Review calls for investigation of Madison County road contracts - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Review calls for investigation of Madison County road contracts

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By Marsha Thompson - bio | email

MADISON COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - A political feud continued in Madison County Wednesday as some residents questioned the use of their taxpayer dollars for road contracts. Money was pocketed by the county engineer whose firm was given multi-million dollar projects.

According to Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, private citizens hired engineer Richard McAfee of Florida to review Madison County contracts with Rudy Warnock's engineering firm.  McAfee is with PMA Consultants, LLC. 

McAfee used public records from nine roadway projects. He claimed to have found multiple instances of excessive fees and two million dollars worth of questionable disbursements to Warnock & Associates, LLC.

"Principally, it appeared to be the result of the inadequate oversight and then some instances of Warnock & Associates potentially over charging or double charging. For the most part it appears to be a combination of the two,"McAfee told WLBT news in an interview Wednesday.

So we posed this question, did supervisors protect the public's interest and taxpayer dollars in their dealings with their county engineer who got lucrative contracts? McAffee said no, but Madison County Administrator Mark Houston defended the elected officials.

"Every payment regarding engineering contracts was contractually legal and correctly documented," said Houston. 

"There were inadequate checks and balances," countered McAfee. "There were fees in the contracts that for reimbursement that were far beyond the norm."

Among the examples cited were laptop processors and computers, for which Warnock was reimbursed a rate of 20 dollars per hour for months. "You could buy 41 laptops with that money," said McAfee.

The county also paid Warnock 100 dollars a day for the use of a field truck plus on 35 cents per mile for gas according to the hired consultant.

A charge of $5.00 was paid daily for a mobile phone.

"Is this excessive? $22,102.63 for use of a field truck?  Oh yes, you could have bought the truck," said McAfee. 

We posed the same question to Houston. "Is that okay?" 

His reply, "Well, these hourly rates were debated in open board sessions here."

McAfee shot back, "From the documentation I've got so far, there is no smoking gun just a heck of a lot of smoke."

Houston told us, "It's a policy question of what the best expenditures of taxpayer dollars are." He said most counties use their own county engineer for projects, adding that this saved taxpayer dollars.

The PMA consultant's review stated that Madison County entered into a series of contracts with Warnock and Associates, LLC, beginning in 2005. "Irregularities in the administration of these contracts, on  the part of the county and Warnock and Associates, LLC, are the basis for the remainder of this report." 

In "Discussion, Issue 1" the report stated, "The lack of proper checks and balances created a situation where the County Engineer designed and approved his own work. The Rules and Regulations of the Mississippi Board of Licensure are binding upon every person holding a certificate of licensure as professional engineer or surveyor and on all partnerships or corporations or other legal entities authorized to offer or perform engineering or surveying services in the State."

Rule 17.0:  CODE OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT

17.04:  Conflict of Interest

7. A licensee serving in any official capacity, either part-time or full-time, as the engineer or surveyor for any county, city or other governmental body, board or agency, where plans or documents must be submitted to him for review, approval or a recommendation for approval, cannot review, approve or recommend approval of his own plans or documents, or plans or documents prepared by any member of  the firm of which he is a member.

ISSUE 1 - Of the ten contracts reviewed, Mr. Warnock signed each and every contract between Madison County and Warnock and Associates, LLC, as "Rudy Warnock, PE, Madison County Engineer," and  then reviewed and approved the resulting designs.  This was because the County did not have another Professional Engineer in a position of responsible charge to provide an independent professional peer assessment.

ISSUE 2 - The contract requirements regarding notification and consultation with the County regarding subcontracts appear not to have been enforced by the County and appear to have been breached by Warnock and Associates, LLC.

ISSUE 3 - The contract requirements regarding reimbursable expenses appear not to have been enforced by the County and appear to have been breached.

ISSUE 4 - The County contracts, rather than incentivize the Engineer to control costs, reward him for construction cost growth.

ISSUE 5 - The County contracts shift significant liability and risk from the Engineer to the County.

ISSUE 6 - The fee rates paid to Warnock and Associates appear to be high.

ISSUE -7  The County appears to have paid Warnock and Associates twice for Utility Permit Oversight, over $36,000 in a 13 month period from October 2006 through November 2007.

SUMMARY IN PART: It would appear that funds in excess of $2 million deserve scrutiny as potentially having been disbursed without adequate control and oversight.  A detailed audit would identify disbursements warranting an investigation.

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