Lawyer alleges Chatham transit CEO firing a violation of whistleblower act

Passengers prepare to board a Chatham Area Transit bus that will drive to the bus stop.

Nine days prior to her resignation by the Chatham Area Transit board of directors, former CAT CEO and Executive Director Bacarra Mauldin alerted the board to a violation of both CAT procurement policy and federal procurement regulations. The violations both result from a call for proposals (RFP) for legal services.

Mauldin’s report contributed to her dismissal, alleges Mauldin’s attorney Edward Buckley of Buckley Beal Law Firm in Atlanta, violating the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act, OCGA § 45-1-4.

The CAT Board did not disclose what prompted Mauldin’s dismissal, despite CAT Board Chairman Deidrick Cody describing the dismissal as “without cause,” meaning she did not violate the terms of her employment contract.

More:Bacarra Mauldin, CEO of Chatham Area Transit, has been fired from the board

In a February 2 letter to the CAT board, Buckley, along with the whistleblower’s allegation, also questioned Tabitha Odell’s participation in the board vote to end Mauldin.

On Tuesday, in response to an earlier request from the Georgia Attorney General, Chatham District Attorney Jonathan Hart stated that Odell’s appointment to the board during the January 15 Chatham Commission meeting did not come about as previously thought.

Odell agreed to the motion to dismiss Mauldin during the January 26 meeting.

“Because of these concerns, we request that Ms. Mauldin be immediately reassigned to her position as CEO with full compensation and benefits. Otherwise, we will bring a breach of contract to the Chatham County Supreme Court under the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act, seeking declaratory and injunction, back payment, benefits and all other damages permitted by law, ”Buckley said in a statement.

If Mauldin is not reinstated, her termination could cost Chatham County’s taxpayers $ 92,500, as set out in her employee agreement, which was released this week.

Request for legal services

Mauldin’s potential whistleblower lawsuit relates to the termination of a Savanah-based law firm last November. According to a “Call for Proposal Notice” available on the CAT website, the Board of Directors awarded Bouhan Falligant LLP a legal services contract on November 17, 2020 after publishing an RFP in August.

The agenda package for the November 17 meeting contained documents showing that Jackson Lewis law firm was number one in the RFP process and Bouhan Falligant was fourth.

The motion to award the contract to Bouhan Falligant was passed 5: 3 with Michael O’Halloran, who made the motion, Chatham Commissioner Helen Stone, who supported the motion, Cody, and then board members Odell and Pete Liakakis, voting in favor. Odell’s term expired at the end of the year and Liakakis resigned from the board at the same time.

Board members Clinton Edminster, Detric Leggett and Gertrude Robinson cast the three votes against. Then member Jay Jones was absent.

According to Buckley’s letter, Mauldin issued a written decision on the RFP price that was final and binding on the agency. Mauldin reviewed CAT’s procurement policy as well as applicable federal regulations and found that a protest filed by Jackson Lewis was valid and should be confirmed.

“Consistent with her authority, she placed the contract with Jackson Lewis, PC. Upon finding that the board was in breach of CAT procurement guidelines when making its decision,” Buckley said.

More:Chatham Area Transit bus driver, union “stunned” by termination of CEO

The November 17 minutes of the meeting show that some officials questioned the legality of the contract award to Bouhan Falligant, rather than accepting Jackson Lewis’s proposal, which two reviewers who were lawyers from outside the Savannah area had identified as the first choice .

Bacarra Sanderson Mauldin

“I don’t know exactly the best process, but my reading of the regulations (Federal Transit Administration) is that the board can reevaluate an award,” said David Stearns, CAT chief administrative officer, to the board after the question was raised can reevaluate based on the criteria specified in the RFP. My understanding of what a board can do can be rejected and accepted. You can send it back for re-evaluation or rate it yourself using the same criteria. ”

More:Former CEO of Chatham Area Transit, Mauldin, alleges mismanagement of funds and violations of the board

At the time, then board member Odell asserted several times during the November 17 meeting that it was a conflict of interest for Jackson Lewis to get the contract because they were already serving with the agency and attending the meetings.

More:Chatham Area Transit chairman talks about the resignation of the CEO and plans a special meeting

Stearns noted that the Bouhan Falligant representative did the same things and that the open discussions would not prevent any vendor from winning an order.

More:Chatham County is informed by the Attorney General of potential open session violations

Odell asked Stearns if Jackson was Lewis Mauldin’s personal attorney and if they had had internal meetings. Stearns wasn’t sure about a personal relationship with Mauldin, but said that both Jackson Lewis and Bouhan Falligant had internal meetings, which, in turn, wouldn’t rule out a salesperson getting a job.

Alleged violations

According to Buckley, Mauldin also alerted the board to a secondary concern that CAT did not charge attorney fees for services rendered to federal government-funded federal grant projects.

“She advised the CAT to procure its legal services in accordance with federal regulations.” She noted that the selection of Bouhan Falligant, LLP’s board of directors, without the use of evaluation sheets containing the written evaluation criteria set out in the RFP, would violate federal procurement regulations and prevent them from collecting legal fees for federally funded projects . “Buckley said.

More:Odell is not yet on the CAT board of directors, says the attorney. shouldn’t have voted on firing the CEO

The Response Section of the RFP states that CAT reserves the right to refuse any response, part or part of an answer, to forego technical details, and to award any or all of the contract in a manner that is in the best interests of CAT lies. Contracts will be awarded to the highest rated applicant when it is in CAT’s best interest.

The initial RFP period was between August 27 and September 29, but reopened October 19-22 to meet the criteria for evaluating advertising previously approved by the board. New contributions were welcomed and previous proposals could be modified.

More:The Chatham Area Transit Board of Directors appoints the interim CEO

The ranking of the RFP assessment criteria is based on 30% of professional qualifications to provide the service required, including professional experience and technical competence. 30% of previous achievements in terms of quality of work and experience in working with transit agencies; 20% to the ability to meet CAT’s representational needs; 10% on disadvantaged companies and 10% on the price proposal.

According to the minutes of the November 17th meeting, Jackson Lewis scored 84 points; Hunter Mclean, 79 points; Townsend Lockett (78.5 points) and Bouhan Falligant (76.5 points).

Chatham Area Transit's new CEO / Executive Director, Bacarra Sanderson Mauldin (center left), speaks to the trainees alongside Chatham County Commissioner and CAT Board Member James

Mauldin also noted that CAT must have written procurement standards from the Federal Transit Administration and that Buckley says it is a public transportation agency that receives taxpayer money.

More:“I was a target”: Former CEO of Chatham Area Transit speaks after the resignation

“Because the Board of Directors did not follow CAT’s procurement guidelines and federal regulations when awarding the contract to Bouhan Falligant LLP, Jackson Lewis’ protest must be upheld to protect CAT and the Board of Directors from legal liability, public trust and CAT to enable it to maximize its federal funding potential. My resolve on this matter is not the easiest for me but the best for CAT and the Board of Directors, ”reads an excerpt from Mauldin’s testimony in the February 2nd letter.

Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact them at [email protected] Twitter: KmartSMN