Three years ago, tornado siren maintenance and site maintenance was the job of Hinds County employees and inmates. Now, the county contracts out to a vendor, Airwave LLC, which charges hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to do it, even though the new sirens are under warranty.
The contracts with Airwave, which we're told pay out close to a million dollars per year altogether, have caught the attention of the state auditor. "We have been for quite some time looking into the contracts, specifically with this company, and when the contracts were issued versus incorporation dates, but also what liability there may be for elected officials, and tax liabilities. Tax monies that may be owed to the state," says Auditor Stacey Pickering. "When you're dealing with maintenance contracts, under state law, the invoice process has to be addressed in very specific ways. There's a lot of factors we're going to be looking into," he says.
Airwave's "Emergency Communications System Maintenance Agreement" was signed by both parties in early December 2008. But according to the Secretary of State's website, Airwave, LLC did not incorporate until January 28, 2009.
The "Emergency Communications System Maintenance Agreement" is worth $737,000 this year, $770,000 next year, $805,000 in 2012, and $845,000 in 2013. The six-year span of the contract will pay out $4 million to Airwave, a company where Stowers is the only employee and subs out some of the work to contractors.
Ward 4 Supervisor Phil Fisher says he originally voted in favor of the Airwave siren maintenance contract back in 2008. But then he says he noticed the work wasn't being done. "We paid them every month to do that job. They weren't doing it. Caught red handed," he says.
Fisher, who interviewed with us by phone while he's on active duty in Afghanistan, singles out Supervisor Robert Graham. Graham spearheaded the effort to replace all 58 tornado sirens.
Fisher says he trusted Graham until early 2009. "I was working closely with Graham, thought he was telling me things the way they were. After he began flipping his votes in December 2008, I quit trusting him," Fisher says.
Auditor Pickering says it's too early to tell if anyone's breaking the law. "There's nothing illegal about wasting money, we have to fix that at the ballot box," he says.
Graham called our newsroom Thursday night to give a statement on the issue. He told our Maggie Wade he is in New Hampshire conducting training. Graham said, " I stand by the work that was done by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors in repairing all of the warning sirens. When there were only 12 sirens working, no one was complaining. But now that all of them are working, it seems that Mr. Fisher is the only one who is complaining. Mr. Fisher's statements are completely politically motivated because I was successfully able to do things that he was never able to do. Mr. Fisher apparently has a problem remembering that he voted for the same contract."
Graham added, "This is an apparent attempt to smear my name by the only Republican on the Board."
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