TOP Trails board to hammer out new agreement with PSG
by Jim Smothers
TALLADEGA COUNTY — After a 20-minute executive session with their attorney, TOP Trails board members agreed to hold talks to redefine the scope of work to be done by C.D. Roberts Associates in developing the park. The board also agreed to only pay the firm a five percent fee for grant administration and stop paying billed hours for other work.

Board chairman Tommy Spears and board member Buster Taylor agreed to meet with representatives of Roberts Associates and attorneys of both entities to reach an agreement on moving forward.

One complication of the meeting will be the absence of Roberts. Roberts was an original member of the board, but resigned to take the contract to develop the park. The Alabama Ethics Commission gave approval to the arrangement with the provision that Roberts not have direct contact with the board for two years. A couple of months remain on that provision.

Board members Spears, Taylor, Mack Ferguson, Gary Steed and Joey Cooper met with attorney Charlie Gaines before returning to the meeting. Ferguson made the motion to appoint two board members to meet with Roberts Associates to work out differences and to start as soon as possible. Steed offered the motion on stopping payment of billed hours, “The PSG (Professional Services Group) is reduced to zero billable hours until this is sorted out,” he said. The motion passed with Ferguson abstaining.

George Monk of Anniston, attorney for the PSG, addressed the board before their executive session. He acknowledged their legal right to end their contract with Roberts. Monk pointed out that the PSG was serving as a role of project manager, not simply as the grant writer for the project, and noted that the park is barely a third of the way through a ten-year development plan.

“When money gets tight, people start pointing fingers and placing blame. Sometimes that wrecks the project,” he said. He also noted that the board had some employees in place who might be able to pick up some of the work the PSG has been performing.

“Nothing has to happen right here today,” he said. He added that the park is “a wonderful undertaking, but a huge undertaking. My personal belief is we need to sit down and, maybe, re-scope duties.”

Earlier in the meeting the board approved payment of two invoices to the PSG. One for $6,243.62, primarily for billed hours at $67.50 per hour. The other, $5,156, is the five percent grant administration fee for a $103,119.95 grant reimbursement that has been applied for, but not received.

The board is also awaiting checks for $319,012.53 from ADECA as reimbursement from grants for expenses already incurred on park development projects.

PSG representative Leah Reddick said she anticipates receiving those checks in three weeks.

That would enable the board to completely pay down its line of credit at First National Bank and then draw on it again for the board’s next project which is the development of campsites and some road improvement. Waites Construction won the bid on that project, but the board has been reluctant to begin the project with funds on hand to pay the company for its work

Steed said, “If they’re okay with waiting for payment, we can proceed, but we want them to acknowledge that they understand we’re at the mercy of receiving grants for payment. We don’t have a firm date this money is going to come in.”

Reddick said she is pursuing a grant from USDA to have a study conducted on the advisability of having a ZipRider installed at the park. She said that would take at least six months. It would be only after a positive report from such a study that the board could begin seeking funding for the ride.

Ferguson made a motion to spend $6,800 to bring in the ZipRider inventor to do a survey and study on exactly what it would take to build the ride. The motion died for lack of a second, and Steed suggested that when the grant money comes in the subject could be brought up again.

Ferguson said, “When we have the money, I think it’s imperative to get the inventor here. The ZipRider will be a key amenity in the park. I feel like it is the heartbeat of the park.”

Park manager Mic Barnett said plans are well underway for a run in August, a work day in September and a hike in November.

Maintenance director Wes Pope said he and his assistant now have 80 percent of the paved roads in the park driveable.

The next meeting is set for Aug. 13 at the park at 7:30 a.m.

The board also approved other invoices and contract fees.

Contact Jim Smothers at jsmothers@dailyhome.com

© 2013