ATLANTA - A controversial state DOT mowing contract that raised questions of political favoritism has left workers complaining they didn’t always get paid.
Earlier, the FOX 5 I-Team told you how a company, twice found ineligible to bid by DOT staff, ended up with a $15 million mowing contract.
Neal Howard, who once ran a road striping company in Blackshear, bid on a Georgia DOT contract to cut grass along state highways.
Twice, the DOT staff found Howard’s company was not eligible to bid because it had "no mowing experience" and his company did not "warrant a passing score.”
But, top DOT brass reversed the staff's double denial and let him bid.
DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry says it wasn't his decision, but admitted during the process he met with Howard and three state legislators to discuss contract possibilities. The legislators were Senator Tyler Harper, Senator Tommie Williams and Representative Chad Nimmer.
DOT rules clearly state during the bid qualification process companies "are not allowed to communicate...with any staff of GDOT, including the commissioner, GDOT Board Members and Legislators."
McMurry denied it was a political favor.
Road Services was the low bidder in the Atlanta area. But Neal Howard didn't have mowing equipment, so he partnered with veteran landscaper Josh Allin.
Mr. Allin says he had only one week to get ready, spent $1 million on new mowers, hired dozens of workers and got to work.
But he says the DOT inspector nitpicked his workers, slowing them down, and making progress difficult.
“We were threatened every day,” Allin says, “the contract was going to be pulled.”
DOT spokesperson Natalie Dale responded: “They may call it nitpicking. We call it … being a thorough inspector.”
Allen says because of the push back from the DOT inspector, he felt the contract would fail, so he cut his losses and left the job after three weeks.
He says he never got paid one penny.
“Tough deal for us,” Allin said, “not getting paid, million dollars on the job, not receiving any money back. It's a tough deal.”
We also talked to a number of workers on the job who spent hours cutting grass in the hot summer sun and weren’t paid all the money they were owed.
The DOT’s Natalie Dale told us: “Its inexcusable people haven't been paid for the work that was successfully completed.”
Ms. Dale says the DOT paid Neal Howard's company some $45,000 and it was his job to pay his sub-contractors and employees.
And Ms. Dale admitted what DOT staff had warned from the beginning, “In the long run,” she said, “they probably weren't equipped to have this contract.”