quickly as possible.”
“I did not want to receive the report piecemeal,” she continued. “I wanted to receive the complete report once the whole investigation was completed with Jarrard & Davis’ findings and recommendations. I also did not want there to be the perception that I was, in any way, trying to influence or interfere in the investigation. I have taken a hands-off approach to this process, and I have let them conduct their investigation. I am looking forward to receiving their final report.”
According to the engagement letter, Jarrard & Davis were not given a deadline to complete the investigation but had “an internal goal” of completing it in May, depending on the availability of materials and witnesses.
Henry said she received a letter in May informing her the firm would not meet the May deadline goal. The engagement letter states Jarrard & Davis charges Roswell an hourly rate of $250 for attorney services and an hourly rate of $100 for paralegal services.
The project is being reviewed in three phases.
Phase one consists of investigators reviewing documents from the Roswell Department of Transportation, Clerk of Court, Human Resources director and more.
In phases two and three, investigators are interviewing both internal and external parties involved in the project.
Still, Yowell is asking for more transparency. He said he believes the project was delayed due to a series of bad planning, bad contracts and bad oversight.
“It seems to me you’re approaching governance here as hear no evil, see no evil, and we’ll have the final report after the election, thank you very much,” Yowell said. “This is unacceptable. There should be interim reports. These interim reports should have been shared with Council and yet what do we have? Nothing. A lot of talk, a lot of money. I can’t believe you spent $71,000.”
Neither Henry nor members of the City Council responded to comments following the open forum, but Henry said in August that the investigation was in its final stages.
“I am committed to finding the answers so that the city does not have similar delays with future projects,” Henry said.
Overall, the Oxbo Road realignment project is supposed to eliminate the staggered intersection at Ga. 9 and convert the portion of the Oxbo Road near Mimosa Boulevard into a two-way street. It should also provide a traffic signal and new turning lanes on Ga. 9 and Oxbo Road.