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State’s bidding laws are quite a mess

By Wyatt Emmerich

The bidding laws in Mississippi are a mess: Contractors are allowed to donate to political campaigns to get government contracts. Service contracts don’t have to be bid out. Governments are free to choose the high bidder. Cities and counties have no oversight for their public procurement. The list goes on.

In Jackson, minority set-asides, a product of state law, have been a disaster, allowing politically connected operators to interject themselves into the public procurement process, drastically raising the cost of city government.

It is the Jackson taxpayers who are hurt. Eighty percent of the Jackson taxpayers are black. Raising their cost of government hurts, not helps, them. Unless you are one of the chosen few.

Take the case of Marcus Wallace, mayor of Edwards, and founder of MAC Construction Company in 1996.

Wallace is not an engineer. In fact, he has a marketing degree from Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge. He started out as a sports agent, then became an entertainment promoter. At some point, he became a contractor for the city of Jackson.

The MAC Construction website lists partners United Water, Hemphill Construction, Siemens, CDM, Petal Valve, Neel-Schaffer, Terra Renewal. Every one is connected with Jackson.

You have to wonder about a construction company, started by an entertainment promoter, whose business is almost exclusively politically sensitive government contracts.

Thelman Boyd is vice president of MAC Construction. Boyd is a former public works director for the city of Jackson.

MAC Construction was involved in the Savannah Street waste treatment plant (taken over by the EPA), Farish Street (fined by HUD for nonperformance), the Capitol Street two-way project (took forever), the Westin Hotel (funded by Hinds County), and the Siemens water meter disaster.

MAC was the main minority contractor on Siemens’ $90 million contract to replace Jackson’s water meters. MAC’s cut was $17.8 million on that gig. Wallace recently held a press conference announcing he is suing Siemens to get $37 million more.

Very few construction companies hold press conferences when they have a contractual dispute requiring litigation. Very few construction companies are almost entirely reliant on government contracts.

Most states require public contracts to go to the “lowest responsive bidder.” But the Mississippi Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has charted a different course. Down home, it’s “lowest and best,” meaning cities and counties, lacking any oversight, can award lucrative contracts to anybody they want.

It is our state Legislature, as well, that passed a law allowing for “minority set-asides,” thus creating an entire layer of political operatives driving up government costs 30-40 percent. As usual, it is the clueless taxpayers who get screwed.

It would be easy for the state Legislature to end this mess in Jackson by cleaning up our state bidding laws. But to do so would end a $20-billion-a-year party that goes far beyond the confines of the Bold New City.

Wallace donated $15,000 to Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber’s campaign. Pay to play. As one contractor said, it’s the way business is done in Mississippi.

Siemens didn’t need MAC Construction to install new water meters. The German company employs 362,000 people. Siemens needed MAC Construction to get the contract. The extra $17.8 million to MAC was just a cost of doing business. Is it any wonder Jackson is broke?

MAC’s attorney, Robert Gibbs, explained it this way: Siemens suggested that MAC subcontract with Pedal Valve (a real company) but then entered into a separate contract with Pedal, bypassing MAC. As a result, MAC didn’t get its full minority cut.

So why did Siemens bypass MAC? Because MAC was a political expense to get the contract. Siemens didn’t need them to do the real work, for which they had little experience or training. I suspect MAC’s inexperience could have helped cause some of the problems associated with the new meters.

As Wallace said in his press conference, Siemens did not train and mentor MAC employees.

Get it? Instead of simply hiring the company that can get the work done, Jackson is wasting money on social engineering. It’s a disaster. Meanwhile, Jackson crumbles.

Wyatt Emmerich is a Mississippi newspaper publisher and can be reached at wyatt@northsidesun.com.