Warnock to make $1.2 million no-bid airport study contract public
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00 PM
A $1.2 million no-bid contract for another county airport study which the Journal first reported last week will be made public, the attorney for the Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) said Wednesday morning.
While MCEDA minutes remained unavailable for inspection earlier this week, MCEDA Attorney Andy Clark said he was advising staff the minutes should be available for public inspection.
The MCEDA contract was awarded to Warnock & Associates, multiple sources familiar with the situation - all of whom have spoken on the condition of not having their name published in the newspaper - told the Journal. The firm's principle, Rudy Warnock, is the county engineer.
The sources refer to the airport study as "Project Phoenix," one of many studies on a county airport over the last 30 years.
Clark said Warnock had plans to turn over copies of invoices and his contract with MCEDA because he "had nothing to hide from the public."
As of press time, the Journal had not obtained a copy of the contract or invoices.
MCEDA apparently met Friday in an "emergency" session to discuss the Journal's report first published last Thursday and to expose and punish the source of the "leak."
Mississippi law says that minutes of public bodies must be available for public inspection during regular business hours.
According to Mississippi code section 25-41-11, "The minutes shall be recorded within a reasonable time not to exceed 30 days after recess or adjournment and shall be open to public inspection during regular business hours."
MCEDA Executive Director Tim Coursey and Lenita Knight, director of administration, finance and community development, had said that Clark was the only person who could authorize the release of the minutes.
The extent of the work being conducted is unknown, as Coursey declined to comment last week when pressed directly in person by a reporter about whether or not Project Phoenix even existed. Coursey said then he could not discuss matters that took place in executive session.
The contract with Warnock & Associates is suspected to have been agreed upon around May 2013, but the MCEDA minutes have been unavailable since a reporter first attempted to view them on Feb. 19.
Calvin Harris, an employee of Warnock & Associates, is a MCEDA Board member. With the minutes unavailable, there is no record to reflect his vote.
"I don't have any comment on any vote I took on the MCEDA board right now," Harris said last week.
The Journal has filed public records requests for payments made on Project Phoenix, but sources tell the Journal that to- date well over $380,000 has been expended.
District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen on Monday asked Coursey to hand over a contract and board minutes related to "Project Phoenix" to County Administrator Mark Houston.
A spokesman for State Auditor Stacey Pickering said the denial of MCEDA minutes had been passed along to their investigative division.
"I spoke with the Auditor about this, and we have passed the information along to our Investigative Division to open an inquiry," Brett Kittredge, communications director, wrote in an email.
The only reference to an airport study in the minutes of the Board of Supervisors over the last 12 months came in November 2013, when Steen unsuccessfully attempted to halt any such studies occurring.
"During executive session, Mr. Gerald Steen did offer a motion to end any study by the Madison County Economic Development Authority regarding a site selection for an airport until additional support and approval can be obtained from Federal Aviation Administration and the City of Madison," the minutes read. "The motion failed for a lack of second."
In 1982, MCEDA first began studying possible locations for a new airport. The talks began with the city of Madison, home to Bruce Campbell Field, because they would have to sign on to close or relocate that airport.
By the mid-1990s, the county and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District believed they found a promising site in Gluckstadt. Opposition from residents killed that plan in October 1997.
In 2001, a site south of Canton along Cotton Blossom Road was proposed, but it was later dropped and a new site along Mississippi 16 and Interstate 55 was discussed.
Plans for an airport fizzled in the mid-2000s.