Karen Alexander defends her architecture firm at City Council meeting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2018

SALISBURY — Karen Alexander is a City Council member and former mayor, but she is also the founder and president of KKA Architecture.

After receiving questions from multiple people about a project she designed for the city in 2008, Alexander decided to discuss the project during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I decided to take this opportunity to review this mainly because I think our mayor asked for a request for information on the contracts that KKA had had with the city over the last 10 years, since 2005, I believe,” Alexander said.

Mayor Al Heggins said that was correct.

Alexander said that while she was mayor, she had heard similar concerns from Carolyn Logan, who frequently attended City Council meetings, about her firm’s contract with the city to construct the Salisbury Customer Service Center in 2008.

“Ms. Carolyn Logan came to council and basically accused me of double billing the city on the Salisbury Customer Service Center,” Alexander said.

Alexander said that when Logan first expressed her concerns at a meeting, Alexander went to the city’s former finance director, Teresa Harris, and asked for an audit.

“And there was no evidence of any double billing,” Alexander said. “We have all the checks. We have the invoices that I have.”

Alexander said the budget for the project did increase over the course of the three-year construction.

She said the contract was initially for $4 million, but because of “major changes” to its scope once work got underway, it ended up costing $5,839,584.

“It was just simply (that) the programming team for the city and the consultants the city had hired did not know all of the information at the time,” Alexander said.

She said her firm was paid $432,000 for the project.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh my goodness, that is so much money.’ Well, it is. However, we have to hire five and six different companies that do heating and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing,” Alexander said.

Alexander said that if someone were to Google “architecture profit margins,” they would come up with an average of 12.9 percent.

A Google search by the Post found average architectural firm profit margins to be 13 percent in 2014.

“So that project to my firm averaged $55,728, which the project was for 2008, 2009 and 2010. Which made it an average per-year profit of $18,390,” Alexander said.

To further put it in perspective, Alexander referenced the contract architect Bill Burgin has with the city for the two fire stations he’s been hired to build.

“The budget on that is $8.7 million for the two fire stations together. And he’s designing both of them together,” Alexander said. “He is charging 0.073 for his design services. So that goes to a fee of $635,100. Just to give you an idea.”

Alexander said that when she was hired to design the Customer Service Center, she was not on the City Council.

“I didn’t know that I would ever be on council,” Alexander said.

She said that since she was elected to the council in 2013, she has not billed the city for any work.

She said she designed the new council chambers but did not charge the city for the work.

“So I do give back to the city,” Alexander said.

Alexander gave all the data she presented to Deputy City Clerk Emily Michael during the meeting.

“If anybody wants to see it in detail, it is all there,” Alexander said. “All of my invoices, all of the checks that were written by the city are right with it.”

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.