Andrews settles with N-Focus for $29K
Andrews – A battle of perspectives ended amicably last month, albeit with both sides still sticking to their guns.
On one hand, it’s a story about a town that refused to fulfill the previous board’s contractual obligations to a consulting firm.
On the other hand, it’s a story about a company that charged the town for services it could not afford.
The difference in perspectives started long before this administration took office, and the battle itself may be the reason for today’s political landscape.
“I think this bunch of people that are in [office] right now got elected because we were vocally against this firm that was draining our town for every nickel,” Andrews Mayor James Reid told the Cherokee Scout after the town settled a lawsuit with N-Focus. “They were taking over a third of the budget.”
However, Rick Flowe, president of N-Focus Planning & Design Inc., believes a deal is a deal.
“New leadership can decide what it wants to do; I respect that. But leadership was obligated to pay the bills that were due,” Flowe said. “It doesn’t matter whether they liked the previous board’s decisions.”
Shortly after taking office, the Andrews Board of Alderman passed a majority vote in mid-December 2017 to cease services with N-Focus, even though the town had five open contracts with the firm. At the time of the vote, the town still owed the company a little more than $21,000 for work already completed.
In response, N-Focus filed a lawsuit against Andrews in June 2018 seeking monies owed for unpaid work, plus additional funds for breach of contracts, attorney fees and other court expenses. The suit sought more than $47,000 in compensation.
The parties settled the lawsuit on March 25 for $29,600. The town plans to reappropriate money, possibly from the police department’s budget, to cover the expense.
“With this settlement, we are not collecting any late fees, penalty provisions or early termination monies at all,” Flowe said. “We are simply collecting the amount they originally owed, plus recovering our legal fees. We wish the town well. We’re happy to wrap this up.”
The first check Andrews wrote to N-Focus dates back to May 27, 2016, according to the vendor payment history obtained through a public records request. Between then and Dec. 1, 2017, when the new administration stopped paying the firm, the town paid N-Focus $294,543.
That amount includes payment for the now infamous Andrews Development Ordinance – a 400-page document the town paid N-Focus $46,000 to produce, which was adopted in April 2017.
“If everybody in this town was rich, had their money set and nobody had to work for a living, I feel like a lot of things [in the development ordinance] would’ve been great,” Reid said. “But not for a situation where the majority of people live in poverty and are just trying to get by. They thought they were helping the town, but I don’t understand how [N-Focus] thought this was a good fit for Andrews.”
Further complicating matters, after the March 2017 resignation of town administrator Ed Burchins, former officials failed to hire a finance officer, a mandated position that Burchins also held.
Between mid-March and September 2017, an interim town administrator provided by N-Focus presented five additional contracts to lawmakers. All of them were accepted by the former administration.
“Every contract after Ed Burchins left was illegal because it did not have a finance officer sign off on it,” Reid said. “You can fight that in court, but you might win or you might lose. I can’t roll the dice and gamble with taxpayers’ money. If it was my money, I’d say, ‘Let’s go to court.’ ”
Before filing the lawsuit, N-Focus tried settling the matter out of court for less than the final agreement. However, town officials turned them down.
“When they offered it, the town didn’t have the money to settle,” said Town Administrator Bill Green, who also serves as administrative police chief. “Over the past year, the town has just now been able to accumulate a few dollars so we don’t have to hold a check and ride a vendor for a couple extra weeks.”
Indeed, between fiscal years 2016-18, Andrews’ general fund budget decreased more than $500,000. Green said the understaffed police department provides a bit of relief, allowing the town to pay the settlement and move forward with business.
Flowe contends his company treated the town “fairly.” He said the settlement amount doesn’t cover what is arguably his greatest expense – opportunity losses.
“We’re willing to walk away from that,” said Flowe., who described having to sue a client for payment of completed work as a “ridiculous ordeal.”
“It’s not like we did bad work,” he said. “They changed horses in the middle of the river, and then threw us under the bus because they didn’t like the horse they were on.”