- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The new board that’s supposed to block Mississippi government agencies from awarding no-bid contracts has, itself, approved millions of dollars in no-bid contracts.

Board members met Tuesday questioned some of the spending, The Clarion-Ledger reported (https://on.thec-l.com/1TV9lCp ). Members initially declined to approve two contracts worth nearly $1 million, but approved them later in the meeting. Board members told agencies that they want state government to use competitive bidding or requests for proposals whenever possible.

The restructured Personal Services Contract Review Board is part of a contracting reform bill the Legislature passed this year in response to a corruption scandal at the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

A task force created by Gov. Phil Bryant had criticized agencies for using no-bid emergency contracts for goods and services that didn’t appear to be emergencies.

On Tuesday, the new review board questioned numerous emergency contracts approved by agencies, including two signed by MDOC that are worth more than $60 million combined. The department has an $11.6 million emergency contract with Valley Services for feeding inmates and a $48.8 million contract with Centurion of Mississippi for medical services for inmates. Each is for a year.

New board member Bill Moran of Tupelo questioned why feeding inmates and providing medical care were deemed emergencies and the contracts not put out for bid.

“This is $60 million, and nobody’s put a pencil to it,” Moran said.

Stanley Brooks, MDOC director of prison agriculture enterprises, said the department tried to get quotes but had problems with the previous review board and the contracts were expiring, so feeding and caring for inmates became an emergency. Brooks said MDOC would try to get requests for proposals from vendors within a couple of months. He said MDOC can back out of the emergency contracts with a month’s notice.

Moran also questioned several emergency contracts worth more than $200,000 from the state Oil and Gas Board, which were extensions to previous emergency contracts for companies to plug and abandon oil and gas wells. He asked: “How is it an emergency when these wells have been sitting there for years?”

The review board on Tuesday approved the Department of Employment Security’s no-bid contract with Robinson and Associates Inc. for $1 million for a multimedia campaign to promote Mississippi employers using the department’s services to locate and recruit employees. The board also approved a Department of Health no-bid contract with Hemphill Construction Co. for $748,025 to install water fluoridation treatment equipment at public water supplies and a no-bid contract between the Department of Environmental Quality and W.G. Yates and Sons for $100,000 for the contractor to provide “constructability” assessment of projects funded from BP oil disaster settlement.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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