Weak S. C. Laws Permit Unethical Procurement Practices
Edward Paxton, an engineer familiar with various procurement practices and as a concerned citizen has been attending Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority (REWA) board meetings, appeared before the Greenville County Legislative Delegation, Monday night at Greenville County Square, and requested that Lawmakers intercede in procurement of construction services for a $35 million REWA Piedmont Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Paxton informed the Delegation that “REWA has just ratified a $35 million cost plus contract with a Denver, Colorado, construction outfit to build a new treatment plant down here in Piedmont.”
Paxton emphasized that, “there are only two reasons why a government agency will enter into a cost-plus or soft money contract: One, There is a genuine emergency at hand, and Two, someone wants to reward their friends or punish their enemies. If anyone tries to tell you that it is not a cost-plus or soft money contract, I’ll tell you right now that it is a bold- faced lie.
“You people on this delegation selected these people for that board. It is not too late to rescind that contract because construction has not started. There is some smoke here. If this were private enterprise I wouldn’t be speaking to you. I’m here speaking tonight because I am a customer of the sewer company and the money I pay them becomes public funds. I’m hoping you will take some action on this before it gets too far along.’
Senator Shane Martin who represents District 13 that includes parts of Spartanburg, Union and Greenville Counties said if Paxton would provide him information he would turn it over to SLED. Following a brief hesitation, Paxton explained that SLED would not be able to help because state law allows the REWA board to write cost plus into their procurement regulations.
Sen. Mike Fair, the Delegation Chairman announced that the Delegation would get with the REWA Board and “look at anything unethical that may have occurred in the process.”
South Carolina has a national reputation of having some of the weakest procurement laws governing state government agencies in the nation. With very few restrictions and limitations, South Carolina laws allow each government entity to write their own procurement regulations.
County Councils, City Councils, School Boards, and special purpose districts such as the Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority, now known as REWA, an acronym for Renewable Water Resources write their own procurement regulations. Their practices are usually considered to be legal as long as they do not violate their own regulations that they wrote to serve their purposes.
Many South Carolina government entities do not use the competitive sealed bidding method of selection for awarding contracts that is not only legal, but is ethical as well. Competitive sealed bidding provides an equitable and ethical means of choosing a source of supply or service by selecting the acceptable product or service offered at the lowest price.
The competitive bidding requirement is easily waved in emergency situations. Competitive bidding is avoided by many government agencies because when competitive bids are used, administrators and elected officials have no control over who is awarded contracts. Competitive bidding leaves no opportunity for favoritism. Determining who gets government contracts without competitive bidding is not only unfair to potential bidders, but it is power that can be and is frequently abused to the detriment of taxpayers.
(See letter from Edward D. Sloan, Jr., this page.)