Commission decorum bites the dust

as commissioner criticizes administrator

District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong mounted a verbal attack in Monday’s commission business meeting on county administrator Zac Marsh, over a public request for proposals in connection with redesigning the county website.

The type of vendors to be considered had been broadened at Armstrong’s request to include local website developers, as well as vendors of statewide experience. One local vendor wrote Armstrong a letter complaining that he had not been informed of the bid in timely-enough fashion to prepare a bid and respond.

Armstrong said the vendor said he was informed by a message from the county administrator (the letter itself said ther voicemail was from the commission office) only a short time before the bid was due.

“And speaking of the county administrator, his job performance here lately is in the gutter,” Armstrong said.“ We’re not looking out for local vendors when we don’t give them adequate time to respond. He’s (Marsh) tried to force feed us this (statewide website vendor) before, and I didn’t like the taste,” he said.

Armstrong had previously objected to including only vendors with substantial experience in website development during the initial discussion stage on the project several months ago, insisting that local vendors be included in those asked to submit bids.

Marsh said after the meeting that he had met exactly the specific requirements for notifying vendors, local and otherwise, of a request for bids by having it posted on the county website and at the designated place for public notices in the courthouse. He said he had made no attempt at all to contact the local vendor personally, since he was following exactly the protocol for requesting bids, so as to afford all an equal opportunity to respond.

“I did, however, notify Mr. Armstrong by e-mail twice just before the RFP packages went out of all vendors who had requested a bid packet. I asked him to let me know if there were any other bidders who should receive a bid packet. He did not reply to those e-mails.” (Armstrong had communicated personally with the local vendor, according to the vendor’s letter.)

The text of that e-mail appears below. To: Allen Armstrong “I finished writing the bid specs for the web site today. Can you send me the contact info or company name for any vendors interested in building our site?” Thanks, Zac

One other local vendor, Alpine Advertising, received a bid packet, but was said to have declined to bid, citing the size of the project. The company did not return a call to confirm that information.

Following extended discussion of how to remedy the situation, the commission voted to extend the deadline period for responding to the RFP to June 25 at 9 a.m., to allow the complaining local vendor time to respond. The motion included language to request that each responding vendor provide a resume describing its previous experience with similar website projects, information already available on some, but not all, bidding vendors. The Blount Countian will report bid results once all bids are received.

Commission splits on important actions

• Palisades Park land acquisition. The commission deadlocked on a motion to move $24,000 in grant revenue from a residual account and to transfer $2,534 from the general fund to cover the remaining portion of the grant match required to purchase 20 acres of property providing additional bluff escarpment for rappelling at Palisades Park. Voting against the motion were Armstrong and District 2 Commissioner Carthal Self, both of whom apparently opposed the measure based on the price of the land, although it seems that the commission’s total outlay in county funds was the above-mentioned $2,534, the remaining $60,000 (approximately) coming from federal grant funds.

“There’s land right down the road appraised for $2,100 per acre [compared to the $3,000 per acre appraisal for the Palisades Park tract],” Armstrong said.“They went to no lengths whatever to get the land for a cheaper price,” he added.

Armstrong, who got up to circulate an appraisal of the nearby property, was ruled out of order by Commission Chairman Chris Green, who instructed him:“I’m ruling you out of order. Please sit down. You may raise this matter later as an agenda item and we can discuss it in a later meeting. We now have a motion and second on the floor for a vote.”

District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert and District 4 Commissioner Gary Stricklin both voted in favor of the measure, leading to the 2-2 stalemate. Green broke the tie with an affirmative vote, and the motion passed.

“I’m proud to have this acquisition completed,” Green said.“It’s a great addition for the county and its people, made at a minimal cost to the county of only $2,534.10,” he said.

Paying the Department of Public Examiners. The commission once again deadlocked on a motion to pay the state auditor’s office for accounting and auditing fees incurred for the annual audit in 2013 and 2014, along with a smaller payment for actuarial costs to estimate other postemployment benefits, as required by the Government Accounting Standards Board. Armstrong and Self both opposed the motion, and Calvert and Stricklin approved it. Green again broke the tie and the motion passed.

The basis of opposition was that the legitimate expense was to be paid, according to the motion, from Road and Bridge Fund 112. That fund, despite its name, is properly used to fund both road work expenditures and non-road expenditures such as travel, conference expenses, and other non-road-related expenditures.

Payment of the annual audit expense has been customarily budgeted and paid from that account for years, according to Green. Armstrong made a statement to the effect that general government expenses should not be paid from accounts designated to support road maintenance.

“It’s just stupid to pay for some of these general fund expenses, like auditing, out of road money,” Armstrong told The Blount Countian.“Ninety-nine percent of what people want us to spend money on is roads, not all these other things we end of paying for with road money. We don‘t need to be spending road money for other purposes,” he said.

“The full name of that account is the Road and Bridge and/or Public Buildings fund,” Green told The Blount Countian in a telephone coversation.“It is not restricted to road and bridges. It can be used to pay any indebtedness and also can be used as general fund monies. It should not be allowed to appear that anything is wrong or improper about payments made from that fund for expenditures other than roads and bridges.”

Resolution on public hearing

The commission approved a resolution calling for a public hearing required by the Alabama Constitution “when a public entity lends its credit or when public funds are provided to the benefit of a private entity” (referring to an outparcel of land connected to the Family Services Center property valued at $503,300 and signed over via a “no-cost conveyance” to the Blount County Economic Development Council). The public hearing further includes discussion of the transfer of leases of various tenants at the Family Services Center to the Blount County Commission as a result of the convenyance of the Family Services Center property from the Blount County Health Care Authority to the county commission. The public hearing will be July 13, 2015, at 9 a.m. in the commission boardroom at the courthouse.

Other highlights

County engineer Winston Sitton announced that County Road 1 will reopen to traffic by Monday, June 15, weather permitting. The road has been closed for major repairs to a chronic slide and sinkhole area since early in the year.

The commission also:

approved, due to technical inconsistencies in the bid process, rejecting bids received for covered bridge surveillance cameras and rebidding the project.

• authorized the engineering department to begin the process of vacating a portion of Davis Road in District 2, resulting from a petition from adjoining landowners. The process will culminate in a public hearing with date to be announced later.

• approved the interagency agreement between the Department of Human Resources and the Blount County Commission for the continued operation of the Almeda Robertson Adult Day Care Center in fiscal year 2017.

Quorum and future meetings

All commissioners, the commission chairman, the county administrator, the county engineer and the two county attorneys were present at the Monday business meeting.

The next commission work session will be July 9 at 9 a.m. The next business meeting will be July 13 at 9 a.m. Both will be in the commission boardroom at the courthouse in Oneonta.

A special meeting has been called for June 29 to award or reject bids on a motor grader for District 2.