A Chronicle Freedom of Information Request
The City of Clinton takes no bids for engineering work
The City of Clinton did not seek competitive bids for preliminary engineering work and conceptual drawings done on a proposed recreation complex located on Hwy. 56 just north of Clinton.
The city’s purchasing manual, adopted by city council July, 2013, sets a formal bidding process for contracts valued at more than $8,000, but a section of the manual exempts certain professional services from requiring bids.
City Manager Bill Ed Cannon said at the Nov. 5 council meeting, during which the conceptual drawings were unveiled, that the city has paid between $8,000 and $10,000 so far for the work.
Engineering work does not have to be bid, but the policy says “professional services are to be obtained on the basis of written contract proposals, not considered as bids or subject to bid requirements, and selected on the basis of qualifications and fairness in pricing.”
The Chronicle filed an FOIA request (and paid a $3 fee) for a copy of the written contract proposal presented by MSE Engineering of Lexington, Ky., the firm that developed the conceptual drawings for the proposed recreation complex.
In response, Cannon said, “To answer the second part of this question, we now seem to have a project which will require a contract to continue. As a professional engineer, the only thing we have done to this point is deemed preliminary. I have asked MSE to prepare a contract to professionally design this project and once we have a contract for my review and approval, you may go through the FOIA request process and a copy may be provided.”
The purchasing manual says all professional service contracts must be approved by the city manager.
At the Nov. 5 city council meeting, Cannon, who spent a number of years as the city manager of Corbin, Ky., said MSE “has worked for me for years.”
The city’s purchasing manual says any company doing business with the city must have a city business license. The Chronicle requested a copy of MSE’s business license issued by the City of Clinton.
“MSE is presently (in) the process of obtaining a business license with the City of Clinton,” Cannon said.
The Clinton business license application is a one-page form in which the business license fee is determined by previous year’s gross revenue, as reported to the S.C. Department of Revenue. The form takes about 10 minutes to complete.
Cannon was asked why he selected MSE to perform the non-bid work on the recreation complex.
“I have a longstanding history with this firm and know their professional capabilities that they are more than qualified to perform these services,” he said.
The city manager was asked if Clinton should have used a South Carolina engineering firm for the drawings. “As this moves along, wouldn’t it be more convenient to use a more-local company,” the newspaper asked Cannon.
In the written response to the FOIA request, Cannon said, “If you will check the records of SC, MSE as well as Glen Ross are both certified to do professional engineering business in the State of South Carolina. I do not know any engineering firms presently located within the City of Clinton.”
Finally, Cannon was asked if he considered using one of the firms that has prepared previous drawings and plans for the proposed recreation complex, which has been discussed by council, previous councils and previous city managers for a decade.
“There are a number of previous concepts, drawings, plans, etc., that have been done regarding a recreation complex for Clinton. You mentioned them at one of your first council meetings. (Cannon has been city manager since January.) Was any consideration given to using one of those firms.”
“Answers should be derived from the above stated responses,” was Cannon’s reply.
According to the city’s purchasing manual, the city’s purchasing program was established “to conduct business with integrity, fairness and dignity so as to maintain public trust and reduce the government’s exposure to criticism and legal action.”
The manual also states that items not approved as part of the annual budget require city council approval.