Bribery not the best bid

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mississippi’s “lowest and best” standard for awarding government contracts creates an avenue for public officials to award business to their friends and supporters.

What’s considered a “best” bid to those who are inclined to push government business to their cronies may not be best for the taxpayers.

By even the most liberal definition of “best,” however, it is incredible that the staffs of the state’s Information Technology Services Department and the corruption-scarred Department of Corrections have recommended that a $4.8 million contract be awarded to a company implicated in the Chris Epps prison bribery scandal.

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That contract with California-based Sentinel Offender Services was tabled recently after a Republican lawmaker who sits as a non-voting member on the ITS board raised questions about the propriety of doing business with a company that’s being sued by the state over a previous contract for the same service that the new contract would cover — monitoring offenders on probation or parole.

Attorney General Jim Hood has brought litigation against Sentinel and several other companies whose business with the state was allegedly contingent on funneling kickbacks to Epps, the former corrections commissioner who is awaiting sentencing for his graft.

According to federal prosecutors, Sentinel paid a Gulf Coast consultant, Robert Simmons, $4,000 a month from 2012 to 2014, from which Simmons then kicked back $1,400 to Epps. Simmons has pleaded guilty to bribery in the case.

Until this matter is cleared up, the state should not be entering into any new business with Sentinel.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a former state auditor, suggests that awarding a new contract to Sentinel, while this cloud hangs over it, is inappropriate, even if it’s legal. He is right.

—The Greenwood Commonwealth