Rockwall County commissioners authorized a $171,763 payment to the courthouse architect this week, but it took three motions and some legal advice to finally get to the point of unanimous approval.

The proposal to pay Brinkley Sargent Architects for February architectural services on the planned Rockwall County Courthouse was a business item on the consent agenda for last Tuesday’s meeting of commissioners court.

Commissioner Jerry Wimpee asked that the payment request be removed from the consent agenda. He had questions about the $22,500 request for landscape design at the courthouse site.

Wimpee pointed out that information provided by the architect states that the landscape design is about 50 percent complete, but commissioners have not seen any landscape designs. Wimpee added that through the entire process, “I’ve said we’re not going to have a traditional shopping center landscape design.”

Every time the landscaping design topic has surfaced in discussions, the commissioner said, the architect has responded, “’Oh, that’s no big deal. Landscaping will come later.’”

Wimpee said it appears the architectural firm has hired a consultant to prepare the landscaping design. The commissioner added that he’s concerned about what would happen if the county paid for the landscaping design, then the firm submitted a plan that was inferior or unacceptable. If that happens, Wimpee said, the architect would probably ask for more money to redesign the landscaping part of the project.

“No, you need to talk to me before you tell your landscape designer how to do it,” Wimpee said. “Here’s what the commissioners are looking at. …”

Later, Wimpee added, “I don’t want to be ugly about it, but the owners should have a voice.”

“Have we given them any direction at all about how we wanted it?” asked County Judge Chris Florance. “In other words, the landscape architect that they’ve hired, what direction have we given them?”

Wimpee said he and Commissioner Lorie Grinnan — who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting because of illness — are members of the landscaping subcommittee for the new courthouse. They’ve never met, Wimpee said.

“When this came up about we want to say something about landscape design, the view was, oh, that will come later,” Wimpee said. “We don’t need that decision now. That will come later. Later means it’s already 50 percent done.”

Wimpee said he would like to see commissioners send a letter to the architect —Hal Sargent — after the meeting that “enumerates some of these things and say to them, ‘Talk to us by next Tuesday.’”

Commissioner Dennis Bailey, who serves as the liaison between commissioners and the contractor, added that the landscape design issue could be added to a list of other items that “we want in a timeline that we could enforce as well.”

“I can’t even imagine we’re trying to approve a bill that we haven’t seen anything they’ve done on it,” Florance commented.

Bailey said the expense could involve some preliminary work the architect has had to do.

Wimpee then made a motion that commissioners approve the invoice, minus the $22,400 for landscape design. The motion died for lack of a second.

Bailey then asked Assistant District Attorney Brian Williams to help him draft a letter that would “very adequately lay out our position going forward” on reports of percent completion and requirements called for in the AIA (American Institute of Architects) contract.

Bailey then followed with a motion that called for approval of paying the entire amount of $171,763. His motion also called for commissioners to draft a letter to Manhattan Construction Co. and Brinkley Sargent Architects, identifying the court’s desire on timelines, points of completion and “documentation that this court is going to require prior to approving. …”

Bailey and Commissioner David Magness voted in favor of the motion. Wimpee and Florance voted against it.

County Auditor Lisa Constant then suggested taking a look at the contract. Magness agreed that would be a good idea and suggested a recess. Williams checked out the contract, then returned with his opinion.

After the 30-minute recess, Williams reported that commissioners have 30 days to make payment on invoices. The invoice was submitted on March 15. Any late payment will begin to accrue interest, according to Williams.

Williams added that the contract also has a “mechanism for challenging of the invoices.”

“It doesn’t say anything about withholding payment though,” Williams said. “Payment is made and then you have a 15-day period following that to make challenges or to clarify.”

Bailey said the challenge is on record.

A motion was then made to approve full payment. All four commissioners in attendance voted in favor of the motion.

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