Citizen questions Authority on repayment of federal funds

Last updated: January 24. 2014 4:22PM - 1015 Views
By - aworrell@civitasmedia.com



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Citizen Stephen Gregson wants answers from the Carroll County Public Service Authority (PSA) related to the sewer project in which the PSA had to repay $266,167 to federal funding agency Rural Development.


The Authority was ordered to repay $266,167 in federal grant money used to fund the $4.3 million Fancy Gap sewer project after a letter from a Gregson about a sewer line extension that may have been installed in and around the Joy Ranch Road area of the county.


“At that time, a full review was made of the matter and it was determined that Rural Development funding for the Fancy Gap Project had been incorrectly used for the Joy Ranch Road extension,” Vernon Orrell of USDA Rural Development said at the time.


During the PSA’s January 13 meeting, Gregson wanted to ask additional questions about the situation. Gregson then provided an email dated October 20, 2011 from Kevin Heath to Eddie Smith of Rural Development. Gregson said the email clearly states Rural Development did not have any prior knowledge of the Joy Ranch Road project being added, and that it was not approved for advertisement. Gregson said Heath states in the email that the addendum was to add two additional Additive Bid items “for which we want to get pricing,” one of which was the Joy Ranch Road addition.


“My question is who was the ‘we’ that Mr. Health was speaking of since there is no record the Authority approved this addition?” Gregson asked.


Gregson then followed with a series of questions.


- When did the Authority vote to allow staff to answer “Option 1 - Request an Informal Administrative Review” of the appeal process, and why did staff sign the request when the letter was addressed to the Chairman?


- When did the Authority Board authorize to return the funding back by way of check #1404 to Rural Development some 12 days after the deadline?


- Why are the minutes and approvals still silent with regards to the return of the funding check?


- Why was the public not notified of the demand from Rural Development some three months after the fact?


- Why was the demand letter not disclosed prior to the November election?


- Why was the Authority Board asked for a vote in the December meeting for “Option 2 – Request an Appeal Hearing” when they were not asked for any input on “Option 1 publicly?”


Gregson thanked the Authority and said he felt none of his questions would require a legal opinion, opining that staff should be more than qualified to answer.


Gregson also revisited questions he asked of the PSA in October of 2013 related to the Oak Grove water project. Gregson claims there was no procurement for the project. In October, he asked the Authority for the date the Oak Grove water project went to bid for engineering and design, when was the preliminary engineering report done, when was the engineering contract awarded, and what procurement was used to publicly award the engineering contract and design.


Gregson said County Attorney Jim Cornwell addressed the board on the subject in November during open session. He said he requested a copy of the letter via the Freedom of Information Act.


“I was informed that Mr. Cornwell would not provide the letter and the backup attached, much less a copy from the Authority that was disseminated to the public,” Gregson said. “I am still waiting for the FOIA request to be fulfilled and now feel that the authority needs to be informed of this denial.”


Gregson said he was not at the November meeting, but after reading minutes from the meeting more questions have arisen. He wanted to know who authorized Cornwell to answer his questions “in which clearly staff could have and should have without incurring a billable from Mr. Cornwell, if there was one.”


Gregson said Cornwell has also confirmed publicly there was no procurement for the engineering and design.


“He has apparently provided a copy of an addendum to the ‘Long Range Water Supply Project’ with signatures dated some two and a half years after the date of the original agreement,” Gregson said. “With the original agreement being only valid for one year, how can one attach an addendum to an agreement which the original agreement is silent to the scope and was well past performance?”


At the conclusion of the meeting, PSA member James Light said he felt everyone on the Authority has done a good job, even though there have been some rough patches.


“There’s been a couple of spells that were a little bit tarnished and ugly, but when I sit back and look at it I see no problems. I can say from James Light’s point of view that anybody that has anything to do with it has done it correctly and morally and right,” Light said. “And I would like for this year to not have any kind of problems. I gave this same speech to Mr. Gregson the other day and I told him I don’t see a problem. I don’t see a problem with him. I don’t see a problem with anyone on this board. If you have a question, ask it and we will try to get him an answer. I appreciate him coming and asking questions in the open today. We will take this list and answer them if we can, and if we can’t , tell him we can’t, and go from there.”

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