BROOKSVILLE — The controversy engulfing the Department of Public Works has prompted county officials to recommend delaying a long-standing county project to inspect road conditions.
A bid proposal for the inspection project is being questioned after the St. Petersburg Times revealed that the county employee who wrote the solicitation was working for KMS & Associates at the same time. KMS is the private company that submitted the lowest bid last week to conduct the annual road assessment and inventory.
Bill Busch, formerly the county's pavement management coordinator, even appeared at the bid opening Aug. 20 wearing a KMS polo shirt.
Jim Gantt, the county's purchasing director, suggested that the county reject all three bids received and reissue the project's specifications independent of the Public Works Department.
"We know that Busch had a part in drafting the (specifications) for the bid before he left DPW,'' Gantt wrote in a memo to County Administrator David Hamilton. "In lieu of these facts and the controversy in play now, I cannot see awarding this contract to KMS or to one of the other bidders.''
County Attorney Garth Coller concurred.
"There is an appearance of impropriety, even though there may not be one," Coller said in an interview Thursday.
In an internal memorandum sent Monday to public works director Charles Mixson, Gantt asked Mixson for input.
"In light of the circumstances involving Mr. Busch's involvement in this bid, we will strongly recommend that the solicitation be rebid with the specifications drafted as purely performance in nature rather than exclusive to the system currently in use,'' Gantt wrote. "We would appreciate your concurrence in this matter.''
As the memo indicated, Gantt is interested in exploring alternatives to the MicroPAVER computer system the county currently uses to analyze the road condition data. Busch helped bring that KMS-endorsed program to Hernando County. "What we're saying is to put it out … and leave it open to other companies to use more than MicroPAVER," Gantt said.
Mixson said Thursday he knew that Gantt had concerns about the bid. "We do, too,'' he said.
He said he was willing to talk about the proposal but wouldn't commit to endorsing Gantt's recommendation.
Time is not a factor, he said. A delay in the inventory would not have a huge impact on the county's road program because it is just a data collection process. Even if the county had the data today, other ongoing projects are taking priority, Mixson said.
As for putting together a bid that would allow use of some other software than MicroPAVER, Mixson said he would want to have a serious discussion about that. MicroPAVER is "the industry standard'' and what Hernando County has used for years, he said.
"It's used all over the country,'' Mixson added. "That would be changing our whole program."
Busch's dual loyalties are the subject of an ongoing criminal fraud investigation. The State Attorney's Office is reviewing the case but has not made a decision about whether to file charges.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.