COVINGTON -- A committee of the Newton County grand jury conducted a civil investigation into the handling of the resurfacing of Cook Road.
The committee's findings were released this week. The findings, called a presentment, do not mention by name Chairman Kathy Morgan, although the committee recommended that the Public Works Department be placed under the supervision of the county manager. The department currently is supervised by the chairman.
District Attorney Layla Zon said her office is not pursuing criminal charges in the wake of the presentment.
A dispute over the handling of the project, which was part of the DOT's Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant, first came to light in late March, when Commissioner Mort Ewing accused Morgan of violating county policy and state law for allowing work to proceed and funds to be spent without soliciting for bids and without board approval.
Morgan responded that a test product called Perma Flex was approved by the DOT to be used on the road and applied by Pittman Construction. She said the special set of circumstances qualified as an exemption to the requirement that the project be bid, because Pittman was a sole source provider, with no other providers in the area able to apply the product.
She said the county's policies have provisions in special circumstances where there is a sole provider that can provide a service or product.
She said she notified the BOC about the project at a meeting in July 2011, but said she learned the notification she gave at the end of the meeting was not included in the official minutes.
Later, in June, Morgan issued an apology, saying she may not have followed county policy.
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."
She also said she should have placed the notification of the BOC of the test product as an agenda item.
According to the presentment of the grand jury for the January through April term, "The Grand Jury has no way of knowing whether the citizens of Newton County received value in the services provided by Pittman Construction ... since there is no way to determine if the county received fair market value for the project. Competitive bids were not taken and a budget was not established ... additionally, because there was no quality control or product testing performed, the quality of the final road pavement cannot be established."
The grand jury committee determined that Pittman did not qualify as a single source provider and Cook Road was not deemed a test site by DOT. It also determined that Perma Flex is not a single source product and has been used extensively since 1996, and is available from many contractors in the Atlanta area. "Most importantly, Perma Flex was not installed on the project," according to the presentment. Instead a product called Open Graded Interlayer was used.
The presentment also states that the project was taken off the BOC agenda on July 5, 2011.
In April 2011, the chair received approval from the BOC to seek bids from three contractors for the surface preparation of Cook Road, according to the presentment. But no competitive bids were sought after that meeting, the presentment states.
In June and July 2011, the county paid Pittman Construction approximately $90,000 for asphalt to perform patchwork on Cook Road, according to the presentment. "No competitive bids were sought for these purchases and no Board of Commissioner approval was sought prior to the purchase of these supplies," the presentment states.
Also, the county check register dated Aug. 12, 2011, listed a check in the amount of $187,038.19 for the Cook Road project payable to Pittman, in addition to the $90,000 already paid to Pittman.
There was no written purchase order or contract issued for the work and invoices for the work performed were paid "at the value presented without any cost control comparison to budgets or estimates in the accounting system," according to the presentment. No employee recalled approving the invoices, but payment was made to Pittman on Aug. 12 for $136,914.71 for four separate invoices, according to the presentment. A total of approximately $280,000 was also spent by the county on extensive patching and repair.
State law related to public works bidding requires bids for projects of $100,000 or more and for county road projects of $20,000 or more for construction, reconstruction or maintenance.
Purchases in excess of $50,000 must be bid according to the county purchasing policy, but that requirement may be waived with permission of the BOC.
The grand jury heard evidence from sworn witnesses on June 18, 20 and 22. The grand jury appointed a committee including William Perugino, Ricky Bradford, Eve Chaple, Jeremy Whitfield, and Ronnie Dimsdale, who later resigned due to his candidacy for county commissioner.
Georgia law does not provide a penalty for violation of the proper state and county procedures; it only deems the taking of profit from any public works project by a member of a government entity a misdemeanor.
In addition to moving the department of Public Works to the county manager, the grand jury recommended that the BOC review the presentment for possible misconduct or infringements of policy and procedure; that policies be established within the department of Public Works for budgets, cost control and other matters; and that the next grand jury review the Neighborhood Stabilization program.
The grand jury regularly investigates several county offices, including the sheriff's office and jail, the clerk's office, probate court and tax office and DA's office as part of its function. By a vote of eight or more members, other county offices and departments can be investigated as well.
Morgan could not be reached for comment.