County Commission continues to consider concrete question

Published 2:38 pm Thursday, April 25, 2013

Could the Crenshaw County Commission buy concrete from the only supplier in the county, even if that business is owned by a commissioner?

That question was presented several months ago, and it appears that the answer may be “yes.”

As it currently stands, the county must travel to either Troy or Greenville to get concrete because Stephens Concrete is owned by Commissioner Michelle Stephens.

Email newsletter signup

Besides the added fuel costs of a 50-mile roundtrip, county engineer Benjie Sanders said it also lowers productivity because there may a crew on site that’s unable to work until that concrete gets delivered.

County attorney Levi Nichols said in November that he was unsure that the law would allow the county to buy from Stephens Concrete because Stephens would still have financial gain, but the county submitted to the Alabama Attorney General’s  office for an opinion, which was returned in February.

Nichols said the AG’s opinion was difficult to interpret and could be read to support both sides of the argument.

Nichols recently submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission for another opinion, citing that Stephens Concrete is the only supplier in the county and that the Commission did business with Stephens Concrete for nearly a decade before Stephens became a commissioner.

“A business owned by a County Commissioner may submit bids on contracts with the County; provided, that the County Commissioner does not vote, attempt to influence or otherwise participate in the transaction, either as a County Commissioner, or as a representative of the business,” stated the opinion, which is available online through the Alabama Ethics Commission.

“The County Commissioner may not use confidential information received during her service as a County Commissioner to provide inside information regarding bids to her company,” the opinion also concluded.

The opinion was approved by a 5-0 vote of the Alabama Ethics Commission.

Nichols told the County Commission that it appears the Ethics Commission agrees with them.

“There is no liability on the county, either,” he said. “The liability is on Commissioner Stephens if something goes wrong.”

He also reiterated that Stephens could have nothing to do with the process on either end and would have to have someone else at Stephens Concrete handle the account in addition to abstaining from all Commission votes pertaining to the issue.

“If it’s the cheapest, the closest and saves the county money, I don’t see why we can’t do it,” said Nichols. “I think legally it can be done.”

No action was taken on the matter.

The Commission did approve the expenditure of $49,500 to resurface 2.63 miles of Oliver Myers Road in Highland Home.

Sanders said that he had been in talks with Southeast Emulsions, a micro-surfacing company, to do a demonstration of their sealer and asphalt overlays, and they had agreed to come to Crenshaw County to show the application process for other interested counties.

“They normally do about a half-mile demonstration, but I’ve got them talked into two miles,” Sanders said.

The treatment will also be applied at a $34,000 discount from its regular price.

The work will be scheduled for some time in mid-May.

In other business, Nichols reported that the work on a $2.4 million bond has been finished.

“It’s a lot of stuff to keep up with, but it still went as smoothly as one can go,” he said. “Everyone should be commended on their work.  [County administrator David Smyth] did a lot of the footwork.  We’re in good shape.”