Warnock new CMU engineer as ousted utility chairman alleges corruption
Wednesday, August 31, 2016 6:02 PM
CANTON — The former chairman of the Canton Municipal Utilities Board of Commissioners says corruption is afoot here in the county seat with a nearly $1 million annual sludge removal contract at the center of it all.
Meanwhile, former County Engineer Rudy Warnock was hired by the CMU board on Aug. 16 to replace their engineer on the sludge removal contract and this week to be CMU’s sole engineering firm.
Silbrina Wright, who up until Tuesday was chairman of the CMU Board, is awaiting word on whether or not she will still have a seat at the table.
On Aug. 23, the Canton Mayor and Board of Aldermen held a special meeting and removed her from the post in a 5-1 vote claiming she wasn’t eligible to be a Commissioner.
The meeting was called by Ward 3 Alderman Les Penn and Ward 7 Alderman Andrew Grant, with Ward 2 Alderwoman Olivia Harrell the lone no vote. Ward 4 Alderwoman Daphne Sims was not present.
Mayor Arnel Bolden has 15 days to veto the action, a decision he is still considering.
“At this point, I have not fully decided on whether or not I’m going to veto yet,” Bolden said.
Meanwhile, Wright says she is ready to fight the matter in court.
According to Wright, the city says she doesn’t live in the area so she can’t serve on the board.
She denies that allegation, saying her homestead is 212 Rebecca Dr. in Canton.
“I vote in Canton, Mississippi,” she said. “My kids attend Canton Public Schools and my husband and I pay property taxes in Canton.”
Wright then supplied emails of correspondence back in September 2015, when the city board attempted to oust her from CMU for residency issues. She said that was settled and this second go-around is because she didn’t “follow orders.”
Earlier this summer, CMU asked for request for proposals (RFP) for a sludge removal contract done in conjunction with the Madison County Wastewater Authority.
Three companies submitted bids, with the lowest being Denali. The second highest was UCI-LAA, a collaboration Wright says is between Claude Banks, son of former District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks, and contractor Terry Lovelace.
CMU initially voted to enter into negotiations with the top two low bidders, according to Wright. UCI-LAA, however, contends that they were awarded the contract outright, pending negotiations.
The Journal has been unable to obtain the minutes of the July 19 meeting where this action occurred.
After negotiations, Waggoner Engineering, Inc., the engineering firm representing CMU for the sludge removal contract, sent CMU a letter on Aug. 2 outlining the new scores.
Denali remained the lowest bidder at $786,885, with a 90.5 average rating score. UCI-LAA had a bid of $889,000 with an 85.8 average rating score after dropping the original cost down from $918,500. Synagro had a bid of $935,000 with a 74.5 average rating score.
On July 29, John Brunini wrote a letter to CMU as counsel for the Madison County Wastewater Authority asking for scoring sheets and why CMU opted to go with a more expensive vendor.
On Aug. 4, UCI-LAA made another proffer to lower their bid to $781,400 — cheaper than Denali — but that CEO Brian Finnegan was not available for that negotiation, according to a letter from attorney Mike Espy on behalf of UCI-LAA. Espy said the cheaper price was given to Larry Fedducia, deputy general manager of CMU.
Wright said on Aug. 5, CMU then awarded the contract in a 3-0 vote to Denali. According to Espy, Finnegan gave the CMU Board the first proffer and not the second proffer, which was nearly $6,000 less than Denali.
John Noble, Charles Weems, and Wright voted to award the contract. Cleveland Anderson and Lanny Slaughter abstained from the vote.
Wright says it was after that vote she began to receive harassing and threatening phone calls from individuals in Canton in order to collude and give UCI-LAA the contract.
On Aug. 15, the day before a regularly-scheduled CMU board meeting, Wright says she received a call from someone saying “if I did not vote or allow them to vote for reconsideration I was gonna get kicked off the board.”
Wright says she has recordings of phone conversations with these unidentified individuals.
On Aug. 16, Wright says Noble made a motion to reconsider giving UCI the contract but it died for lack of a second.
Then, on Aug. 23, she was replaced on the board by former Commissioner Cleotha Williams.
Wright said that because the mayor has veto option, the action was not immediate.
“In the mean time, I’m still on the board,” she said. And on Tuesday, she resigned as chair of the board while awaiting the verdict.
As far as the contract with Denali, Wright said it has been given to Finnegan for execution but has not been.
“The board members have told Brian he cannot enter into the contract yet,” Wright said.
A special called meeting was set for 9:30 a.m. this past Friday but pushed back to 10:30 a.m. after proper notice wasn’t given. Then, a quorum was not present so the meeting was pushed to Tuesday, Aug. 30.
When asked to respond to the allegations made by Wright towards UCI-LAA, Espy issued a statement.
“On behalf of UCI, LLC, I submitted a FOIA request to CMU for all related Minutes, all audio recordings and RFP evaluation scoresheets in order to determine what really happened in this matter. To date, I have received nothing except a letter from CMU stating that the Denali vendor was selected, according to law. But serious questions remain.”
Warnock was hired by the CMU board on Aug. 16 to replace Waggoner on the sludge removal contract, Wright explained.
She said at the time CMU had professional service agreements with four different engineering firms.
On Tuesday of this week, CMU voted 3-1 to make Warnock CMU’s engineer, Wright said. She voted against and said Noble was absent.
“In making him the CMU engineer, all engineering projects went to Rudy,” she said. “Everything that’s related to engineering went to Rudy.
“We don’t know what it’s gonna cost us,” she continued. “We don’t know what is the scope of work, procedures or process in place. Who he would answer to.”