Election commissioner questions how contractor was chosen to deliver voting machines
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Correspondence obtained by WLBT shows that Hinds County hired a contractor to deliver voting machines for next week’s special election before the company submitted a bid for the work, and after a more experienced vendor’s bid had been rejected.
The county recently selected Terry’s Installation to deliver voting machines, chairs, and tables to all 108 precincts for the November 2 special election.
An email from District 5 Election Commissioner Shirley Varnado questions why the county chose the firm prior to it submitting a bid and prior to the company having the information needed so it could submit a bid.
Meanwhile, a more experienced contractor’s bid was rejected the same day it was submitted, her email states.
“It is blatantly obvious that improprieties are at play and every effort is being made to malign the work of the election commission,” she said.
She and other commissioners have also questioned why a firm with no experience was chosen while the bid submitted by Kenneth Williams was turned down.
In her letter, Varnado cites state statute, which requires the county to choose the “lowest and best bidder” for contracts.
“The word ‘BEST’ clearly rules out Terry(’s) Installation, who voluntarily stated that they had never completed a task of this magnitude,” she wrote.
Williams, a technician who works on the machines, previously delivered the machines to the precincts on behalf of the manufacturer.
The email was sent to County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones, Director of Logistical Services James Ingram, all five members of the board of supervisors, and others.
Varnado said she had not gotten a response.
We attempted to raise several questions at a commission meeting Friday. We were told it would be better to email our questions and that any responses would have to come from the administration.
We emailed a list of 10 questions to Jones and Director of Administration Stephen Hopkins Friday afternoon but had not gotten answers by Wednesday morning.
Hopkins said he has not had enough time to respond. “We are currently gathering information on several requests you have made,” he said. “Our team (including me) is working as fast as we can to answer your questions.”
Johnnie Terry, CEO of Terry’s Installation, also could not be reached.
The company began picking up devices from Election Commission headquarters Tuesday.
The county had to bring on a new vendor after the previous contractor pulled out.
Weeks ago, Elections Systems Software informed Election Commission Chair Jermal Clark that they would be unable to deliver the equipment for this upcoming election because the special election was not in their contract.
“Commissioner Clark and the election commission asked me if my company was able to do it, and I said yes,” Williams said. “Two weeks ago, I submitted a quote for the delivery of voting equipment and accessories... and I get a call from the purchasing department that all that has been picked up.”
“They had already (done) the bid and whoever had the contract already had it, and I’m wondering how, because I hadn’t even submitted mine yet.”
According to Varnado’s letter, Williams submitted his quote to the Hinds County Purchasing Department on October 12. That same day, he was told by the department that another company had been selected, but he could still deliver tables and chairs.
In fact, Varnado says that purchasing informed Williams that if he submitted a quote to do that work “they would make sure he was selected to complete that task.”
On October 13, Varnado said she was told by purchasing department employee Drusilla Anderson that a vendor had been selected, but they would need to be given a tour of the Election Commission facility before they could submit a quote because “Mr. Terry stated that he had never delivered the machines... only the ADA ramps.”
A purchase order shows that Terry’s was hired on October 19, for $30,000. The contract includes delivery and pickup of voting machines, ADA, and other equipment.
Williams’ bid was for $33,500.
Under state statute, the county is not required to bid out professional services under $50,000. Instead, they are only required to receive quotes from two companies before making a hire.
Terry’s Installation had previously been used by the county to deliver wheelchair ramps to precincts to ensure they complied with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
“My concern is on the Election Day, the machines need to be in the right precincts, the right places,” Williams said. “And you’ve got a lot of precincts and that I don’t even know if everybody knows where they’re at,” he said. “It took me two weeks to do an assessment, when we first started this, to get it together.”
Williams said he had been delivering the equipment since 2012 when the county first got its current voting machines. He started his own delivery company in 2014. He continues to calibrate the devices.
Representatives from Terry’s and the county met with the election commission Friday, in part, to discuss logistics.
At that meeting, company officials asked about everything from when they could begin delivering the machines to which precincts they should begin delivering to first. They also asked whether they should require someone at the precinct to sign off on delivery when the machines are dropped off.
Commissioners said they could not tell Terry’s how to do the job. “If y’all send a bid in to do this job, y’all should know, because this is a lot of work,” said District 1 Commissioner Kidada Brown.
The contract calls for delivering 154 voting machines, as well as express vote machines to accommodate voters with disabilities.
“I’ve been doing this probably before you were born. And I’ve been on jobs 100 times bigger than this. So it’s not a matter of not knowing,” Johnnie Terry told Brown. “It’s just a procedure we think that we might have to follow because everybody has different rules and regulations.”
Terry worked to allay commissioners’ concerns, saying he’s done deliveries for Southern Farm Bureau, IBM, Nike, and other entities.
“We could fail on this, but it would be the first time,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can. We just need to ask some questions, because this (is) new. But it ain’t hard.”
Voters will head to the polls on November 2 to elect a new sheriff. The winner will fill out the remainder of the term of the late Sheriff Lee Vance. Voters in District 5 will choose a new constable, while voters in District 1 will pick a new county court judge.
A portion of Varnado’s email is below.
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