COVINGTON -- Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan issued a statement Tuesday night admitting that she may not have followed county policy related to a repair project on Cook Road.
Morgan said that "although I believed I was acting within the authority requested and received from the Board of Commissioners, my actions may be perceived as not following county policy to verify approval."
Morgan said that she assumed public works personnel would properly document a work order for the contractor to perform the work. "They assumed I initiated the documentation. This did not occur, work was authorized, performed, and payment was made on my authorization. I did not follow up to verify the proper documentation was issued," she said.
Morgan said she notified the Board of Commissioners of a test product application to be applied to the road by Pittman Construction during the board's July 5, 2011 meeting.
"In hindsight, I should have placed this as an agenda item to receive approval. I believe we prepared a quality road and the outcome would have been the same," she said. "I acknowledge now that I might have handled this better. I am sorry if I did not follow procedures properly or if my actions caused any concern. I am working with the public works director to establish standard operating procedures to prevent this from happening again."
In late March, Commissioner Mort 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, in April, Morgan said there were several components of the project that made it an exception, and no local or state laws had been 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.
The Georgia Department of Transportation determines which roads are to be repaired and/or resurfaced, along with the product to be used and the amount of product.
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 a 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. 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.
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.
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 previously 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 previously 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.