More controversy for Mineral
The landscaping project around the Town of Mineral municipal building created tension among council members at Monday’s meeting.
A $3,400-plus town of Mineral landscape project has raised concerns about conflicts of interest and procurement procedures.
During Monday’s meeting, council member Roy Lee Payne said hiring Harlowe Grounds Maintenance & Landscaping–which is owned by Mayor Pam Harlowe’s son, Eric– to beautify the town’s new municipal building without council approval or a formal bidding process was “potentially” a conflict of interest.
Mayor Harlowe said that while she understood Payne’s concerns, there wouldn’t have been enough time to complete the project, adding that putting the job out to bid would have likely cost the town more money in the long run.
According to Doug Polen, town manager, the landscaping company reduced labor charges by more than 40 percent, didn’t charge the town for some of the work, and billed the town for the greenery at cost.
The issue of council approval for projects was an apparent position reversal for the mayor and town council member.
In a September meeting, the mayor successfully restricted check-writing abilities for former town manager Willie Harper, after she said he proceeded with a $4,500 project without council’s express approval. Payne had voted against that measure.
“Unfortunately, perception is reality in our world,” said council member Brooks Besley, “and this particular situation had a certain perception about it with folks around town. I suppose that’s something we need to be alert to.”
Council member Roy “Snake” McGehee said he hadn’t heard any negative feedback, adding that town residents didn’t complain when Harlowe’s company worked to repair numerous water leaks in the town.
Mayor Harlowe told Payne that her son’s company would no longer conduct business with the town because doing so creates tension.
“And if the town has the biggest water leak in its history, he will not come and freely help with it as he’s previously done,” she said. “We will not have this issue again. I will promise you.”
In response to Payne’s concerns, Vice Mayor Wilson-Kube said funding for the landscape project came from the Beautification and Anti-litter Committee’s budget, adding that the committee–which she chairs–is not required to seek council approval for such expenditures.
An approved landscape design was included in the new town municipal building’s construction budget, but cost overruns prevented completion of the work prior to the building’s opening in early February.
And, according to Jack Maus, town attorney, the town code does not have a section dealing with procurement, and state code exempts towns with populations of fewer than 3,500 from many of the state’s procurement restrictions. Mineral’s population is 467.
Maus said the rationale for such an exemption is that there is less money involved in smaller locales, which equates to smaller risk.
But Payne argued that when dealing with thousands of taxpayer dollars, projects should be sent out to bid.
Wilson-Kube said that doing so would have caused to great a delay in the project, because the money needed to be spent before the end of the 2011-2012 fiscal year–which ended on June 30.
According to Doug Polen, town manager, budgeted monies not used by committees by the end of each fiscal year roll into the following year’s general fund.
By a vote of 4-1, the council–which had unanimously approved a $2,000 Harlowe Grounds Maintenance invoice in July for work performed in June–approved August’s bills, which included a $1,414 invoice from the landscape company. Payne voted against.
Council member Dr. William Thomas suggested the town create an emergency bid list to handle time-sensitive projects and the town manager agreed to formulate a list of known vendors.