Brown faults county for long practice of no-bid contracts

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown is challenging the county’s use of a single firm for engineering services for the Fayette County Water System without seeking bids for individual projects instead.

Brown in a letter to the county’s water committee said he finds the practice “to be unacceptable and not in the best interests of our taxpayers and water patrons.”

The engineering firm of Mallett and Associates has been the consulting engineer for the Fayette County Water System since the early 1980s, and as such has “intrinsic knowledge of the system and all its component elements,” County Manager Jack Krakeel said Tuesday.

The county has used Mallett and Associates in lieu of having an in-house engineering staff for the water system, Krakeel explained.

If the commission wants to put the engineering consultant position out to bid, county staff will make it happen, Krakeel said.

At last week’s commission meeting, Brown objected to staff’s suggestion to have Mallett Consulting Inc. “prepare a bid package, including drawings and specifications, and to solicit bids for developing the recreation area at Lake McIntosh.” Brown said he preferred to put this work up for bid instead.

Brown argued at the meeting that he was not disrespecting Mallett’s work but he felt the commission was “kidding ourselves if we think there aren’t other firms in metro Atlanta that could do exactly the same job or experience the level of service we are receiving now.”

Commissioner Lee Hearn defended using Mallett for the recreation area work, since the company has “done a great job with our system” for more than 20 years, which he feels deserves merit and consideration. He also noted that because the project involves professional services, the county is not obligated to put the work out for bid.

Mallett is the lead project engineering firm for the Lake McIntosh project, Hearn noted, saying it made good business sense for it to handle engineering work for the lake’s recreation area. Krakeel noted that Mallett and Associates won the bid for the Lake McIntosh engineering work, which was not part of its consulting engineering agreement.

Commissioner Robert Horgan also defended the decision to award the recreation engineering to Mallett, noting that the move was the recommendation of the county’s water committee. Noting the committee’s experience, Horgan said he felt the commission should “lean on them for their advice.”

The vote to award the Lake McIntosh recreation area work to Mallett Consulting was 3-2, with Brown and Commissioner Allen McCarty voting against.

“In the midst of a horrible economy when the county is engaged in deficit budgeting with equipment and maintenance issues left wanting, we need every county department and constitutional officer doing their utmost to control costs,” Brown wrote in his letter to the water committee.

The county is not obligated to seek bids for professional services, but it does seek bids for all materials purchases over $20,000, Krakeel said. For material purchases under that threshold, county employees are required to get three quotes to insure the county gets the best price, he added.

“I think we try to do the best we can in making sure we get the lowest possible price for the services we engage in, or the products we procure,” Krakeel said.