Madison County is moving ahead with negotiations on a construction contract some supervisors fear could bring controversial former county engineer Rudy Warnock back to the Reunion Parkway project.

The Madison County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to hire MSEG (Mississippi Engineering Group) for design, right of way and construction of the project from Bozeman Road to Galloway Parkway, including the bridge and crossing over Interstate 55.

That group includes Jackson-based Waggoner Engineering, which one supervisor says hired Warnock after his tumultuous stint as the county’s chief engineer ended three years ago.

District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin presented the motion, which was immediately met with contention from Supervisors Trey Baxter and Sheila Jones.

Jones started by calmly asking who the proposed engineers were going to be for the project. When District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen’s response didn’t list Warnock, Jones took a harsher tone.

“Everyone knows Rudy Warnock works for Waggoner,” she said. “He’s been a problem in my life and in Madison County, and I don’t think the people of this county want to go down that road again.”

Jones added that Warnock lost the county money in his previous work on the Reunion Parkway, sued the board members individually, failed to deliver a road plan and has otherwise not acted in good faith.

“Unfortunately when you hire people like that to work for you, you get associated with them,” she said. “I don’t want to work with him and I don’t think he needs to work in Madison County, and that’s a possibility if this passes, no matter what anyone tells you.”

Baxter shared Jones’ concerns about Warnock, but said his vote against hiring the new firm was equally motivated by his satisfaction with Neel-Schaffer, the company which had performed the environmental work on the new Reunion roadway up until this point.

“I’m voting no mainly because Neel-Schaffer has done a good job,” Baxter said. “They’ve been there every step of the way — attending public hearings, going to D.C., securing money from the state. They are the ones who did the environmental study, and so I just think we ought to stick with them on this project.”

In response, Steen downplayed Warnock’s potential involvement and attempted to allay his colleague’s fears by focusing on Waggoner, not one employee.
“I also agree we don’t need Mr. Warnock back in Madison County,” he said. “I do not see that happening at all if this passes. We’re fortunate to have many good engineering companies out there, and (Waggoner) is a good company. They do this kind of work all across the state of Mississippi, and they do team up with other firms on big projects.”

Griffin acknowledged the stigma around Warnock but justified his “yes” vote by giving Waggoner his vote of confidence.

“I’ve known (owner Joe Waggoner) over 20 years,” Griffin said. “He does good work and owns property in my district. It’s about spreading the work around, and my strong support is there for Joe Waggoner. Whether Rudy works there or not — I don’t know. Even if I did know where he works, I’d make the same motion.”

Board Attorney Katie Bryant Snell expressed discomfort about the legality of entering into a new contract so close to the conclusion of the current board’s term. According to state law, the current board cannot extend contracts more than 30 days past the end of its term, which runs through the end of the calendar year.

With the construction on the parkway project likely to extend well into 2020 or further, entering into a new contract now would prevent the next board from having input on the project without enacting contractual changes that could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Snell suggested splitting the project up into phases, some of which could possibly be completed before the Jan. 30 deadline.

Steen, Griffin and District 4 Supervisor David Bishop voted for the motion. Baxter and Jones voted against it.

Snell did receive approval from supervisors to ask for an Attorney General’s Opinion on the matter before a contract is presented to the board in two weeks.