Wednesday, July 30, 2008

EMAILS CONFIRM: County Maintenance Chief's No-Bid Contract Account

By Mike Martin

I am Ken Roberts and I thought everyone had forgotten what happened to me.

Prompted by a
Columbia Business Times story last week on a widely-reported contract that southern district commissioner Karen Miller helped secure for boyfriend David Brown about a year and half ago, Ken Roberts -- the county maintenance chief commissioner Skip Elkin claims was forced out over the incident -- stepped forward with copies of emails, invoices, and other correspondence. A Columbia Tribune story on the issue indicates this is the second time these materials have been provided to the press.

The contract -- for a wall inside a building to separate equipment for the sheriff and county clerk -- was approved with a so-called "Notice to Proceed" after Roberts received estimates from Brown and statements of no interest from two other firms, including Septagon Construction.

The written materials corroborate that Miller managed and guided virtually every step of the project, contrary to her previous assertions; and that Roberts waited for instructions prior to virtually every move he made. Roberts delivered the price quote to Miller and county clerk Wendy Noren in a July 5, 2006 email entitled "Price quote on wall," adding that he found the quotes very reasonable and "recommending that we commence work right away."

Miller responded the same day. "I think we need to hold off," she writes. "The Sheriff went with me this morning and he is going to get the approval for a 10' and Razor wire top from the Prosecutor and judges first."

"Thank you Commissioner," Roberts responds, about 2 minutes later. "I will hold off."

Miller signs her emails with an electronic signature, Karen M. Miller, District 1 Commissioner, Boone County MO, 801 E. Walnut, Room 245, Columbia, Mo 65201 573-886-4308
kmiller@boonecountymo.org. In almost every case, exchanged emails were cc'd to several parties.

Prior to an October email from auditor June Pitchford, no one mentioned the need for a formal bid, though Miller mentions the contract estimate -- $4,814.50 -- in a Jul. 18, 2006 email to Pitchford and Roberts, cc'd to fellow commissioners Keith Schnarre and Skip Elkin.

"Just to bring everyone up to speed on where we are on this issue," Miller writes. "At this point we have an estimate for the wall of $4,814.50."

Addressing the need for razor wire, and an automatic garage door, Miller also discusses a $1,008.00 bid from security provider ACC for "2 cameras, 1 keypad, 3 motion detectors, and 2 smoke alarms" to protect Sheriff Dwayne Carey's side of the building. "Wendy's side will cost $10,360.60," she writes, referring to county clerk Wendy Noren.

"The plan is to get this work done after the primary, probably the first part of September. Ken, can you pull the rest of the costs together so we will have the total cost for this project. June, I assume we will take this from the FM emergency fund or the GF emergency fund. I plan to take a copy of the estimate to Wendy this afternoon and may have a better idea if she has enough funding for her portion of the security system."

A follow up email from Pitchford about an hour later thanks Miller "for the update," and addresses budget issues, but does not mention the need for a bid.

In a Jul 26, 2006 email answering questions from Miller and Pitchford, Roberts writes about receiving a "Notice to Proceed."

"The notice to proceed on the wall and the [razor] wire have been given with a targeted start date of September 1st. The security systems Notice to proceed was given the week of July 12th."

Roberts then exchanges other emails answering detailed questions about square footage and cost estimates, mostly with Pitchford.

On August 1, 2006 at 11:15 AM, Miller sends Roberts an email inquiring as to the project's status:

"Ken: Have you made arrangements with David for this work yet? I just don't want him to be planning something else and not have it on his schedule. Karen."

Roberts responds, about 30 minutes later. "Yes I have."

Reflecting the need to receive permission over even the smallest issues, Roberts receives an email from county commission admin. assistant Jody Moore entitled "Wendy's Warehouse," also on August 1.

"Nancy from elections called and said they want 3 desk size (round green) trash cans and liquid soap (gallon refill) for their building," Moore writes. "They want us to pay for it because 'we already have to pay too much out of our budget for this building.'"

The next day, Roberts asks permission from his boss, Boone County public works director David Mink. "Should I go ahead and just buy these items?" he writes. Mink replies later that morning. "If these are items that you typically purchase for other County occupied buildings, I would say go ahead."

In another email dated Aug 2, 2006, Roberts tells Mink that "Wendy Noren's office contacted my office and wanted housekeeping services right away. I called Mr. Schnarre and he instructed me to fulfill this duty until they could get some organization to that space going. I will have some one go out after 3 PM today and empty the trash and clean the bathrooms. I will have either Stan or Joseph pull trash and check the bathrooms until this election crunch is over. This is just FYI for you."

Despite sending an August 29, 2006 email detailing how to process "all invoices, purchase requisitions, or other similar items" related to the courthouse construction project to Mink, Roberts, Schnarre, and several other staffers, auditor June Pitchford finds herself frustrated a month later.

"We seem to have invoices floating around various offices and need to get organized," she writes in a 9/29/2006 email to Miller, Noren, Roberts, and other staff. "Here's the plan."

In the interim, Miller directs Roberts to "rethink the plan to access the sheriff's space," with a detailed email that instructs him "not to order the overhead garage opener at this time," and advises him to pour a concrete pad near the entrance, which would take "very little framing and concrete."

Roberts responds, telling Miller exactly what he intends to do, including having "the back of the building cleaned up and all brush weeds removed."

In another email, Miller advises Roberts to "put down some pavers or gravel for people to walk on when the weather is nasty."

On 10/2/2006, auditor June Pitchford emails Roberts with this subject line: Warehouse Invoices -- will need bid documentation.

Ken: I forgot to mention in the previous e-mail that I will need you to include appropriate bid documentation for each of the invoices you forward...

Roberts receives instructions from staffer Karen Frederick in a 10/18/2006 email to pay the Brown Construction invoice from a sheriff's department account. Frederick then writes, "I think the only piece of warehouse cost information I'm missing right now is the heating and cooling invoice." She does not mention missing a bid.

After she receives the "Brown Construction Invoice," Pitchford alerts Roberts that it exceeds the sealed bid threshold of $4,500.00, "so we need a written explanation from you to attach to the payment documentation."


Some confusion seems apparent about what exactly constitutes a bid. With the Brown quote and two additional statements of no-interest, Roberts had turned in three bids. They apparently weren't formal enough because they exceeded a threshold. "The two attached quotes (no-quotes) would be acceptable if the invoice price were less than $4,500.00," Pitchford informs Roberts.

After receiving directions from Mink on 10/26/2006 to "write a memo" on the issue, nearly three weeks later -- on 11/13/2006 -- Roberts' memo goes to the county commission.

"After meeting with Wendy Noren and Karen Miller, the word was given to find some one to construct the wall. I had mentioned this was the peak work season for all my contractors and it was suggested I try Brown Construction," Roberts writes. "After calling on Boone and Septagon, both of whom laughed at me and said they could not help me, I called Brown."

A June 1, 2006 bill from David Brown's company, Brown Construction, in the amount of $30,486.34 to "Wendy Noren: Election storage for new machines" indicates Brown was already working on the project. His response was rapid in the face of a "tight time line," Roberts notes.

"Word was finally given to build and I gave a NTP [Notice to Proceed] to Brown to start."

Then a sentence that seems wholly out of character with 5 months of instructions, permissions, and micromanagement.

"It is my job to make sure bid guidelines are followed and I made a procedural mistake in this project."

Six weeks later, Roberts was gone and David Mink sent this memo to him:

As you prepare to leave for new opportunities, I want to let you know how much I have appreciated working with you these past five and one half years. I wish you well in your new endeavors. You can be proud of many accomplishments that have occurred during your tenure. I have appreciated your loyalty and your friendship!

Speaking with the Columbia Heart Beat, Roberts was philosophical. "I'm a loyal guy," he said.
"But this year, I'm voting against Karen Miller."

RELATED:

Prosecutor to review county’s no-bid contract

Elkin takes issue with no-bid job for colleague’s friend

Maintenance chief quits over county bidding flap

Hank Waters: The No-Bid County Wall

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