Jackson County terminates its contract with new jail architect

Jackson County Supervisors terminate contract with new firm; throw out all bids and plan to restart process

klnelson@sunherald.comJuly 29, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County supervisors voted Monday to fire another architectural firm in connection with the design of a new multi-million dollar county jail, stating that the latest firm took actions that were not authorized by the Board of Supervisors in connection with the bid process.

The board also voted to throw out all the bids on the jail the county received from contractors on July 1. The county received a low bid of about $27 million.

In a statement, supervisors said they plan to hire a new architectural firm to manage the jail design and go out for bids again, hopefully in three months.

The vote on both issues -- terminating the contract with The Goldberg Group of architects and tossing the bids -- was 4-1, with Supervisor Melton Harris opposing, and came after the board discussed the issues behind closed doors.

In the resolution, the board said The Goldberg Group took actions "that call into question the openness and competitiveness" of the bid process, as required by state law.

The board fired The Goldberg Group roughly a year after it fired Pryor & Morrow, an architectural firm out of Columbus that had worked on a traditional brick-and-mortar jail design for the county for more than a decade.

It was Oct. 10 when the county went with The Goldberg Group out of Missouri that offered a design of individually locking, pre-built cells for a better price and better inmate management and safety.

But on Monday, in a resolution presented by Supervisor Barry Cumbest, the county said that according to the contract with Goldberg, it has the option to terminate upon 10 day's notice and still retain all drawings, specifications and work created in preparation for the jail.

Goldberg will be paid for its services up to the date of termination, according to the resolution.

Supervisor Harris declined to comment on why he opposed the moves. He said he preferred to wait until the end of the 10-day period.

Chief Deputy Ken Broadus with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department,

who used to oversee the jail, waited in the audience as supervisors met in executive session on the issue. Broadus said he and Sheriff Mike Byrd had not been apprised of the situation and were waiting with the rest of the public to find out what was going on with the Board of Supervisors and the jail.

When supervisors came out of executive session, they made the announcement and Broadus asked them what the next step would be for the jail, which has been an issue for Jackson County for more than 15 years because of overcrowding. The jail was built in 1979 and has been reconfigured and added to on a temporary basis as stop-gap measures to handle overcrowding.

Supervisors told Broadus the next step would be to wait for the 10-day termination period outlined in the contract.

In a public statement released after the vote, the Board of Supervisors said, "The actions of the board today do not in any way reflect its lack of commitment to move forward with the jail" in the "most expedient and economical manner possible."

It said that state bidding laws were at the heart of the decision.

"Unfortunately, allegations that came to light after the opening of bids called into question the integrity and openness of the bid process and in this board's opinion gave the appearance of impropriety to the process," the statement said.

"Let it be made clear," the statement said. "Any inappropriate actions that may have occurred ... were not authorized by this board.

"The board feels that the allegations rose to such a level, when taken together with other difficulties it experienced with the services of the architect, that it could no longer go forward" with Goldberg.

In the statement, the board said it plans to use Goldberg's design, because it is already completed and paid for.

"We want to be clear that we will not spend any additional money for another design," the board said through its statement, "and the money we have spent thus far will not be wasted."

The county walked away from $1.2 million it had paid Pryor & Morrow over the years for the first design. But Supervisor John McKay, who was board president at the time that company was fired, said The Goldberg Group had more experience in building jails and would save the county at least that much with the new design.

In November, the county secured a good interest rate on borrowing money to build a jail for about $30 million and estimated annual payments to be $2.1 million for 20 years.

Supervisors also decided to go with one bid package, which meant one contractor would handle the construction of the building. Supervisors said Monday they believe the county will have a groundbreaking for the jail by the end of the year on the 700-800-bed structure that is expected to take more than a year to build.

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