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Purchasing policy committee hits snag
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A standoff is brewing over the purchasing policy committee with Commissioner John Douglas backing Commissioner J.C. Henderson’s last minute attempt to appoint a vendor to the committee seeking to tighten oversight of county spending.

As the committee wrapped up its second to last meeting Friday with a draft policy ready for review by the constitutional officers, Henderson informed committee chair Commissioner Nancy Schulz through the county clerk that he would appoint Junior Hilliard to represent him. 

Hilliard has held the contract to operate the county’s 11 recycling centers for 20 years. The county has not sought competitive bids for the contract since 2001. Hilliard’s contract was renewed for five years in 2013 by Commissioners Douglas, Henderson and Levie Maddox, overruling objections by Schulz and Commissioner Lanier Sims who wanted a one-year contract with a request for proposals.

Hilliard is also Henderson’s appointee to the Water and Sewer Authority and the citizen committee reviewing the form of government.

Schulz responded by email, writing, “…[Henderson’s] appointment of Mr. Hilliard is a conflict of interest since he is a vendor of Newton County.”

“Based on our work today, we are very close to a final draft of the Purchasing Policy. I suggest [Henderson] select a representative for the final meeting that is not in a vendor relationship with Newton County,” she wrote.

Commissioner Douglas responded by email in turn expressing support for Henderson’s right to choose a representative.

“On general principle, if a commissioner wants to appoint someone to a committee, that is their decision to make,” Douglas wrote.

Maddox, who is also serving on the purchasing policy committee, Sims and Henderson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tom West, a retired accountant on the committee, said he was not surprised by Henderson’s action.

“This is just exactly the same trick you would always expect from J.C., and the real question is: What’s in it for J.C.?” West said.

In its current form, the new draft purchasing policy would require requests for professional and contracted services to include at least three competitive written quotes for any service valued at more than $2,500. Previously, the language was vague in regard to competitive bidding for such services.

Since its inception, the committee has been marked by tension over whether services should be subject to the same regulations as other goods and supplies. Two weeks ago, Chairman Keith Ellis pulled his citizen nominee, Ann Neuhierl, who had been openly critical of the county’s policy, particularly regarding legal spending.

According to public documents, County Attorney Tommy Craig has billed the county more than $800,000 so far this fiscal year. That figure does not including payment to external attorneys for specific cases.

Schulz has criticized the board for failing to require a scope of work and estimated cost on projects assigned to Craig, who also owes millions in federal back taxes and penalties.

According to a report distributed by Schulz Thursday night before the meeting, Craig is the second highest paid vendor after NaphCare.

At Friday’s meeting, Ellis introduced Julias Hays, his replacement for Neuhierl, as a “thinker” and “problem solver.”

“Julias has the ability to work well with other folks in order to get things accomplished,” Ellis said.

The committee also heard from transportation department head Aaron Wadley, and discussed how to incorporate transportation purchasing policy, which is subject to stricter federal and state regulations that can change.

The committee agreed to present the draft policy to the constitutional officers for feedback before its final meeting the first week of June.