Supervisors, county engineer take strong stance against port commissioner’s claims
Published 5:21 pm Monday, November 4, 2019
Monday, members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, and the county’s engineering firm Stantec Engineering, took exception to many of the points laid out in a recent column by Warren County Port Commission member Mike Roach that questioned the Supervisors’ handling of engineering services in the county and the firm’s pricing of a project at Ceres Industrial Park.
The column appeared in the Friday edition of The Vicksburg Post.
In Roach’s column, he criticized influence on the part of supervisors to use Stantec for engineering design work for a proposed 1,200-foot road in the industrial park.
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The commission decided instead to bring the process of selecting engineering services to competition, placing an invitation for requests for qualifications. Five firms, including Stantec, submitted proposals. The commission then selected Jackson-based engineering firm Neel-Shaffer.
After the commission selected Neel-Shaffer, it then negotiated a contract, which was later approved. The contract total was announced at $29,000 and approved in October.
In an estimate provided by Stantec in January, the firm estimated the total cost for engineering services at $424,600. It was that significant difference between the contract that was agreed to with Neel-Shaffer and the estimate from Stantec that led to Roach’s criticism.
Monday, Stantec’s Jon McKee took exception to Roach’s comments in the column by stating “saying the proposals are an apples-to-apples comparison is not true. It’s more like comparing grapefruits to greyhounds.”
McKee also said the January estimate was for a “much larger project,” that called for additional engineering and work.
“We did put together an overall estimate for a much larger project,” McKee said. “That project included a much longer roadway, it included water and sewer, utilities and other, and also included the removal and relocation of the 500,000-gallon water tank.”
The additional work quoted by McKee is not described in the January letter that includes Stantec’s estimate. The letter states “per your request we are submitting the estimate cost to provide design engineering services for a permanent industrial access roadway to the proposed 200+/- acre site located behind the Tyson property. The estimated cost for these engineering services is $424,600, and should be complete in 180 days.”
The letter continues by saying “also attached is an exhibit showing the approximate alignment of the roadway, which can be straightened or slightly modified to meet the needs of the commission and/or project.”
McKee also took exception to Roach’s overall comments and column.
“If you hear about savings and competitive pricing, it’s just not true. It didn’t happen,” McKee said. “Given that, you may be asking yourself why Mr. Roach wrote the article that he did and had it published in the paper. We have all come to appreciate that Mr. Roach sometimes has trouble comprehending basic issues. But in this case, I am not sure if it was his lack of understanding that caused him to mistake the facts the way he did. I think it might have been his desire to cast the Board of Supervisors in a negative light, to distort facts, to mislead the public and affect the election. That is what I think may have happened here.
“Either way, it is disturbing that a person of authority like Mr. Roach is either incapable of understanding basic facts or is willing to mislead the public for his own personal political agenda,” McKee said. “It is not only disturbing and upsetting to those who do have integrity and are trying to operate in a world of honest business, but it is also sad that we have someone willing to do that.”
During the meeting, Supervisor Richard George, president of the board, called on the chairperson of the Warren County Port Commission Margaret Gilmer, who was attending the Supervisors’ meeting, to provide some details about the scope of work and the contract with Neel-Shaffer.
“I was not on the agenda so I am not prepared …,” Gilmer said as she was interrupted by George, again asking for information. “I don’t have any documents with me. Thank you very much.”
George asked back, “So you do not know what you voted on at that meeting?”
“I do,” Gilmer said, then again taking her seat.
During his comments, George said the Supervisors had requested a copy of the contract the Port Commission agreed to with Neel-Shaffer, but claimed they were denied access to that contract. McKee also said he was denied access to the contract.
“We have asked Mr. (Pablo) Diaz for the scope of work and the contract that he says they have approved with Neel-Shaffer. We were denied access to that information even though we are the responsible party for the development,” George said, saying the discussion during the board meeting was “the opportunity to get information, which we cannot get from the very commission that is charged with the maintenance of the facility that we own. We have asked and have been denied.”
Monday afternoon, Pablo Diaz, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission, said the Board of Supervisors has not requested a copy of the contract and McKee’s request for the contract has not been denied, but rather is being processed.
“No, we have not denied access to the contract to Mr. McKee,” Diaz said. “On Friday, Mr. McKee stopped by the Port Commission office and requested a copy of the contract with Neel-Schaffer. I personally spoke with Mr. McKee and informed him that I did not see a problem with him having it but that I needed to consult with the Port attorney to make sure we follow the proper process to get it to him. I called Mr. McKee a couple of times with updates the same day and during our last call that afternoon, he indicated he understood the process and that his office would submit a written request on Monday. We have not yet received a written request at the Port Commission offices.
“It is my understanding that Stantec did submit a written request with the Office of the Chancery Clerk and Mrs. Donna Hardy called me right before 5 p.m. on Friday to discuss it,” Diaz continued. “At that time, she, the Port Attorney, and I, discussed the statutes governing a public request like this one and agreed to work toward making sure it can be fulfilled legally and promptly. On the Port Commission’s end, the attorney is researching the issue and is expected to come back to Mrs. Hardy and me to discuss the right way to provide the public record to Mr. McKee. As far as the Port Commission is concerned, our attorneys are guiding us in the process of making sure we do what needs to be done in order to legally fulfill the request by Mr. McKee.”
The road is work the Port Commission has recently ordered or completed to make the greenfield sites at the Ceres Industrial Park more marketable to industries.
The commission is using matching grants from the Mississippi Development Authority to pay for the design work and due diligence projects on the large, 150-acre site and two smaller sites in the Ceres Industrial Park. The agreement with Neel-Schaffer is for the road design work only.