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County contracts in committee crosshairs
Historic Courthouse on Square

Covington-The Newton County Purchasing Policy Committee has agreed to recommend requiring a contract, scope of work, and purchase order for professional services, which would include services such as legal counsel, engineering, and appraising.

The committee, which met Wednesday, said it would also recommend making the ethics policy more prominent and including language that specifically binds elected officials. Other parts of the purchasing policy have been clarified and updated as well.

Currently, goods and services, excluding professional services, are subject to competitive bidding for anything over $2,500. Earlier, the committee had suggested implementing the same requirements for professional services.

Commissioner Levie Maddox expressed concern Wednesday that competitive bidding for professional services would slow down the process and burden the existing staff.

After discussion, the committee appeared to scrap competitive bidding on professional services in favor of a requirement for contract, scope of work, and, if necessary, purchase orders for anything not covered by the contract. The minimum value to trigger the process is expected to be set between $5,000 and $10,000.

The intention behind the changes is to provide accountability on the back and front end of a project or service. The committee has often sought to compare the county’s purchasing policy with that of the state, although the two are not strictly analogous, especially in regards to legal services, which are considered a “professional service” on the county level but not at the state level.

In an email to The News, the Department Of Administrative Services’ Legal Division said that the Georgia Attorney General acts as the legal advisor of the executive department, and therefore the Attorney General’s Office must approve a state entity’s use of outside legal counsel. The AGO has its own requirements for procurement of legal services of individuals appointed as Special Attorneys General.

Professional services other than legal are generally exempt from competitive bidding, although there are some provisions that provide for specific processes for certain professions, for example, advertisement of procurements involving architecture, registered interior design, professional engineering, land surveying and landscape architecture.

There may also be other legal requirements that must be met relating to the procurement, such as requirement to obtain an e-verify affidavit.

In attempting to bring Newton County’s policy in line with the state’s, there has also been some debate as to whether the state does business with vendors who are not current on their taxes.

The DOAS Legal Department referred a reporter to sections and of the Georgia Procurement Manual on responsibility and tax compliance.

"’Responsible’ means the supplier, whether a company or an individual, has appropriate legal authority to do business in the state of Georgia…Examples of non-responsibility include, but are not limited to, a supplier’s history of nonperformance or performance problems on other contracts (public or private), a record of financial difficulty, business instability, criminal sanctions, civil sanctions, and/or tax delinquency.”

“A supplier’s unreasonable failure to promptly supply information in connection with an inquiry with respect to responsibility may be grounds for a determination of non-responsibility.”

“Prior to awarding any contract exceeding $100,000.00…The state entity must require the supplier to complete SPD-SP045 Tax Compliance Form.“

Commissioners Maddox and Nancy Schulz, along with interim County Manager Harry Owens, Finance Director Michelle Kelly and Purchasing Coordinator Mary Ann Patterson have planned to meet in July in order to hammer out the final draft of the new purchasing policy for presentation to the Board of Commissioners.

The new policy, if adopted, could help hold vendors accountable for their work and associated costs.

The Master Water Plan, for example, was prepared by Krebs Engineering at a cost of more than $200,000 to the county, but has remained unfinished in draft form for a year. It is unknown at this time if or when the Master Water Plan, which was awarded to Krebs without an open bid process, will be completed.

Committee Member Tom West called Wednesday “a good day for Newton County,” and was pleased with the commissioners’ verbal commitment to requiring purchase orders for professional services.

But some citizens thought the changes did not go far enough. Local resident Larry McSwain, who attended the meeting as an observer, called for competitive bidding on professional services and a limit on pro forma renewal of contracts year to year.

Committee member Sarah Dauby suggested including guidelines for the purchase of real estate. Dauby also pointed out that hiring an in-house county attorney, which has been suggested by some, would require a change to the enabling legislation and was not within the scope of the committee.

The Purchasing Policy Committee has undergone several contentious changes since its inception.

In addition to Patterson, Kelly, Schulz, Maddox, Dauby and West, Junior Hilliard, who holds the contract for the solid waste convenience centers, was appointed by Commissioner J.C. Henderson after the last meeting and over the objection of Schulz, who considered his presence a conflict of interest.

Julias Hays was appointed by Chairman Keith Ellis to replace Ann Neuhierl after Ellis rescinded her invitation to serve on the committee.

Owens has stepped in for former County Manager Tom Garrett, who resigned for a position in Barrow County.