VHA hurries up hiring process|$888,000 in stimulus money at risk

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 9, 2009

At a special called meeting Wednesday, the Vicksburg Housing Authority Commission opened proposals from three Mississippi companies vying for a multiyear contract to provide architectural and engineering services on VHA projects. 

The five-member commission hopes to conduct interviews with representatives from the firms on Monday and Tuesday nights, in hopes one will be under contract soon and take the first step in avoiding losing $888,000 in federal stimulus dollars.

The firm selected will be responsible for soliciting proposals from companies on stimulus projects yet to be identified. The commission has until Sept. 30 to get the stimulus projects under way. Before that happens, a firm has to be selected, projects have to be identified and proposals have to be obtained and awarded for each project. Each step requires U.S. Housing and Urban Development approval.

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“Hopefully we can get this awarded by next week because we’re really under the gun here,” said VHA Commission Chairman Jay Kilroy.

Proposals came from Beard & Riser Architects of Greenwood, Jones-Zander LTD of Grenada and M3A Architecture of Jackson.

For years, Jackson-based Southeast Engineering Group held the contract for all VHA architectural and engineering services. However, the commissioners, four of whom were first appointed in February, voted unanimously June 16 to stop all payments to the firm due to uncertainties about the actual services provided.

Southeast Engineering was poised to handle spending the $888,000 awarded to VHA from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. A plan drafted by former VHA Executive Director Jim Stirgus Sr. called for the reroofing of 150 homes in Rolling Acres, Kilroy said. Stirgus has since said other projects were to be included in the plan as well.

Stirgus, who had headed the VHA for 21 years, was fired by the commission during a closed meeting on May 19. Because it was a personnel matter, the commission was not required to explain its reasoning. However, the VHA had been under intense scrutiny since the Dec. 19 arrest of former VHA Maintenance Supervisor Charles Jones Jr. and commissioners’ review of files have uncovered many practices they question.

Jones, 45, 924 Bowmar Ave. is set to go to trial on Nov. 19 on charges of possession of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute. He is accused of having 2.2 pounds of cocaine shipped to him at VHA offices. Jones also faces a separate embezzlement charge, stemming from a search of his home following his arrest, which could come before a grand jury as soon as next month.

Police are also investigating whether the VHA had contracted with companies owned by Jones while he was a VHA employee, and a federal investigation into VHA activities during Stirgus’ leadership is ongoing.

Stirgus has not been charged with any crimes, and has maintained he did not participate in or have knowledge of any crimes taking place during his time with the VHA. Before being fired by Stirgus following his arrest, Jones had worked for the VHA since 1983 and been in charge of maintenance, purchasing and receiving since 1991.

On Wednesday, the commission also went into closed session to review more applications for the vacant executive director position. About 30 applications have already been reviewed, and Kilroy said he hopes a decision can be made as soon as possible.

Commissioners present Wednesday were Kilroy, Ella Lee, Charles Wright and Abraham Green. The commission is scheduled to meet next on July 21 at 5 p.m. at VHA Executive Offices, 131 Elizabeth Circle.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com