COVINGTON -- Kathy Morgan has issued a response to Commissioner Mort Ewing's accusations that she violated the Board of Commissioners' Code of Ethics, purchasing policy and state law related to spending on a road project.
In late March, Ewing alleged that Morgan was authorized by the Board of Commissioners to "move forward" with a repair project for Cook Road. That authorization did not include permission to spend any county funds on the project, Ewing said.
However, the county check register indicates that on Aug. 8, 2011, a check was made payable to Pittman Construction for $187,038.19 related to work on Cook Road, Ewing said. Also, on Aug. 19, a check was issued to Pittman for $35,825.50 with $32,010 of that related to Cook Road, for total expenditures of $198,771.21 "spent without a bid and without this board's approval," Ewing said.
Ewing said that was a violation of the county's purchasing policy, which requires that any expenditures over $20,000 be approved by the board, as well as state law, which requires that all county transportation projects over $20,000 be bid.
"Last but not least, I think the code of ethics for the Newton County Board of Commissioners has been violated," Ewing said.
However, Morgan said there are several components of this project that make it an exception, and no local or state laws were violated.
The Cook Road repairs were part of the state's Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant, or LMIG, a program that provides state funding with a local funding match for road resurfacing.
GDOT determines which roads are to be repaired and/or resurfaced, along with the product to be used and the amount of product.
A GDOT field engineer or representative is assigned to meet with the county, discuss each project and scope of work, inspect the work and approve payment to the county once the project is complete.
In other words, "The state holds your hand through the entire process," Morgan said.
Given that Cook Road has been resurfaced several times and is still cracking, and that it is traveled by heavy vehicles due to the location of the quarry and asphalt plant, Morgan said she asked the DOT if a different product could be used to repair the road. The DOT agreed that a new product called Perma Flex might be a solution.
"This has been used by several cities and counties for local use in problem areas. GDOT had not used it and it was not an approved product," Morgan said. But GDOT gave permission for the county to try it on Cook Road.
Because the county paving crew had never applied the product, Morgan said she asked if GDOT had a contractor approved to place the product. The answer was no, but Pittman Construction had worked with the product before and GDOT approved Pittman Construction to test the product on Cook Road with GDOT supervision. The county's paving crew was on hand to learn the technique.
This special set of circumstances qualified as an exemption to the requirement that the project be bid, because Pittman was a sole source provider, Morgan said. The county's policies have provisions in special circumstances where there is a sole provider that can provide a service or product.
GDOT has verified that no state laws were violated and the project is in compliance. GDOT will continue to test the site and product over the next year or so.
As the head of the county roads department, Morgan approved the project and notified county commissioners on July 5, 2011, during a board meeting of the specifics.
"In my notes of the BOC meeting packet for the July 5th BOC meeting, at the end of the meeting, I informed the BOC about the project and invited them to let me know if they wanted to attend. I received no takers from the BOC," she said.
However, Morgan learned that the notification she gave to the board at the end of the meeting was not included in the official minutes. Morgan said moving forward, she will make such comments at the beginning of the meeting under administrative updates rather than waiting for the public/commissioner comments section, which she said are not included in the minutes.
"I felt that by coming back to the board and telling them on July 5 what we were doing, they understood that this was a sole source provider. (Pittman Construction) was the only one the DOT had approved at the time," to test the new product, Morgan said.
The end result was that the project came in under budget, at more than $100,000 less than the $303,000 projected. Morgan also noted that all commissioners approved the checks issued for the project during regular meetings and each commissioner is given the check registry stating what each check is for and has the opportunity to ask questions.
"There was never any intent of any wrongdoing, of not following proper procedures," Morgan said. "The decision was more about building a good quality road."
Morgan said since she gave her response to commissioners, none have raised any additional concerns.
"I certainly applaud any commissioner that makes sure we're compliant with state and federal regulations and local policies and procedures. I don't want there to be any question that we are not following policies and procedures there because we are responsible to the public. It's their money we're spending," she said.