A.G. Reviews County Probe

Solicitor Hands Off S2/Procurement Case

WINNSBORO – An investigation, launched more than a year ago, of the Fairfield County government, its procurement practices and one of its vendors, is now in the hands of the state’s top prosecutor, sources told The Voice last week.

A spokesperson for the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said his agency had recently concluded their investigation and had sent the file to the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Lancaster for a determination on whether or not the County’s practices merited a criminal prosecution.

Sixth Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman, however, said last week that his office had kicked the matter upstairs.

“I turned that over to the Attorney General’s Office based on a conflict of interest,” Newman said. “The case involves a lot of County officials and I sometimes make budget requests from the County.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that they had indeed received the case and at press time it remained under their review.

SLED opened the investigation in February of 2014 and sources inside the County said then that agents had interviewed County employees and reviewed checks and invoices in the County’s Procurement Department. Shortly after news of the probe leaked out, former County Council Chairman David Ferguson said SLED was focusing on the County’s relationship with S2 Engineering, a firm with which the County spent more than $8.76 million between December 2009 and September 2013.

Documents obtained by The Voice last year indicated that S2 projects over that time period ranged from improvements to the HON Building, to construction of the new Voter Registration offices, work at the County Courthouse and much more. Work also included the football field at Drawdy Park and its retaining wall, a portion of which collapsed in January 2014.

Records indicate that the S2 projects were not put out for bid. Instead, S2 was selected for the projects from a pre-approved list of firms maintained by former County Administrator Phil Hinely. At the time the investigation first came to light, Ferguson said that while those procurement practices may have been unusual, he did not think they were illegal.

After Hinely’s resignation in the summer of 2013, and with the arrival of Milton Pope as Interim Administrator shortly thereafter, the County has maintained that a more conventional procurement practice has been observed.

A contract awarded by Council just last March, however, appeared to have contradicted that alleged observation.

As reported in the April 10 edition of The Voice, Council on March 23 unanimously awarded to Goodwin Mills & Cawood (GMC) a contract for up to $35,000 to perform a damage assessment on the Detention Center roof. The project was not, in accordance with the County’s procurement manual, put out for a competitive sealed bid. Instead, between Jan. 2 and 16, administration made contact via phone or email with three firms from the County’s pre-approved list of bidders.

Under the header “Bidder Information” on page 28 of the County’s procurement manual, “All procurements in excess of $10,000 shall be publicized in a newspaper of general circulation, or County website (www.fairfieldsc.com).” Although the lowest bid for the project came in at more than $7,000 over this amount, Pope confirmed last April that the project had not been advertised.

While the procurement manual does state that the County may compile and maintain a list of vendors interested in competing for County contracts, GMC was not on that list as of last March.

Pope said the County reached out to GMC because the County was “looking to involve and get some new people.”

At the time the contract was awarded, GMC had recently completed for the County a review of S2 Engineering projects, including a report on the causes of the Drawdy Park wall failure and the supervision of the reconstruction of the wall.

 

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