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Recycling center/lawncare contracts renewed without seeking bids

COVINGTON -- Commissioners were split 3 to 2 on the renewal of contracts for recycling center management and lawn maintenance Tuesday night.

Commissioners Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz wanted to renew the current contracts for one year, while also putting out a Request for Proposals to give other contractors a chance to bid on providing the services next year.

But Commissioners John Douglas, J.C. Henderson and Levie Maddox instead voted for renewals without the RFPs.

Recycling Centers

Junior Hilliard General Services has held the contract to manage the county's 11 recycling centers for 18 years. The county has not obtained a price comparison from other providers since 2001.

The contract is based on an hourly staffing rate of $11.29 per hour, not to exceed a total of $412,331 annually.

During a work session prior to the regular meeting, Hilliard said his company provides good customer service, focusing on public relations and keeping good relationships with customers.

Douglas said he follows the, "If it's not broken, don't fix it" philosophy and asked Hilliard if, in his professional judgment, his operation is broken.

"I certainly don't think it's broken. We're out there seven days a week. I don't believe it's broken. If it is broken, I want to fix it," he responded.

"I understand that if it's not broken, don't fix it. I think one of the concerns I have had the last four years is that we don't really have a market analysis of what the costs would be," said Schulz. "We haven't put out for an RFP so we can see, in fairness to Mr. Hilliard, is he giving us the best market pricing. That would confirm the best market pricing, if we do an RFP."

Maddox asked if there were any documented problems with Hilliard's service. County Manager John Middleton said that any time there is a service contract there is conflict and issues but Hilliard has always been responsive to those.

"My concern is not the quality of work that you've done; you've proved your quality of work, that's no doubt," said Sims. "The concern that I have comes from the citizens of my district. It's not a Junior Hilliard Services concern. I think it's a county concern with professional services and how we handle contracts for professional services."

Sims went on to say that as a business owner, he may continue to hold onto good contractors, but "at the same time, that's my personal business. I'm not a C corporation. I don't have stockholders to answer to. Me being a commissioner, I have citizens; those are my stockholders and I do have to answer to them. Their concern is are we getting the best price or why are we not bidding out services? I went to bat and told everybody what good work you do, but that's not the issue. The issue is why are we not having a fair playing field, letting other contractors look at it?"

The renewal of the contract approved by the board in 2012 was apparently never signed by former Chairman Kathy Morgan, but the county is still operating under the five-year contract approved in 2011.

Schulz made the motion to renew the contract for one year and direct the county manager to issue an RFP no later than June 30. Sims gave the second. Then Douglas offered a substitute motion to offer a five-year contract, which died for lack of a second. Henderson then offered another substitute motion to have the county attorney update the current contract to a five-year term, with one-year optional renewable terms. The motion did not include the issuance of an RFP.

Henderson said he did not want the matter to come before the board as an agenda item each year, but for the county manager to notify commissioners when the contract is due to be renewed and if a majority want it on the agenda, it would be.

Sims disagreed.

"Something of this magnitude, this size contract should be on the agenda so citizens know what we as a commission are doing," he said.

Henderson's motion passed 3 to 2 with Sims and Schulz opposing.

Lawn Maintenance

The county's lawn maintenance contract was last put out to bid in 2006. Durden's Lawn Maintenance has held the contract for 12 years. Though commissioners were considering a second annual renewal under a five-year contract, Douglas proposed starting over at year one with the five-year contract, noting that the current board cannot be bound by decisions of a previous board.

"I have been approached by other contractors who indicate they would like to be involved with request for proposals," said Schulz, before offering a substitute motion to renew the current contract for one year and direct the county manager to issue an RFP no later than June 30. Sims gave a second, but the motion failed. Douglas' motion passed 3 to 2, again with Sims and Schulz in opposition.

The annual cost of the lawn maintenance service is $98,463, not including quarterly fuel adjustments. Although Durden said at the meeting that his business license was up to date, Middleton advised him the business license office said it is not. According to the Department of Development Services, Durden's business license expired Dec. 31, 2012.

Henderson questioned why board members who opposed the vote were willing to renew other contracts without soliciting RFPs, such as the food services and healthcare contracts at the detention center, which were unanimously approved in January.

Schulz responded that she believed the BOC could only set the sheriff's budget, and could not dictate the providers he chose. But County Attorney Tommy Craig said the sheriff would not be exempt from any policy adopted by the board.

"Personally, I don't see any distinction between the NaphCare contract and the Castellana contract at the jail and what we're talking about here, so I'm troubled about consistency. What's good for one's good for all," Craig said, referring to the health care provider -- NaphCare -- and food service provider -- Frank Castellana -- at the detention center.

Craig said the board initially opted for five-year arrangements to try to lock in costs and save taxpayers money as well as assist providers who were having difficulty borrowing money from banks for capital expenses with only a one-year contract. The yearly renewals allow the board to get out of the contracts without penalty if it meets the notification stipulations of the contract. Craig said if the board is going to seek RFPs on professional services, it should be done countywide without exemptions.

Sims and Schulz agreed the board needs to reconsider the way it handles all professional service contracts, and both have said they'd like to address that at a planned retreat at the end of the month.

Craig said the county had problems with other service providers of health care and food service at the jail before NaphCare and Frank's Restaurant took over, and there were also problems at the recycling centers prior to Hilliard being awarded the contract. Similarly, Durden said the county went through three companies in four years before he was awarded the lawn maintenance contract.

Comments

dennistay53 1 year, 7 months ago

Faces may change but votes stay the same. We will never know if these jobs can be done cheaper because they never bid them. So much for douglas wanting to cut costs and Ellis saying he will bring unity to the board. And JC is the same old JC. When you don't bid out you open yourselfs up for corruption. Craig always has the answer, by the way his job is NEVER bidded.

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John 1 year, 7 months ago

It is always good a good "fiscal" practice to get more than one bid on any expense. i sold capital equipment for many years and it common to have existing customers & prospect customer be "REQUIRED" to get at least 3 bid on a purchase of anything above $25K. How else does one know they are getting a good deal or the yhave been taken to the cleaners. When I was growing up my Mom owned a restraurat - she alway had two suppliers for items - her rational was was two fold 1.) if one could not deliver for a large event she had a back-up & secondly competition is alway benefical in assuring you are not being taken to the cleaner. Forget about what happened for some other county need, the Commissioners need to have started this practise yesterday and going forward for all purchases good & service to insure the taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for the bucks they pay.

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Neuhierl 1 year, 7 months ago

As Lanier Sims explained in the meeting, we need standard practices in Newton County that protect the citizens from this sort of behavior. The providers may be the best solution but unless there is regular vetting by due process of bid, we don’t know. What have they to fear in the bid process if they are the best value? Why do these commissioners want to keep the contract with these suppliers, what’s in it for them? What I don’t understand is the lack of fear of appearance of impropriety. I hope someone can find out what their reward is for doing this, even if it’s only protecting an alliance and no money or in kind reward is in play. The citizens in the room were shocked at this blatant act of cronyism. I sell to government agencies. I can't imagine one of my customers behaving in this manner. I also don't understand our county attorney not giving the commissioners advice preventing this behaviour. Maybe he did and they declined the advice? Will our county be the next with investigations by FBI, GBI or the US Attorney's Office? I sure hope not. This needs to be cleaned up.

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dennistay53 1 year, 7 months ago

All the Ingredients for corruption are here same as was in Gwinnette. I'm not saying there is or will be. Just that ingrediates are there. Lack of bidding, no organized concerned citizen groups. Long termed commissioners and government employees (Craig,Douglas, Middleton) Other boards filled with longtime government officials (JDA Craig, Ewing and even Ellis from other county boards) Growing county and really no oversight from either political party.

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Frustrated 1 year, 7 months ago

Wonder if the holders of the county contracts have contributed to Douglas's campaign. This makes no sense at all and to ask the business owner if his business is "broken". This is starting to look like the last BOC with Henderson, Douglas and Maddox making their own agenda and shoving it down the taxpayers throats. If this is the way Douglas conductes County business think what he would do at the State level...other than make a laughing stock out of Newton County.

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