Chair Pushes Parker Poe Vote

Motion Carries Without Discussion

WINNSBORO (Sept. 29, 2016) – By shutting down public discussion by Council members prior to a vote following an executive session Monday evening, Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson likely paved the way for the County to sign a contract with Parker Poe Consulting, LLC, that would both eliminate the firm’s competition and evade the County’s bid process.

“Awarding a contract in this way, without allowing us to discuss it before we were asked to vote and without going through a bid process as outlined in our procurement code, takes us back to a period of how our recent predecessors did business on this Council,” Councilman Billy Smith (District 7) told The Voice following the meeting. “Our former Council Chairman referred to doing business like this as ‘unusual, but not illegal.’ The yes votes tonight represent this Council’s troubled past. I hope we aren’t headed back in that direction.”

At issue was whether Council would engage the services of Parker Poe, without considering other firms, to assist the County with legal matters relating to the forming of a partnership between Fairfield Memorial Hospital and another health care company that would come in and take over the hospital’s services.

The matter was first considered by the Administration and Finance Committee on Sept. 7 and sent forward to Council. Besides wanting to have the option to consider other law firms in addition to Parker Poe, a sticking point with some Council members was that Parker Poe’s legal and consultation services would cost more than $25,000, above the amount allowed to be approved by the Administrator. According to the County’s Procurement Code, any amount over $25,000 is subject to sealed bid.

When the issue came before Council on Oct. 12, County Administrator Jason Taylor suggested discussing it further in executive session before taking action. Following the executive session, no vote was taken, but Smith told The Voice he was glad Council held off and discussed the issue further.

“Our discussion reinforced to me that we need to go through proper procurement procedures and issue a Request for Qualifications to secure legal services in regard to the hospital,” Smith said at that time.

Four days later, Chairwoman Robinson (District 2) issued an agenda for a special called meeting for the following Monday, Sept. 19, for the purpose of an executive session on the Parker Poe contractual matter. With only herself, Kamau Marcharia (District 4) and Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) present at that meeting, and reminded by both Taylor and Marcharia that she did not have a quorum, the Chairwoman nevertheless crossed legal lines and called the executive session. Robinson later defended the meeting as “an unofficial meeting without a quorum.”

Following a fully attended executive session on Monday evening to again discuss the Parker Poe contract, Kinley made a motion to “give our County attorney permission to associate a law firm to represent the Council with the hospital issue.”

After the motion was seconded, Chairwoman Robinson, instead of calling for discussion, immediately called for a vote, effectively eliminating the opportunity for public discussion on the subject by Council members. The vote was 4-2 with Chairwoman Robinson, Kinley, Marcharia and Marion Robinson in favor of the motion; Dan Ruff (District 1) and Smith voted against.

Asked by The Voice following the meeting why she had not allowed discussion on the motion, Robinson said, “I guess it slipped my mind.”

Asked to explain the motion, Robinson said it gives County attorney John James full authority to choose an attorney to oversee the hospital merger without any further approval from Council and without the chosen attorney being subject to the County’s bid process.

“Hospital legal matters are not our County attorney’s area of expertise,” Robinson added, “so this allows him to choose an attorney for us.”

She defended skirting the bid process, saying the County’s Procurement Code contains a provision that allows Council to exempt certain items from the formal bid process, and that selecting an attorney is one of those exemptions. The Procurement Code indeed includes attorney services among exemptions, pending approval of Council.

“While we can legally do this, I don’t think we are justified in proceeding in such a way,” Smith told The Voice. “I think to proceed forward without any competition and without going through the proper procurement procedures for a Request for Qualifications is to deviate from much of what this Council has improved on in the past few years.”

Ruff could not be reached for comment.

Millage Unchanged, Budget Up

Earlier in the meeting Council passed unanimously a resolution establishing the FY2016-17 millage rate for the County at 181.8. Chairwoman Robinson announced that this was a reduction in millage from last year.

“This will be the third year in a row that the County has decreased the budget and the millage,” Robinson said.

However, a review of the resolution shows the millage rate of 181.8 is the same this year as it was last year. In addition, this year’s budget is up $765,564 to $23,331,415 and the County Debt Retirement is up $15,175, bringing the taxes required for this year’s budget to $23,331,415, up from $22,550,676 last year.

More Engineering Snafus

During County Council Time, Ruff asked Taylor to address a couple of new issues with the engineer who designed the new Ridgeway and Jenkinsville fire station retention ponds.

Taylor explained that both stations are designed with retention ponds directly in front of the front doors of the building. He said he didn’t see the ponds on the drawings but the information is included in the text that was apparently not picked up on when the plans were approved by Council a little more than two years ago.

“I don’t think this is safe,” Taylor advised Council. “I think erosion will be an issue. We have to have drainage, so we’re asking the engineer to come back and give us an optional solution for drainage, maybe a culvert type of drainage. It will cost some money, and we’ll see what that will be.”

Both Ruff and Marion Robinson asked about past issues with this same engineer (Ken Simmons and Associates).

“Does the plan show two ponds in front of the Jenkinsville EMS Station?” Robinson asked Taylor who confirmed that it did.

“Whoever this engineer is, I hope we never do business with them again. That is the most embarrassing thing,” Robinson said. “We need to look at this one too. It’s completely embarrassing.”

Taylor said he had two meetings scheduled with the engineer to discuss the problems.

Appointments

Council appointed three new members to the Fairfield Memorial Hospital Board including Yolanda Settles (District 4), Antoinette Melton (District 5) and Ron Smith (District 7).