Monroe County commissioner Larry Evans accused a fellow commissioner of breaking the law last Tuesday and taking air conditioning bids “under the table”.
But county attorney Ben Vaughn said that commissioner Eddie Rowland did nothing wrong in seeking bids to replace three HVAC units at the Monroe County Magistrate Court.
Evans’ accusation came as commissioners considered appointing a committee to handle bids as the county begins $2.5 million in work to upgrade county buildings and make them more energy efficient.
County administrator Jim Hedges proposed a committee to include Hedges, Rowland, maintenance supervisor Ray White, finance director Lorri Robinson and purchasing supervisor Phyllis Jarrell to handle bids so projects can move forward without waiting for a county commission meeting.
Evans quickly objected.
“This is a terrible idea,” said Evans, the 30-year commissioner being challenged by Lamarcus Davis this fall. “You don’t want to get caught up in conflicts with the bidding. We’re here to make sure things are on top of the table and not under the table.”
Evans introduced Don Etheridge, owner of Etheridge Heating and Air in Forsyth, who said the county failed to issue any specifics for the units it wanted to replace or a date for when it would open bids.
“It’s not the way it’s done,” said Etheridge.
Hedges said he doesn’t know how the magistrate court HVAC project was put out for bid but said he knows that any expense of over $10,000 has to be advertised for sealed bids.
“Never on my watch will anything ever be done under the table,” Hedges told Evans.
Tapley said commissioners feel the same way.
“I don’t think any of the commissioners up here would do anything under the table and it’s out of line to suggest so,” said Tapley.
Commissioner John Ambrose said forming the committee would move the $2.5 million project more quickly. He noted that one reason it’s hard to get things done through the commissioners is that every time they send Evans an email it bounces back and says his email account is full, and Evans never responds.
Finally, Rowland asked Evans point blank: “Am I breaking the law?”
“Yeah. Absolutely,” replied Evans.
But county attorney Vaughn disagreed.
“If the bid was sent out to multiple people,” said Vaughn, “it’s OK. If it’s over $100,000, we’d have to do a public bidding process.”
Rowland said he’s reasonably sure that replacing three units at the Monroe County Justice Center, where the magistrate court is located, wouldn’t cost more than $100,000. Evans complained that the county didn’t advertise a deadline or a place to open sealed bids. Ambrose told Evans he was just mad because county purchasing agent Phyllis Jarrell, who had refused to hire Evans’ hand-picked applicant for a job in her department, was on the committee.
Rowland said his only involvement came after facilities manager Ray White told him they needed to replace the HVAC unit at the magistrate court. Since Rowland is spearheading a county-wide upgrade of its HVAC equipment, Rowland told him to get prices on not just the expired unit on the roof but the adjacent ones as well to save money on installation.
“Commissioner Rowland has not violated any laws,” said Vaughn.
“A law was broken” replied Evans. “I want to go on record that if you are going to bid something you have to spec it, all three units, and list the tonnage etc. We get prices on everything so it doesn’t look shady.”
Evans then complained that Rowland held up the new fire station project on Juliette Road for two months to get new HVAC bids there. Rowland has a heating and air business, R and R, but does not do much commercial work. Commissioners had removed Evans as the head of the project due to delays.
Finally, commissioners approved the new bidding committee by 4-1 vote with only Evans opposed. The new committed was planning to open bids for the magistrate court HVAC project on Tuesday and award it. But Rowland told the Reporter they decided to start over.
“After the unfounded critical accusations and/or questions regarding our efforts to obtain a fair bid from contractors for the change out of 3 HVAC units that are over 20 years old, we have decided it would be in the best interest of full transparency to reject all bids and rebid the project,” said Rowland. “The bids remain sealed and under the care of our outstanding finance and purchasing department.”