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Interchange design dilemma takes new turn

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Oct. 2, 2002
City officials will start from scratch selecting a design firm to head up construction of a key Interstate 20/59 interchange at the Meridian-Lauderdale County Industrial Park.
On Tuesday, Mayor John Robert Smith vetoed the Meridian City Council's most recent action selecting Engineering Associates to design an interchange to the park a move officials say is needed to market the site.
Smith told councilmen at their meeting Tuesday he will appoint a new selection committee of city employees to recommend a firm to head up the construction of the multimillion-dollar project.
Smith's veto marks the second time he rejected the council's action on the issue. The mayor first vetoed the council's original choice of Neel-Schaffer Inc. to handle the project.
Committee choice
Smith said the council had to go with a city selection committee's top choice of Engineering Associates or possibly lose state and federal funding for the project.
The council then chose Engineering Associates.
Immediately following the council's decision, however, the entire selection committee process came under scrutiny of city leaders and councilmen.
Meridian Public Works Director Monty Jackson, who was a member of the selection committee, told city employee Audra Buckley to raise her scores for Engineering Associates.
Ward 5 Councilman Bobby Smith said those changes were made to give Engineering Associates the highest score. Engineering Associates ultimately scored three points higher than Neel-Schaffer Inc.
Councilman Smith said that is why the council originally chose Neel-Schaffer.
Project funding
On Tuesday, the mayor said the city can start the selection process over without fear of losing federal and state highway money. He said officials have assured him funding is in place.
Councilman Bobby Smith said he is upset that the city is beginning an evaluation process again. He said the entire process should not be taking as long as it is.
Other councilmen seemed puzzled by the mayor's action.