Friday, October 10, 2008

State Auditors Flag No-Bid Contracts

The Office of Legislative Audit released its audit of Benton County and busted several officials for ignoring the law by executing illegal no-bid contracts. Benton County Sheriff Keith Ferguson failed to seek competitive bids on nearly $195,000 worth of purchases for the jail food contract from Aramark Services, jail computer software from Southern Software, and six vehicles from Bale Chevrolet in Little Rock in 2006.

State auditors also found that Benton and Washington counties didn't take bids as required by law on a road project that cost more than $235,000 for asphalt and a construction contract to pave about 5 miles of road to Camp War Eagle, a Christian sports and recreation summer camp that just happens to be a project of the Walton Family Foundation. Benton and Washington counties reimbursed SCJC, the project's general contractor chosen by Camp War Eagle and also paid Donelson Construction Company on a no bid contract.

Benton County Judge Gary Black took responsibility for his actions and said, "The audit falls on me, not the road department." Washington County officials were less forthcoming. Washington County administrator John Gibson said he was not involved in the joint project, and referred further questions to Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton, who was out of the office and did not return a reporter's calls.

We all know the dangers of no bid contracts, yet some public officials ignore the law and find an excuse why it is more convenient for them than to seek the lowest costs for taxpayers. There are no criminal penalties, and the public doesn't usually seem to know or care. Both Black and Hunton will be leaving office at the end of the year.

The next Legislative Audit of no bid contracts signed by the City of Fayetteville will not be made public until after the November election.

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