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Anatomy of a contract: Time to review the process

By Staff
Sept. 22, 2002
Detailed stories published last week in The Meridian Star offered a glimpse into how not to evaluate engineering firms wanting to do business with the city. Three very capable and well-qualified firms were evaluated on their ability to do the engineering work on a key interchange that will connect Interstate 20/59 to a new industrial park.
Let's state from the beginning that the interchange is a necessary element in the industrial park's development and the engineering work is a necessary element in the interchange's construction. Access in and out of the industrial park from the interstate is absolutely essential if the park is to attract industrial prospects and reach its full potential. We continue to support the industrial park's development 100 percent.
The manner in which Engineering Associates was selected is a study in the needlessly convoluted manner in which too much city business seems to be conducted. The process is secretive and flawed and this time threatened a critical project at a critical time.
Still might, should the losing engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer Inc., of Jackson decide to challenge the city council's ultimate decision to give the work to its competitor. Clearly, enough members of the city council were displeased enough with the process that it initially overrode the evaluation committee's selection. After a mayoral veto, however, and under some pressure from Washington, the council quickly reversed course.
Councilman Bobby Smith was right to bring all of this to the public's attention. Evaluating an engineering firm for this sort of major public project, or any public project for that matter, should be an open, straightforward process, free from even the appearance of impropriety. Fundamentally, given the importance of such evaluations, they should be conducted by people knowledgeable in the business of day-to-day business of engineering.
We suggest that the mayor and city council review the process itself and make whatever changes are necessary to facilitate informed decision-making.