School district mulls options on bid mistake

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 22, 2001

School officials say they must determine intent when deciding if a recent project violated state bid laws when it was split apart and not put out for bid.

If the mistake was intentional the board cannot pay Kenneth Jones who was hired to do the work, said Bruce Kuehnle, attorney for the Natchez-Adams School Board.

&uot;The statute says he forfeits his payment,&uot; Kuehnle said.

But if the mistake was indeed a mistake the school board can pay it, Kuehnle said.

The school board has tabled the payment until it has looked into the matter.

&uot;We’re in the process of trying to make certain that while the cost of the project is split some it wasn’t done for the purpose of violating or defeating the bid laws,&uot; Kuehnle said.

The project involved a new sidewalk and canopy intended to connect the district’s multipurpose building to the campus of Natchez High School.

Instead of being treated as one project, Larry Haynes, the district’s building and grounds maintenance supervisor who just recently became involved with the bid process, separated the construction of sidewalk into two pieces – each costing about $8,000.

The project also included $1,950 in supplies from Mississippi Materials Company, $1,483 in supplies from Miss-Lou Steel Supply and $1,608 in supplies from St. Catherine Gravel Company.

The construction began this spring but has been put on hold because of the question about bidding, said Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis. The district requires all projects more than $5,000 to be bid.

&uot;One of the things that you can’t do (is) you can’t split projects to get them under those levels to avoid the bid requirements,&uot; said Kuehnle who thinks all facets of the project should have been treated as a unit.

But because of the situation, the three suppliers were paid and &uot;those are not illegal payments,&uot; Davis said. &uot;As a superintendent, I want to make sure everything is done according to state law.&uot;

The suppliers also submitted quotes for the items as required by district policy, Davis said. The district requires quotes for projects more than $500. Kuehnle agreed that it was legal to pay the suppliers because of the lower prices involved and because the suppliers had limited knowledge of the project.

Meanwhile, Jones is still waiting to receive payment. He was to receive $8,855 for the sidewalk which was removed from a recent claims docket – a list of the school district’s bills. He also may be due another $8,000 for the canopy which has yet to appear on a claims docket.

The holdup with his payment does not mean Haynes intended to make this mistake but just that the matter is undecided, Kuehnle said.

&uot;The fact of the matter is we just have not finished pulling together the facts for the board to make a decision about it,&uot; Kuehnle said. &uot;We’re just trying to make certain any decision to pay that claims docket can be supported factually.&uot;

Haynes received a letter of reprimand for his actions along with staff development on bid procedure. Davis says he still believes the mistake was unintentional.

Haynes said the incident was a &uot;simple mistake&uot; but would not give further comment.