County Council hears bid process protest

Diane Wilkes, CEO of Hartsville Medical Enrichment Services, took issue with Darlington County's bid process. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Diane Wilkes, CEO of Hartsville Medical Enrichment Services, took issue with Darlington County’s bid process.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington County Council convened their regular monthly meeting Monday, August 15, and heard from a local business person upset about perceived unfairness and procedural abnormalities involved in the county’s awarding of a medical services contract.

Diane Wilkes, CEO of Hartsville Medical Enrichment Services, voiced her displeasure regarding the handling of a recent bid solicitation and review process conducted to secure health screening services and physicals for county employees. That contract was awarded to Hartsville Primary Care at council’s August 8 special meeting.

“Darlington County employees, either through incompetency or unethical behavior, failed to follow the proper protocol in the county ordinance regarding the handling of the vendor bid process,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes enumerated several specific objections, stating that county staff did not adhere to a June 16, 2016 deadline for submitting questions and answers, did not require a performance bond, did not accept her company’s plan of action, contacted only one bidder to see if they would lower their bid, and publicly posted her company’s bid prices.

For this last issue, Wilkes said she received an apology from county finance director Sherman Dibble. But Wilkes remained concerned over how the process was handled, and she warned of legal action if these problems recur.

“If Darlington County Council cannot or will not ensure fairness and legality in future awarding of bid contracts, my company will investigate the possibility of seeking legal redress through the judicial system,” said Wilkes.

No member of council or county staff made any comment regarding Wilkes’ accusations.

On the regular agenda, council held first reading of Ordinance 16-17, allocating 30-percent of all delinquent tax collections as payment to Tax Management Associates as their fee. The firm collected $50,000 in delinquent taxes during the month of July and will continue their work through September, 2016. Projected yields are about $150,000 for their three month term, and their estimated payment should be about $45,000.

Council approved Resolution No. 669, allowing the Darlington Dragway to operate on Sundays. New owner Russell Miller requested the special 3-year, non-transferable permit providing for no ticket sales or activities before 8 a.m., no races before 10 a.m., and no sales of alcohol except beer and wine if Miller secures a special permit from the SC Alcohol Beverage Commission.

Citizen Jimmy Gainey addressed council on behalf of the deacons of Swift Creek Baptist Church and requested that the racing begin no earlier than noon on Sundays out of respect for church services, which run from 10 a.m. to noon at Swift Creek Baptist. Gainey also objected to the sales of alcohol, but allowed that state permission would trump council’s opinion on this matter.

Pastor Tim Skipper of Calvary Tabernacle Church echoed these sentiments, especially asking for council to consider delaying racing until most church services are over – even though his congregation wouldn’t be through until a bit later.

“We’ll just try to pray louder from twelve to one,” said Skipper.

Council member Bobby Kilgo initially proposed an amendment to the resolution imposing a start time of noon and an end time of 8 p.m. Council chair Bobby Hudson and council member Dannie Douglas argued that 1 p.m. might better accommodate church services. Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson voiced her opinion that the dragway is mostly used by “black bikers” and she was concerned about the fairness of imposing early event cut off times.

After lengthy discussion and multiple amendments, council amended Resolution 669 to reflect a start time of 1 p.m. and a racing cutoff time of midnight on Saturday nights, with a provision for wiggle room in the case of a nationally sanctioned IHRA or NHRA-level drag racing event.

Council also accepted a letter of resignation from accounting firm Hill & Jordan, which handled county annual audit duties until this past year when the departure of some key employees rendered the firm unable to complete the audit in a timely manner. Darlington County recently contracted with another firm to conduct future audits, but they cannot begin work until they receive the 2015 audit data – which was due March 15, 2016.

Since Darlington County still has not received or submitted this audit data to South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, the state has notified the county of their intent to withhold 10-percent of Darlington County’s Local Government Fund allocation. Hill & Jordan proposed to refund half of their billed fees ($9,833) for their work on the 2015 audit.

Council approved expenditures of just over $1.19 million for vehicles and $1.65 million for heavy equipment, covered under the recently approved $3.5 million lease-purchase agreement. All vehicles will be purchased through South Carolina State Contract and Cooperative Purchase Programs. Kilgo added a stipulation that local dealers be allowed to submit bids to supply these vehicles and equipment.

Equipment slated for purchase includes $263,500 and $211,500 for two John Deere motor graders for the Roads and Bridges Department, and $708,460 for four Braun Express F350 ambulances for EMS.

Council agreed to a contract with MKA Mechanical, Inc. for $18,077 to handle preventative maintenance for HVAC systems at county facilities. Council also agreed to contract with Walkup Electrical Construction to handle emergencies and HVAC service calls at a rate of $60 per hour and $85 after hours.

During closing comments, Hudson addressed the Darlington County School District’s recent vote to send their current penny sales tax (which yields about $5 million a year in revenue) to a November voter referendum for renewal. If that happens, the county would be cut off from using penny sales tax proceeds to replace the ramshackle Darlington County Courthouse, causing that project to be delayed or shelved altogether.

“Darlington County needs a courthouse, and we’re going to do everything in our power to get that penny,” said Hudson.

Author: Duane Childers

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