County engineering questions remain unanswered

Published 5:02 pm Friday, January 15, 2021

Something about the Adams County Board of Supervisors hiring of IMS Engineers to be the county’s engineering firm doesn’t quite pass the smell test.

On Jan. 4, the county voted 3 to 2 to replace Jordan, Kaiser & Sessions, a firm that has provided engineering services to Adams County for more than four decades, and replace it with out-of-area firm IMS Engineers.

IMS touts itself as the largest Black-owned and operated engineering firm in the country. Natchez native Chris Harrison, a graduate of Natchez High School who works for IMS at its office in Ridgeland, was present at that Jan. 5 board meeting.

However, nothing about the selection of a new engineering firm or even discussion of that topic was on the county board’s agenda for its Jan. 5 meeting.

Supervisors Kevin Wilson and Wes Middleton say they were caught off guard by the discussion and the vote to hire a new engineering firm. Both voted against the change. Board President Angela Hutchins and supervisors Rickey Gray and Warren Gaines voted in favor of hiring IMS.

A number of questions come quickly to mind. How did the three supervisors who voted to hire IMS Engineers choose them? Were any other engineering firm considered for the position? Did these three supervisors violate state laws regarding open meetings by meeting and discussing the issue? If they didn’t come together physically, did they violate the spirit of the law by meeting together or with IMS Engineers personnel via telephone or a virtual meeting?

Why wasn’t the issue on the supervisors’ meeting agenda? How did Harrison know to come to the Jan. 5 meeting? It is obvious Wilson and Middleton were kept in the dark as to any discussions about a new engineering firm? Why is that? Such calls into questions motives of those promoting IMS? Why couldn’t this change have been made more transparently?

Hayden Kaiser III, president of JKS, said he was unaware the county was not happy with his firm’s work. Hutchins said Kaiser was aware. How did the county communicate its dissatisfaction to Kaiser and his firm? One would think some kind of formal meeting would have been appropriate between the county supervisors and officials at JKS, if for no other reason than the 40-plus years that firm has served the county.

We hope to answer these questions in the coming week for our readers. The contract with IMS Engineers is not a done deal. The vote on Jan. 4 simply approved the county to begin negotiating on a rate or fee with that firm. We hope those negotiations are held publicly and taxpayers made aware of what the county will be paying the new firm. Lots of light needs to shine on this and other county business. The taxpayers of this county deserve nothing less.