Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No Bid Contracts All in the Family

Mayor Steve Womack apologized to the Rogers City Council on Tuesday evening regarding a no bid contract situation and a breach of trust between the mayor's office, city staff and the Council. Anyone who couldn't see this one coming was intentionally looking the other way, but it once again demonstrates how taxpayers get dicked when government officials authorize no bid contracts.

Donna Johnston is the administrator of the city's Community Development Block Grant Program, which is housed in the Rogers Planning and Transportation Department. Her husband, Don Johnston, was hired by the city as an engineer to work on trail design. After the City Council waived competitive bidding earlier this month, Don Johnston then purchased more than $67,000 in construction materials for trails from his son, Jazz Johnston, a salesman on commission at National Home Center in Bentonville. This cozy family relationship was never disclosed to the Mayor or Council.

That Womack says no laws were broken says far more about the state's weak conflict of interest laws than the propriety of the self dealers involved. That Mayor Womack disclosed the problem to the public and apologized to the City Council is to be commended. That is a much better response than falsely denying there are problems with no bid contracts or trying to shift the blame to the Council who approved the waiver on his recommendation.

It would be nice if Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody could ever bring himself to admit a mistake and apologize the the people and their representatives. Even Rogers Mayor Steve Womack can do that. A much better policy for anyone involved with public funds is to have a nepotism policy and to take competitive bids from the start.

Update: Since posting the above, The Morning News issued a clarification: "This article previously reported that Jazz Johnston said he earned a commission on items sold to the city of Rogers. After the article was published, Johnston said he did earn commissions on sales, but did not receive any commission on the $67,170 in construction materials he sold to the city." Let it be known that on January 16, 2009, we received an email from stating, "Fyi. I did not make 1 red cent in commission and my dad purchased the meterial i was the lowbidder on only....."

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