Back to square one
Oct. 6, 2002
A great deal of confusion has swirled around the city of Meridian's process to select an engineering firm for a much-needed interchange to connect I 20/59 with the I 20/59 Industrial Park. Suffice it to say enough dust was flying that the city now has opted to start over.
As the mayor appoints a new selection committee and the city council awaits its decision on which engineering firm may get the contract, it is important to remember two things:
1. Starting over with the selection process will not threaten the project's federal funding. The money is reserved. It will be there when a decision is made;
2. These sorts of confusing processes do tend to result in needless delays and give rise to at least the appearance of impropriety.
Local officials have been trying to develop and market the I 20/59 Industrial Park since the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation acquired the property in 2000. Through the combined efforts of local, state and federal government, some of the funding for infrastructure such as water and sewer service has fallen into place. Hopefully, before too long, actual construction work will begin on the water and sewer portions of the project.
Even as that work gets under way and as the city officially selects an engineering firm to handle the Hawkins Crossing interchange, some questions remain.
Did political influence play a role in the selection process?
Was information purposefully distorted for the sake of awarding the contract to one of the firms?
Why was a member of the original selection committee pressured into changing her ratings?
Did members of the Meridian city council have all the facts?
What was the role, if any, of Sen. Thad Cochran's office, why would he care which firm got the project, and did he have all of the facts?
It is important for this community to know the answers to these questions and others, if for no other reason than to help avoid this sort of thing in the future.