Nashville leaders are expanding a review of contract companies that do large amounts of architecture and engineering work for the city.
Metro will hire outside auditors to probe the billing practices of the four biggest firms, which have been paid a combined $97 million since 2016, according to audit documents.
“People are watching. It makes sense to do them,” said Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.
The list of firms includes Collier Engineering, which was already investigated at the request of Mayor David Briley. The firm raised red flags with how it billed for sidewalk paving, and for entertaining Metro employees in its seats at Bridgestone Arena.
Auditors found most allegations against the company “unsubstantiated,” although they’ve now revised their report twice. Most recently, auditors did substantiate that Collier was given projects outside the scope of its paving contracts.
In the meantime, some council members have criticized the rigor of the audit, and Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher called for 10 firms to be examined.
The Metro Audit Committee decided Tuesday to begin with the four highest earners: Civic Engineering and Information Technologies; Collier Engineering; Gresham Smith and Partners; and Brown and Caldwell.
Because of the hours needed for the audits, and the investigative nature, independent accountants will be brought in. That move was supported by Metro Finance Director Talia Lomax O’dneal.
“It’s really trying to be responsive to a council member request, but also doing the right thing for the citizens, to have confidence in how money’s being spent,” she said.
The mayor has also assigned his chief compliance officer, Patricia Cottrell, to investigate.
She told the audit committee on Tuesday that she’s found “some real confusion” about billing practices — and that invoices from Collier are not easily reviewed electronically. To “tighten up” for the future, Cottrell said she is going to push for contractors to file electronic invoices, and for there to be periodic checks on what is being billed to Metro.